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Monday, November 15, 2010

Is Roky Ericking Slipping Lately?

Roky Erickson
I've been hearing that Roky is "slipping" lately. There have been some rumblings that the gigs were not tight and that Roky seemed "out there" and was forgetting the lyrics. Here is an exchange that happened on the world famous Texas Psych Google Group recently:

The Ultimust from NYC Wrote:

Hey everyone,

Caught Roky and his new backing band in NYC last night and I have to
say that it was about the worst I've ever seen him, musically. I'm
sure that the band spent more time on their look than they did on
learning how to play the songs and except for a few moments when Roky
played with some of the vocal phrasing, the entire performance was
about as flat as these songs can get. And yes, Roky did forget a
bunch of lyrics (including EVERY chorus of YGMM) but who can blame him
given the fact that the music was so uninspired?

I'm about as happy as anyone to see Roky touring and finally making
some money (I hope) off of his legend but last night really made me
wonder if it's a good idea to keep supporting something that may just
be ultimately detrimental to his health. I really got the impression
that this was just another job to Roky and that any of the creative
fire that was in him has all but gone. I mean, I'm all for Roky
getting paid but you gotta wonder if someone isn't just giving him an
allowance, keeping him out of trouble and propping him up on a stage
every night so that they can continue to line their own pockets.

I have no idea how Roky's camp picks his backing groups but whoever is
in charge of that needs to be fired and probably slapped in the face
too for good measure. Is it really that hard to find a competent
group who understands and respects Roky's musical history enough to do
the songs and him justice? For fuck's sake, give the guy something to
get excited about and I guarantee that people will turn their heads.
From what I've seen and heard, a lot more of his voice is left than
people might think, he just doesn't seem interested enough to use it.

I will say that the guitarist can play and he had a pretty good tone
as well, but his style was wimpy as all hell and his timing was pretty
lousy too. The bass playing was pretty terrible in general and much
of it was downright annoying. Gotta save my worst criticism for the
drummer, though. I know 3 year old girls who can hit harder than this
guy and I really doubt that he understands the meaning of the word
"accent" or how it applies to drumming. Drummers are the backbone of
any band which pretty much sums up why the songs last night had no
spine. And for chrissakes, can't we designate 1 roadie to make sure
that the mic is in front of Roky's mouth? Once again (same as the
Webster Hall show with Okkervil) you could barely hear Roky because he
mic wasn't angled right. He's got someone to put on and take of his
guitar, is it really that hard to pay attention to this detail too?
The band kept asking the sound guys to turn up Roky's mic which of
course did no good since he wasn't singing directly into it anyway.

You have no idea how much I hate to bash a Roky performance but last
night was so bad that someone had to call it. I'm assuming that
anyone reading this must genuinely care about wanting to see Roky
doing well and getting his due, but by the same token that makes us
all the people who should be calling bullshit on anyone who is
exploiting him in any way. And given the revolving door of bands over
the past few years, I'd say it's about time to speak up.

Call out Charlie Sexton, have him put together a band worthy of Roky's
abilities, get Rick Rubin to produce a record and I'll bet that Roky
will shine like the star that he is. If he keeps playing shows like
last night's, I'm afraid that he'll eventually just return to being an
under appreciated footnote in American rock and roll which seems like
such a waste given how far he's come.

lingeringlead replied:

Wow! Thanks for speaking up. Is anybody listening? I'm under the
impression Jegar and Dana are in charge. Last fall a bar owner friend
of mine in Nacogdoches, TX contacted Darren Hill about booking a gig.
His email went unanswered. To be honest it doesn't seem like anyone
is in charge.

Agree with your call for some "real" back up! Find some players with
skins on the wall. It's difficult for me to grasp why musicians and
producers aren't lined up at the door with projects for Roky. Funny
you mention Charlie Sexton b/c last year I asked Will when the
brothers might collaborate with Roky. He replied that no one asked.
True Love is great but the Will Sheff/Okkervil thing never made sense
to me. Rok needs muscle backing him not hipster angst! Why Rubin
isn't knocking on Roky's door is a mystery to me. What happened to
the Billy Gibbons rumors?

I'll give Kyle Ellison some credit though. He sounded well rehearsed
and had killer tone when I saw them.

Responding to a previous post about Roky being off his meds (and playing gigs):

andyexcuse wrote:

"...I've heard that Roky is off his meds (for quite some time)..."

I think we're seeing some evidence that evidence that it was too soon,
and it's tragic considering how far he had come. It's a very common
story with people who are living with a delusional mental illness. A
correct diagnosis, the right meds and therapy can have a very positive
effect over a relatively short period. Patients can become much more
lucid, their caregivers and support system are working hard to help
them get better, and before long it's easy to think, hey, I'm all
better. Going off your meds before you really get used to such a big
adjustment often results in losing everything you've gained, with the
added depression and confusion thrown in after you thought you were
doing fine. It seems like Roky's gone through a ton of changes in the
past few years both professionally and in terms of his health, and
maintaining mental stability is going to require more treatment than
he's currently getting. To hear that he's acting confused and
withdrawn is very scary and sad for someone who's been there. To an
extent, every patient responds differently, and care needs to be
tailored to the individual, but this is a very familiar pattern.

Marti Stivers replied:

Well written. Meds for psychotic disorders generally must be taken for a
lifetime; & often have very debilitating, uncomfortable side effects, which
cause the patient to attempt to function normally without them.
Unfortunately for family, friends, caregivers, counselors/therapists etc,
once the disorganized thinking/perceiving starts recurring, it is very, very
difficult to convince the patient that he or she is having problems. Even
when extremely psychotic, they believe that their thinking is just fine. A
good portion of my caseload comes to me after being successfully treated for
these problems so that I can assist them with stabilizing their living
situations & ultimately get them back into the workforce. Because of the
problem of having them continue their meds, the majority don't make it. I
cannot even count the number of times I've seen former clients now living on
the streets.

Kevin Combs replied:

Hello interested parties- The band behind Roky now consists of:
Kyle Ellison - guitar
Kyle Schneider - drums
John Michael Dayspring - bass


Do not attend one of these performances expecting slickness. Leave your rockshow preconceptions for another time. This is Roky now, playing for you now...It is what it is, and that's what it is.

Open up your mind and let everything come through.


Brat Brains replied:

I definitely would like to echo KC's sentiments about the current Roky
tour. Don't go to these shows expecting a presentation similar to ANY
of the recordings. It's a whole other thing, maybe Roky's not as "into
it" or whatever the Post article purports. I personally believe that
Malitz had an axe to grind. If Roky was so bad off he wouldn't be
playing ANYTHING, shows, recordings, NADA!!! That's been well
demonstrated/documented in the past. The backing trio (thanks, again,
KC for the names) is WAAAAAY better than Okkervill River and, indeed,
Roky seems energized by their performance if not a little hesitant to
go balls to the wall AWESOME as he might with the Explosives or that
ACL super group. In DC I watched intently as a 63 year old Roky
Erickson ROCKED-THE-HELL-OUT, at one point closely resembling the
youth from the grainy videos we've all seen dozens of times of the
Elevators playing poolside.

A couple other points: "Goodbye Sweet Dreams", by no means, "stood
out" at the Black Cat show. Sorry, but the arrangement we all know and
love from the recent album is not easily replicable by a shit-kickin
rock trio. The songs that did stand out were typically those with the
most repetitive lyrics. Roky seemed to have trouble remembering the
words to the songs. Get the dude a lyrics sheet for christ sake!
Younger people read lyrics on stage! It's not "uncool" for a musician
of his age to have a little help like that.

So yeah, to hell w/ that Post article. Go see Roky, he's great. It's
worth a $25 ticket just to see him alive and doing something other
than watching cartoons. My only critiques are: put the "simpler"
worded songs closer to the beginning of the set to start the evening
off with a bang and get the man some damned cue cards, people! It
ain't rocket science.

Here's a link to download the FLAC file of Roky Erickson at the Black Cat in Washington DC.

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Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I saw the NYC show too and it's true Roky did seem more detached than the last couple times I saw him - and not a single "Thenk YOU!" between songs - but it might be a bit much to assume that it's the band's fault rather than the other way around. It's never easy to put everything into a show if the lead singer is off his game.

The band wasn't perfect, but they were better than you're giving them credit for. While I would have liked to have seen another couple of guitars up there driving the band a bit (since Roky wasn't really pushing too hard) the old-school thud of the rhythm section and the guitarist's leads gave a lot of the songs a nice slow burn.

After watching the Austin City Limits tape recently I'm gonna feel let down any time Billy Gibbons isn't along for the ride, but this show had its moments, and they definitely rocked more than any Okkervill River tracks I've heard.

Anonymous said...

Saw the 11/12 Maxwells show, and while it wasn't as bad as some are saying, it was a mere shadow of his '07-'08 shows with The Explosives, who know his music better than any other possible backing band. Per Freddie Steady's BoB interview, The Explosives decided to quit playing with him after he stopped his meds, at which point he also seemingly stopped caring about his music, who was backing him live, etc. Roky and his manager told the band that they literally didn't care whether The Explosives continued to play with him or not. This, coupled with the manager's tendency to book Roky and assume that The Explosives would be available, before asking them, plus the fact that Freddie, Cam and Chris also play in a variety of other bands, led them to decide to toss in the towel. Okkervil River is a wonderful alt-country band, but right for Roky? Don't think so, and I think the recent CD reflected that - a very good comeback effort for Roky, but certainly could have been a lot better, IMO.

Anonymous said...

The Anonymous who posted on December 10th is 100% right - the Explosives are the band for Roky, but tragically, since he's not on his meds, he's not the amazing performer he was in 2007-2008, and it's really really sad :( Mainly because his well being is at stake, which is obviously more important than our desire for spellbinding musical performances like Roky and the band did few years ago!

And now at last I learn why the Explosives aren't with him anymore. But it makes sense - I'm sure they didn't want it to end...Freddie was so happy for Roky on a human level, as well as on a musical level...as we all were!

Roky is indeed not in the same positive state he was just a few years ago - anyone who says otherwise is in denial.

One of the most electrifying performers of all time is not currently at the height of his powers as he was just a few years ago, which is a huge loss to rock 'n' roll, but more importantly, the man's well being is at stake - and we're only reporting this because Roky's health and happiness comes first.

Anonymous said...

PS Someone needs to straighten this guy out:


Let's leave him comments on how awesome Roky really is, and how (although Will Sheff is a gentleman and always respectful of Roky!) it's the band's fault that the album is so mellow, not Roky's, and the songs would be so much better if done how Roky originally did them. And last, but certainly not least, let's let him know how Roky IS a great songwriter, no matter how deaf that blogger is to that fact.

If Roky was feeling 100% like he was a few years ago, I bet he would have made an AMAZING album with the Explosives - but no one has a right to blame Roky in any way for this album or his current health, and they certainly are ignorant if they can't find the genius and beauty in Roky's music, especially when a member of his beloved Okkervill notices it and mentions it often. Again, I give Sheff credit for that respect and love, I really do. I just don't care for the album.

Anonymous said...

I would really appreciate it if my previous post here could be deleted - the post about:


Thank you! I was a bit harsh in my previous post, and if I want to get my point across, I need to be less angry in my reply.

Anonymous said...

i saw roky last year i believe. i think it was the okkerville guys but im not certain, it was at the continental in houston, anyways i had the displeasure of meeting his "tour manager" when I was recording the gig with a small handheld digital mic, I set it down near the stage and after I went to grab a beer, i lost my place and just made sure to keep an eye on it, then some little creep in a fedora and the most stupid looking hipster garb imaginable just grabs it, so im like tapping on him like , wtf? and hes all "oh is this your's? im roky's tour manager" "i dont mind but you need to put it where you can get a better recording" there was no chance of a decent recording anyways because the sound was fucked and you couldn't even hear Roky's vox. i think he was just a little prick thief and it's a damn shame if this punk who looked all of 20 was actually managing any thing for Roky