I have an annual tradition of dusting off my Halloween playlist every October 1st. I figure if we have to be subjected to Christmas music from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, it’s only fair if Halloween music gets a month to itself. Every year, I find new songs to expand the playlist. Last year, this led to the discovery of ‘The Evil One,’ by Roky Erickson.
‘The Evil One’ is a garage rock album from 1981, mostly made up of songs inspired by horror movies. Roky (pronounced as ‘Rocky’) Erickson’s playful take on these dark themes makes for an off-beat, amusing, and thoroughly unique album. Particularly notable are ‘I Walked With a Zombie,’ ‘Two-Headed Dog,’ ‘Night of the Vampire,’ and ‘Bloody Hammer.’ But really, if you like rock music or horror, you should probably just listen to the whole album. Obviously a Halloween playlist needs classic picks like ‘Monster Mash,’ but if you’re looking for something a little more unexpected to up your playlist game this Halloween, make it ‘The Evil One.’
As great as the album is on its own, it becomes more interesting when you know a little about Roky Erickson. His musical career stretches back to the 1960s, when he was a member of The 13th Floor Elevators, one of the first early psychedelic rock bands. Erickson wrote “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which became the band’s biggest hit. The members of The 13th Floor Elevators were notorious for their drug use, which led to a persistent rivalry with the local authorities.
Eventually, police arrested Erickson for drug possession (he was found with a single joint), and he only avoided a prison sentence by pleading insanity. He was sent to a maximum security hospital for the mentally insane, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given heavy medication and shock therapy. His heavy LSD usage hadn’t helped his mental health, and the treatment he received seems to have only made it worse. He did continue playing music in the hospital, forming a band with several convicted murderers.
After his release, he began recording music with a band called The Aliens, during which time he released ‘The Evil One.’ However, his managers capitalized on his mental state, pushing him into unfair contracts and cheating him out of his earnings. He was left to scrape by on Social Security checks, and his health, both mentally and physically, worsened over the next decade. At the time, he claimed to be an alien. He had also begun taking his neighbors’ mail and keeping it unopened in his home, apparently in an attempt to keep it safe for them. This led to his arrest for mail theft, and he was institutionalized again.
As hard as it is to believe, this story has a happy ending. After Erickson was released and continued to worsen in his mother’s care, his brother was granted custody over him in 2001. With his brother’s help, he’s made an amazing recovery, and even staged something of a musical comeback with live shows and new releases. After all these years, his talent is finally getting more exposure, and he’s doing better than ever. So this Halloween, check out Roky Erickson’s music. No Halloween playlist is complete without it.