I Have Always Been Here Before:
The Roky Erickson Anthology (Shout! Factory)
Reviewed by Sherman Wick
Roky Erickson is a psychedelic rock icon. The strength of his music has endured despite the singer/songwriter/guitarist's numerous mental health problems. Beginning as one of the leaders of the Texas branch of the fledgling psychedelic music scene with the 13th Floor Elevators, he created some of psychedelic rock's greatest - if often under-recognized - moments. Unfortunately, the Texas state government was not as enamored with the band, especially their espousal of the use of LSD and marijuana. Erickson was arrested on marijuana possession charges. Instead of facing a certain conviction and a long sentence, he pled not guilty by reason of insanity. When Erickson was released from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rusk, Texas, his mental condition was permanently damaged and required constant care. He has struggled with life and music ever since, and only sporadically recorded after the late '80s.
About every fifteen years an Erickson anthology is released to introduce and/or reacquaint music fans with the warped genius. In 1991 Restless issued You're Gonna Miss Me - the Best of Roky Erickson: an excellent collection of his music. The new anthology, I Have Always Been Here Before improves on that collection with its thoroughness; not only are his various solo incarnations featured, but added are a few of his best songs from the 13th Floor Elevators and his first single, "We Sell Souls," by the Spades. It is an eerily brilliant mid-tempo tune that demonstrated the powerful and soulful vocal skills of the singer. His unique otherworldly singing follows the distorted chords and amplified jug on the 13th Floor Elevators first single, "You're Gonna Miss Me." In addition, there are hits such as "Reverberation (Doubt)," "Fire Engine," and "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)." Erickson's lyrics delve deeply into trippy acid-soaked spiritual imagery, but with a positive mood of universal peace and happiness pervading.
After his release from Rusk, Erickson would struggle to continue making records with innumerable labels and musicians. His lyrics would narrowly focus on his obsessions with the devil, demons, aliens and occasionally crystalline songs of idealized love and beauty, such as "You Don't Love Me Yet," "Nothing in Return," and "I Have Always Been Here Before." His solo arrangements are more varied, and range from spare acoustic with minimal backing instrumentation on "I am," "Anthem (I Promise)," and "Warning (Social and Political Injustices)." Of course, as a solo artist he wrote several excellent bluesy rockers, e.g. "Bermuda," "Don't Shake Me Lucifer" and "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)."
This is an outstanding record from start to finish (43 tracks!). And it is approved by TrustRoky, an organization established to provide for Roky's health and medical bills. The organization releases only the highest quality Erickson recordings and ensures that he receives appropriate royalty compensation.
© 2005 - Sherman Wick