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NOD TO THE GODS: Roky Erickson, ‘I Walked With A Zombie’
October 27, 2013
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Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.

This evening on The Strombo Show is the night of the vampires, devils, wolves, monsters and all things Halloween. We'll be visiting vibes that include the classics and the unexpected, we'll go from Roky Erickson to Rockwell and celebrate everything in between. This man still walks among us and walks among zombies, as well. He is one of those unknown heroes of rock and roll and that's where we begin tonight.

There's a Jacques Tourneur-directed film from 1942 with a Canadian nurse named Betsy, her voiceover relates in this scene that she once walked with a zombie. That was the inspiration for Erickson's track. The cult film was declared as a "dull disgusting exaggeration of an unhealthy, abnormal concept of life" by the New York Times in 1943 - although critics later praised it for its exceptional intelligence.

Erickson has battled mental illness throughout most of his life. Zombies, werewolves, monsters and demons appear many times throughout his catalogue. While performing at HemisFair in 1968, he began speaking gibberish and was soon after diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive thereby.

As he performed with The Elevators at the time, they widely experimented with psychedelia that included LSD, mescaline, DMT and marijuana and they were subject to extra attention from law enforcement. Following accusations in 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint in Austin for which he faced a possible 10-year incarceration. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to avoid prison. After escaping the Austin State Hospital several times, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and subjected to even more electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments, and held in custody until 1972.

In the 1980s, he began an obsession with the mail and spent hours rifling through random junk mail, writing to solicitors and celebrities both dead and alive. Those activities led to his arrest in 1989 on charges of mail theft. However, he also wrote and created phenomenal music that has been covered by countless bands like The Jesus And Mary Chain, R.E.M., ZZ Top, Julian Cope, Butthole Surfers, John Wesley Harding and Primal Scream, among others

He's been the acknowledged influenced on such diverse musicians as Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Henry Rollins, Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, Jon Spencer, The Damned, Red Krayola, Pere Ubu and The White Stripes. And you might have recognized the raw power of his vocals on many film soundtracks, including High Fidelity, Drugstore Cowboy, Boys Don't Cry, Hamlet and Return of the Living Dead.

Even today, Erickson continues to bring the sound that is supported by his fiercely loyal following.

For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.


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