Mike Jensen shares his memories of Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators
Mike Jensen, drummer in Roky Erickson’s band in the 1980s, in his first ever interview, discusses his experiences playing and recording with Roky. Mike also discusses, in an It’s Psychedelic Baby exclusive, intimate conversations he had with Roky concerning the 13th Floor Elevators and Roky’s solo career following the Elevators breakup and what it was like to just “hang out” with Roky…
Thank you for granting this interview Mike. I know it is the first time you have ever told your story.
You’re very welcome. I just hope some people are interested in what I have to say.
I have no doubt many people will be interested. Just for a little background, where did you grow up Mike?
I grew up in New York City, we lived in the projects for a while. My family moved to Texas in 1975 after a downturn in the economy. I was 11 when we moved. It was kind of a shock.
What part of Texas did you move to?
We moved to Austin.
What was the first instrument you picked up?
I first picked up the trumpet. Music theory and lessons were free in the schools at this point so, I took advantage of the opportunity. Then I moved to French Horn. My cousins were cleaning out their garage and found an old Rogers knock-off drum set when I was 14. They offered it to me! That was the beginning; I taught myself how to play the drums.
When did you first start performing outside of the school band?
It was around 1978 or 1979. This was about the same time that the music scene in Austin began to take off again, after the boom of the 1960s. It was a real exciting time for people who enjoyed music. There were so many good bands and great clubs, Some of the clubs were there for just a few weeks. It is hard to convey the electricity of the scene at that time.
Who were some of your earliest influences?
Well, I was into punk rock but I had to be real careful around my house. Friends would leave albums outside my bedroom window. I’d listen to them then, work out an exchange for another album or 45s. But it was 1980 when I first heard “Psychedelic Sounds” by the Elevators. I was at a friend’s house and he played “Splash 1” for me. I thought it was one of the most incredible songs I had ever heard. So I started listening to the album and “Roller Coaster” was the second song on side one and it just blew me away, and my whole focus on music changed from that point on.
Were you in a band playing gigs at that point?
No, my bands that weren’t doing much of anything except experimenting with mono and stereo recording. We did some really small gigs. In 1982 I dropped out of high school to concentrate on music and that’s when things started happening. I formed a band with a couple of guys called “The Working Class”. We were very strident. Roky was a guy in the neighborhood, but nobody bothered him. Stevie Ray Vaughn was in the neighborhood too. One of the guys in the band said he’d talked to Roky at the Circle K and Roky wanted to stop by one day. I said “that would be great.” So one day Roky dropped by. I’d actually met him once before, at the Austin Record Convention in September of 1982. He was walking around this record show with his entourage. He came over to our table and asked me, “What did you get?” I showed him a copy of the ’69 printing of “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. Roky commented, “I ain’t never seen one of these before!” He handed it back to me and went on his way. It was only after he left that I realized “Who” he was!! When I saw him coming back, I wanted to get his autograph. My friend said to not bother him but I said that if I just talked to him, he wouldn’t mind so, I took my copy of “Psychedelic Sounds” and I said “Roky, I didn’t recognize you before, I’m really sorry, but I wonder if you would do me a favor?” And he said “You want me to autograph that for you?” I said “I’d really appreciate it if you would.” He signed a bunch of copies there at the show. Then in March of 1983 he came by my house where my band was practicing. He met my parents and then we went outside to the “Shed”, our make-shift studio. We told him we were working on a tune from the Elevators “Live” album that wasn’t available anywhere. We were trying to work up “You Gotta Take That Girl” and he ran through that with us. Unbelievably he ran through that song with us. He showed us the progression and sang! He also played “Heroin”. He said “you know what guys I’ve got another one I think you might like that I’ve been working on. It’s called ‘You Don’t Love Me Yet’. Do you want give it a try?” We said “yeah, we’ll give it a try!” So we ran through that with him for several hours. After that he started dropping by on a daily basis, so what kinda happened was he and I hit it off and we started chit chatting and hanging out.
At the same time Mike Alvarez was starting his small record company in Austin called “Not Records Tapes”. He was recording people like Daniel Johnston. He went ahead and signed my band “The Working Class” based on a tape. In a discussion I told Mike that Roky and I were hanging out and he said “no man, I don’t buy it.” I went by Roky’s and told him there was this recording studio in walking distance from his house and I asked Roky if he minded if we stop by and say hi to Mike Alvarez. Roky said “yeah” so we walked over to Mike’s place and he answered the door; the look on Mike’s face was classic! There were Roky and I, standing together in the doorway! Mike began to develop his own relationship with Roky. They hit it off and got along really, really well. So Roky and Mike began collaborating on some things and Mike Alvarez signed some more bands and was recording regularly. By April, 1984, my band had changed its name to “Room City”. We were recording at Mike Alvarez’s for our release. For some time and for many reasons, the guys in Room City found me very difficult to work with, which I think at the time was true. So they took me to Threadgills about noon one day and fired me. About 2 PM the same day, Mike Alvarez called me and said he’d signed Roky to his record company to record an EP. He named off the tunes they were gonna use and Mike said “Roky wants you to join his new band.” I said “yeah Mike, I don’t believe ya, you know leave me alone.” At 5 PM the phone rang again and its Roky. He said “Mike, I want to talk to you about something. I’m starting a new band and I want to do a new EP. I’m signed up over at Mike Alvarez’s studio.Would you be my drummer?” I said yes and he said “the first session is tonight will you come over?” And that was that! Fired at Noon, hired by Roky at 5! From April of 1984 until August of 1984 I played with Roky every day, working on that EP. Every single day.
And what was the name of Roky’s band at that time, that you were a member of?
We didn’t call it anything. He was working on names. He bounced some off of us but, I don’t recall them. At one point, Roky gave me an “Evil Hook Wild Life ET” button and said, “I like this name but, this band doesn’t fit.” We were different from other bands Roky played in. We let Roky do what he wanted to do. We let him play lead when he wanted to play lead, we let him play the tunes he wanted to play, but we had worked out the four tunes that were gonna go on the EP. “You Don’t Love Me Yet” was one of them, there was an Elevators tune, but I don’t remember which one anymore. There was discussion over a re-record of “Fire Engine”. But, I don’t recall if we actually worked it up. There were a couple of others, “A Cold Night For Alligators” might be it. There were two old tunes and two new ones. We let Roky play what he wanted, where other bands muscled him, they tried to control him, tried to really pigeon hole him in what he was doing. I think part of it was his lead playing, which at the time was really off the map. I have some recordings of him playing lead. Our philosophy was its Roky’s band, he could play it the way he wanted. The philosophy in his other bands was Roky could sing, but he had to be controlled. I never found that to be true, but his other bands did. Roky told me he didn’t like playing in the other bands. And, we didn’t know Roky was still under contract to CBS. This was going to become a problem for all of us.
So, what you’re telling me is that Roky Erickson was actually a pretty good lead guitarist?
A really interesting lead guitarist. He was a very, very good musician. I don’t care what anybody says. For example, I showed up at the studio one day to go through the EP tunes again, getting ready to lay down basic tracks. When I showed up, in the middle of the studio was an old fashioned TV dinner tray. On it was a mountain of cocaine and, when I say a mountain of cocaine I mean it was piled about a foot and a half high. I didn’t do drugs but I didn’t mind if others did. And, no one pressured my to join in with drugs; it was all cool. When I arrived everyone was dipping their fingers into the cocaine and then snorting it up their noses. Roky was doing the same thing. Roky said, “Mike, I’ve got this beat going through my head. I can’t get it out but, I’d like to show you. Could I play it for you on your set?” I thought, “yeah, right Roky, you’re so stoned right now there’s no way you can play”. I said “Sure” so, he picks up my drumsticks, gets behind the kit and he wailed out one of the most cogent, difficult syncopated rhythms I’ve yet to see anyone play, before or since. He asked me if I could copy the rhythm he had just played. I said yes, but I knew darned well he had just outplayed me. So I sat down and tried to play it and he said “you know what, that was pretty darned good.” He approved my rendition of his drum bit but, I still do not believe I played it properly. He never brought it up again and, never told me how and what to play on my drums. So he’s a much better musician than people give him credit for. Much better.
I’ve never once heard anyone mention Roky could play drums, Mike.
Yes, it’s a revelation. We had a really, really good time in the studio. I wish I had more recordings from that period. In all there must have been hours of recordings; versions of Elevators songs, Roky solo material and covers. I only have about 45 minutes of recordings from the entirety of April of 1984 through August 1984 sessions. Mike Alvarez may have more, but he says that the box of recordings from that period has been lost. It’s a familiar tale of small Texas studios! Mike and I played a show together this past July in Portland. We spoke of the old days, including Roky. But, we did not touch on whether there are more recordings. You can access some photos and an unreleased recording from his Austin studio at his website: http://notrecordstapes.com/
Who else played on these 45 minutes of recordings that you have?
It was Mike Alvarez on guitar, Karl Remstam on bass (he passed away in 2003), Roky on lead guitar and I was on drums. It was a four person band. Nothing fancy.
Have any of those recordings seen light of day?
No. None of it.
So, at this point there are 45 minutes of recordings with you and Roky, Mike Alvarez and Karl Remstam that have never been released?
That is correct. And, remember, we were recording every day. Sometimes 8 hours a day. There is a great deal missing!
That has to be exciting for all sorts of people. Can you describe the sort of music that you guys recorded?
Yes, Roky liked warming up on “The Beast.” He also liked warming up on “A Cold Night For Alligators.” We did “Two Headed Dog, Splash 1, You’re Gonna Miss Me.” We got him to play on a song by The Creation called “How Does It Feel To Feel?” We got him to wail out on “You Really Got Me.” We did a few other 60s tunes, but the songs he really wanted for the EP were “You Don’t Love Me Yet” and “Hungry For Your Love.” We got around to laying down the basic tracks, but we ran into a problem that very few people have discussed. In fact, the basic track slated for the EP of “Hungry for Your Love” is part of the 45 minutes of tape I possess.
And what would that problem be?
Roky’s contract with CBS. I’ve never told any of these stories publicly. Except for a very few select people, no one knows this story. Roky was signed to do a European tour at the end of 1984 through the beginning of 1985. He was being pushed to tour with a band that he didn’t like. Roky took me to a practice with this band and he told me he wasn’t “into it”. They were pushing him in the wrong direction. He said and I quote, “Mike I want you to watch me do what I do with this band.” I said “What are you gonna do Roky.” He said “Just watch what I’m gonna do cause I don’t like this.” He also said he didn’t like being “pushed around”. He said, “These guys don’t let me play what I want”. I told him we should just blow them off. Roky said he couldn’t but repeated, “Watch me, Mike”. So we drove to this practice session way out in the country outside Austin. He set up with this band that was really slick, but this was the band Roky was supposed to play with. I remember they had matching clothes on and Roky was dressed in his usual South Austin attire! Roky’s performance was flat, he wasn’t following the music, he didn’t follow the grooves, the change ups. He rarely played the guitar and, didn’t bother with even picking it up most of the time. It was dreadful. He was more interested in smoking cigarettes than anything. When we got ready to leave, he said “I told you to watch me. I told you I don’t like being here. Let’s get out of here.”
So you guys left I take it?
Yes. We split pretty quick. It was at the same time his management group was pushing the reunion tour of The 13th Floor Elevators. Roky said, “You know what? I don’t want to do the reunion.” I asked him why not, it’s money coming in and he said “I’m not interested. I’m not interested in playing The Elevators tunes, I’m not interested in seeing those people, I really don’t want to do it.” And he said “Did you get a ticket? Cause I’ll get you one for free. I don’t want you paying.” I said yeah I got one for free, Mike Alvarez gave me one. He said “Fine. I want you to go. And I want you to watch what I do.” Again, he said “I want you to watch what I do.” So I said “Roky what are you gonna do?” He said “You’ll see, but I’m not gonna do what these people want me to do. I’m not gonna do it.” I went and they opened with “Before You Accuse Me”. The band started playing and Roky wasn’t even out on the stage. When Roky finally got on the stage, he just walked around and around and around and the drummer yelled “Roky, you need to play. Roky, you need to play.” He just looked over and walked around and around and around. The show was a disaster. In my opinion the Elevators 1984 reunion was a disaster. The next day Roky asked me if I’d gone to the show and I said yes. He said “I told you what I’d do. I told you.” So, Roky was well aware of what was happening despite what other people will tell you. He was more in control of the situation than history gives him credit for.
So Roky was sabotaging the Elevators reunion tour because he didn’t want to be there?
I wouldn’t use the strong term sabotage. He just would not cooperate. Sabotaging would be not showing up. I would call it more, “I’m in control here. Don’t push me around.” To use one of his songs, “Don’t slander me.” At the same time our recordings were going on with Mike Alvarez and we were recording darn near every day. We were having a great time. The band was becoming cohesive and tight. One day we were waiting on Roky and Mike Alvarez said let’s play “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” He said you sing it Mike and I said “okay but I’m a terrible singer.” So, I was singing “You’re Gonna Miss Me” sitting on the couch at Mike Alvarez’s and Mike is playing it, and all of a sudden I look over to my right and there’s Roky sitting next to me, watching and smiling! So I stopped and Mike stopped playing and started laughing and Roky said “Mike why’d you stop?” And I said “cause it’s your song and I can’t sing it” and he said “why, you’re doing a good job, keep singing, you sound great.” I sounded absolutely terrible. That was quite embarrassing to me.
Back to the story, Roky was slated to tour Europe and he really wanted us (Mike Alvarez, Karl Remstam and myself) to back him. The label told him they would tell him where to go and who would go with him. “You’re gonna do what we tell you to do.” Now none of us knew what was going on with his management and label, we were concentrating on playing with Roky. Roky came to my house and said “CBS wants to hear you guys.” So we got together and decided which songs we were gonna play. We played “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” for these guys from CBS. We also played “Splash 1, The Beast, Cold Night For Alligators” and I think we played one more. The guys from CBS were uncomfortable but, friendly. And I remember “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was the last one we played. We finished and these guys said, “okay, we need to talk to Roky.” Mike Alvarez got called and went outside with these guys. Now I’m only 20 years old and all of these people are much older than me. I got ready to walk out the door and Roky pulled me by the left arm and said “Mike I wanna tell you something. I want you to know you’re the best drummer I’ve ever played with. I know where the change ups are with you. And you know when to follow.” I said I appreciated that and Roky said “well, we’re gonna see how things go.” Roky went outside with the record company guys and the rest of the band, I instinctively stayed inside. We didn’t hear anything for quite a while and then in a few weeks Roky was in the car with me. He was riding shotgun with a cig, the way he always did. He said “Mike, I need to talk to you. You are not going to like what I have to say. But, I’m telling you, you need to let me handle this and mind your own. Can you do that?” I said “yeah I can do that, tell me what’s going on.” We were on Bluebonnet Lane, I’ll never forget. Roky smoked his cig for a minute then, he began, “CBS made their decision on which band they want, and unfortunately they don’t want you guys to go.” I said “oh man.” He said, “well, its even worse than that. They will take the band I’ve chosen to go with me, but they don’t want you.” I said “they don’t want me?” And he said, “yeah, they don’t want you.” And I said “ Why? Was it the way I played?” Roky said, “no, its not your playing, its your age. They don’t want to be responsible for you on a tour.” I was only 20, so Roky said “I told them if you’re not going, I’m not going either.” I was absolutely dumbfounded! I said, “Roky you can’t do that.” He said, “Mike listen to me, I told you I’m going to handle this, I’m going to pick the band I want to have go with me and if you’re not going, I’m not going.” I remember saying to him “Roky, this could be millions of dollars you’re missing out on.” He said “Mike, you need to let me handle this, you need to mind your own. I’m gonna take care of this” and he lit a cigarette, repeating “Mind your own Mike” and he wouldn’t talk about it anymore. So he scuttled it. He didn’t go. His refusal started a war. The recordings that were going on at Mike Alvarez’s were shut down. The record company sent a Cease and Desist order. Before the sessions were shut down, Mike Alvarez was working on a solo album that he was going to release and he got Roky to play backup guitar and sing backing vocals. Its unclear as to whether Mike Alvarez still has those recordings or not, we would have to ask Mike.
So there are some recordings with Mike Alvarez singing and playing guitar that have Roky playing 2nd guitar and backing vocals with you on drums?
No, I didn’t play on them. I moved on to another band, so the recordings were done with another drummer and I believe a different bassist, not Karl Remstam. Roky played rhythm guitar, a little bit of lead guitar and sang backing vocals, so basically Roky was a member of Mike Alvarez’s band. Those recordings are in the can somewhere along with recordings from April through August of 1984. The tape machines were going constantly. So there has to be reel after reel after reel of tape from that point in time. Many of these tapes are in my possession, the rest appear to have been lost. I have control of these tapes, they are very rough, from a 4 track machine. A few people have heard these recordings, and they are not beyond rescuing or being lifted from the tapes. They were done in the style of recording that would have taken place at International Artists. This was Roky’s band.
Are there plans at this point for these tapes to be lifted and mastered? What are your plans for these recordings?
There has been lots of acrimony over these recordings. Attempts to release them have resulted in lawsuits.
So where does the story go from here Mike?
I would like to convey the gap between what Roky told me is the meaning of certain songs and what has been published recently as their meaning and the disparity between the two. My favorite is “Slip Inside This House.” I want it on the record what Roky told me what the song is about. Roky and I were very close in 1984 and we discussed “Psychedelic Sounds” and other recordings. I point blank asked Roky what “Slip Inside This House” is about. It’s one of my favorites. Roky said “Its really simple. We lived in an old Victorian house in Houston and it looked really bad from the outside. I’d watch people from the window rush by and I always thought if you’d slip inside this house as you passed by you’d see what was going on inside.” So, the song is not about finding a higher plane in Mongolia or somewhere, it is about people rushing by his house. He said if people had slipped inside the house to see who lived there they’d really enjoy it. He said, “The line ‘Slip inside this house as you pass by’ stuck in my head. So, I just started writing the song around the idea.” Roky also discussed the recording of “Easter Everywhere.” He said that some people weren’t able to get high, smoke pot and what have you, so “we recorded that album to try to help people get high who couldn’t get high.” Then I asked him about “Slide Machine.” He said it was about “voter cheating, its about fraud” and he wouldn’t go on from there. Then I asked him about “Levitation”. I had a bet with a classmate from high school. He was convinced Roky was singing “Makes me feel light as Air”. I was convinced he was singing “Makes me feel God is Dead”. So, I told Roky about the bet and asked him to settle it. He said, “Mike I’m singing ‘makes me feel light as air’ not ‘God is dead’. Where are you hearing that?” He thought it was funny. We talked about “Psychedelic Sounds” and he said he didn’t like those recording sessions. He said it was rushed at a 4 track studio in Dallas and only 3 of the tracks were working and a microphone kept cutting out. He said it took about 9 hours to record. He said they kept telling him every song was “just a practice” and that all the recordings were supposed to be “practice runs. OK, play another… OK play another” Roky told me he thought all the takes were just practice, not final takes. The band was deceived by their label. I have some unreleased tracks from those sessions and sure enough there are microphones shorting out left and right.
Is anyone aware that you have these outtakes from “Psychedelic Sounds?”
Well I not only have outtakes but I have an International Artist reference tape. This is a copy direct from the 4 track sub master reel, unmixed with all of the flubs and chatter. The condition is poor, as the technology at the time was bad. But, it is not beyond saving and it is fascinating to listen to the Elevators working up the songs that became Psychedelic Sounds. Bits of this tape were lifted and spliced together in the “Box Set” release. But, the parts they lifted are several generations from my first gen tape and, it shows.
Have you or anyone listened to those tapes to know exactly what’s on them?
This is complex, as I have more tapes in my possession than the Psych Sounds Reference tape. Over the years, people have asked me to drop by or, give accounts of my time with Roky. It is not a subject I have always been forthcoming about; I am a private person. When people have pressured me for interviews or to talk about my time with Roky I’ve always said no, you don’t cash in on knowing someone but, I think we’ve seen a lot of that in the Elevator’s world the past few years. In 2003 I was working in Tucson. An old friend was very insistent on me coming over to meet some people about “Roky”. I put it off but finally one night I went over to my friends house. I was greeted by a group of people with something to show me. Sitting in front of me was a crate of tapes and an ancient Ampex 8 track reel to reel tape machine. These people said that they had gone to a yard sale in New Mexico and bought the tapes and machine for about $75. I asked them if they had listened to them and they said yes, on one of the tapes they heard Roky talk for a moment and then one of the songs from “Easter Everywhere.” When they heard that, they rewound the tape and discovered that they had destroyed the part they had listened to. They said they no longer wanted to be in possession of the tapes, so I got the tapes and they kept the 8 track machine. I took photos of the machine and although I can’t be absolutely sure, the machine was exactly like the one that was used at Andrus Studios where The Elevators recorded. There are photos from Andrus Studios on line. This machine matched, right down to the track selector box made out of wood! Over the years I have tried to get the tapes legitimately released. At one point a few years ago I got in touch with Roky’s management and offered to drop by a show in Portland, Oregon and hand them over to Roky, but they told me “no thanks.” I have no idea what their reasons were. I’ve tried selling them, giving them away, but nothing has been done. My idea was that the management people take the tapes and pay to dump them, then they get their copy and I get mine. I get to do what I want with my copy which is to put them out for free so people can hear them. The Management company can mix them and do whatever they want with their copy. They turned me down flat. During the sessions to transfer the Andrus tapes for the box set they invited me to the studio to donate my “Easter Everywhere” tapes. One of the main participants offered to pay my air fare! He said he was listening to “Never Another takes 1 through 10! Get Here!” Since I had to work, I said I would mail them the IA cassettes and they could dump them and mail them back to me. But I said I wouldn’t mail them “Easter Everywhere” because I wouldn’t let the reels out of my sight. The offer of the cassettes was refused. The reels are in limbo, in my storage unit where they will remain.
Are they stored somewhere climate controlled?
Yes they are. They are stored in Washington state.
You know the tapes are from “Easter Everywhere.” Do you know what’s on the tapes?
No, I only heard the snippets that the guy dumped. Those tapes absolutely cannot be put on a machine. They are much too fragile. One of the reels is only about one fourth full, I suspect it is something that was being mixed. The other reel is full and has a relatively long leader on it. The tapes were in bad shape when I got them. The first thirty seconds of the full reel is completely destroyed because they tried to play the tape. The rest of the tape is there. I actually have not laid eyes upon them for three years.
What are all of the recordings of Roky that are in your possession as of now, just to give readers an idea of the treasure trove that you are in possession of?
I’ve got those two reels from “Easter Everywhere,” I have an IA cassette that was sent home with the band from “Psychedelic Sounds.” It’s the outtakes, the chatter, the breakdowns, a lot of outtakes, in fact there’s a snippet of a song on there that I don’t even recognize. I have a cassette from IA of a radio show that has been out there for quite some time. I have The Elevators demo that they recorded for Gordon Bynum and that’s been out in bits and pieces over the years too. I have the outtakes from the recording sessions in 1984 from Roky’s EP. Somewhere, I have more alternate mixes from Easter, including a copy of Levitation missing some of Roky’s vocals in Mono. Most of the vocals are there but, some are just completely missing.
So you’ve got the 45 minutes or so recorded at Mike Alvarez’s in 1984 as well?
It sounds like there could have been some additions to the box set that would have been of great interest to fans.
Yes, as I’ve told you before I’ve done everything from threaten to list them on eBay to offer to just hand them over and nothing ever worked. So as far as I’m concerned those tapes are just gonna sit. I’m not looking to do anything with them. Deep down inside I have no idea why these tapes came to reside with me. I’ve tried to do the right thing and all I’ve gotten so far is grief and death threats on the internet and I’m just tired of it. A lot of people out there think this will bring them fortune and fame. But in the end I’m the one who got to play music with Roky and got to sit down and talk with Roky and hear what he had to say and I’m not looking to get rich and I’m not looking for fame or recognition. I think I was afforded something in life people only dream of. People sit and listen to music and it changes their life and I got to play with the artist who recorded the music that had such an affect on my life. There are people who believe their “proximity” to Fame and Creativity; Artistry, imbues in them the gift the artist actually was given and they exploit this proximity to their advantage. From seeking free passage to shows to anointing themselves “Experts”. People like these are nothing more than hangers on; Pousers. For the record, I have never “Cashed in” on my association with Roky or any of the other artists I have been friends with over the years.
It seems as though you have tried to respect Roky and treat him with integrity.
I want it on the record that when I was around Roky he was much more lucid and in control than people think. He’s been called the American Syd Barrett. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have wanted the dirt on Roky and I have gained the reputation as someone who slams down the phone. For the record, I will continue to “Slam the Phone down on the cradle!” One of these people said, “All of you guys from South Austin are the same. I keep asking you guys the same questions and getting the same answers. Why is it you guys keep circling the wagons? Why will you not answer any questions?” I said, “All of us may be far from South Austin. But, in the end, we are South Austin boys. We protect our own. What you are seeking is personal information and if you want personal information about Roky ask him not me.” I am not gonna give them dirt on Roky. Or, any of the musicians of my acquaintance.
Over the period of time that you played with Roky and was a member of his band, how many gigs did you play?
None. Not a single one.
So you did a ton of recording with Roky, and you are in possession of at least 45 minutes recorded between April and August of 1984? And perhaps Mike Alvarez possesses further recordings that you did with Roky at Mike’s studio.
Roky was not into playing gigs at that point. His goal was to record. That was his Plan A. Plan B was to take this band he was recording with and tour with them.
So if you had been one year older history could be completely different, as you, Roky, Mike Alvarez and Karl Renstam could have toured?
Well history might have been different, but I don’t mind the way things turned out. I really don’t. I can’t discount what happened. Here’s a story that will bring out a side of Roky people may not be aware of. I was driving one day and my car, a 1970 Buick with a big V8, broke down. I was within walking distance of Roky’s house, so I walked up to the door and knocked. Roky’s mom answered the door and I told her my car had broken down. She said Roky’s asleep, let me wake him up. I said no, don’t bother, and she said no, Roky’s a pretty good mechanic. So Roky gets up, we walked to the car. He opens the hood and tinkers with something which I later found out was the coil wire and he said okay Mike give it a try and it started on the first try. So Roky said “okay, give me a ride back home.” We both laughed.
There was a name you mentioned earlier that has been on my mind for the last hour and a half and I’ve got to ask about. Daniel Johnston, did you guys grow up in the same neighborhood or how did you know him?
No, Daniel was signed with Mike Alvarez. Daniel and I were about the same age and we spoke several times at length. As I recall, we went and grabbed a bite to eat a few times. At one point Daniel was around for one of the “Room City” sessions I was playing drums for at the time. He said “I want you to know something. I’m your biggest fan. You know that band you’re playing in? I want you to quit and join my band.” I turned him down, but was very flattered by the offer.
You were around Roky from 1983 until 1986. What about you and music after that?
I started a punk rock band, Last Will, with Karl Remstam. We had one goal with Last Will and that was to make money. We had no other goal with the band. I had other offers along the way though. In 1983 I sat in with The Butthole Surfers and they invited me to join the band and I said “no thanks I’d make my own band work.” I think I’ve made a few mistakes along the way.
One thing I was wondering Mike do you have photographs to document your musical endeavors?
Yes, an old girlfriend has most of them and I’ve asked her to share them but she refuses. She also has other 13th Floor Elevators tapes that belong to me that she refuses to share. She absolutely refuses to cooperate. I’ve tried to no avail.
Wow Mike, thanks so much for taking so much time to share your recollections of playing music with and hanging out with Roky Erickson. I’m especially grateful because I know this is the first interview you have ever given. Many, many thanks.
Thanks so much, it has been my pleasure. Thanks Kevin, call me anytime.
Take care and stay in touch Mike.
– Kevin Rathert