Thursday, March 27, 2008

Two Giants of Rebel Rock, Roky Erickson and George Brigman, Step Back Into the Spotlight!

If Roky Erickson and George Brigman had never recorded anything other than “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Jungle Rot”, they would both have a cherished footnote in rock and roll history. The fire, fury and drive of those tracks captured the essence of rock and rock perfectly in a 3 minute song. Though their careers took widely divergent pasts, with George wallowing in obscurity for years, and Roky having to deal with the breakup of an incendiary band, a hopelessly inept label, the law, and his own schizophrenia, the obstacles that they overcame were huge, and in 2007 the beginning of their rebirth has been a success story like no other. These two giants of Rebel Rock rose up and continued their quest for rock and roll nirvana, unwilling to be silenced while remaining viable music forces, preaching their gospel and spreading it like St Elmo’s Fire. Roky’s path to this point is simply remarkable, and his rehabilitation seems to be a true miracle.

The 13th Floor Elevators, strange at it may seem, in 1965 started on a cosmic quest to achieve immortality through their music. It worked, but only the music achieved immortality! Using a psychedelic blueprint, devised by their jug player Tommy Hall even before LSD was widely known or even illegal, they explored the meaning of life, with the ultimate goal, according to the last song on Easter Everywherebeing to “leave your body behind/” Reading Paul Drummond’s eye opening account of the Elevators and Roky, Eye Mind, it is a wonder anyone who survived the madness wasn’t thrown in jail for a long time or simply in the loony bin. Unfortunately some of them were, with Stacy Sutherland being arrested reportedly 35 times before he was tragically shot, Tommy Hall jailed as well and Roky having to be institutionalized several times. It was as if the Elevators were a real life version of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and in fact comic artist Gilbert Shelton did model his characters after the Austin freak crowd the band was very much a part. By his own estimation, Roky believes he took over 300 acid trips, and that, coupled with constant paranoia and infighting within the band, a clueless record label, and redneck cops, created an atmosphere that caused the band to implode, but not before they created two flawless LPs that today stand hand and shoulders above the fare created by most of their better funded and more-together peers.

The chaos that resulted in those now classic LPs seems to have followed Roky as well, but it is a testament to his inner soul that he has resurrected his career once again, and at age 60, he no doubt still struggles with his demons, but he has spark of a happy man as he plays for sold out shows both in the US and Europe. On the 1st and 2nd of March, Roky had two high profile and very packed NYC shows, at Webster Hall and Maxwell’s in Hoboken, and he had previously returned from a sold out tour of Europe. Finally on his own after all these years thanks to the supreme kindness of his brother Sumner, Roky has begun to garner some long overdue respect. He is a true giant of Rebel Rock, one who has weathered many storms. The fire of his best solo work burns with the flame of a survivor who has been thru hell. The white faces he sang about, probably still haunt him, but he seems better equipped to deal with them now. It was a great thing seeing Roky on Austin City Limits looking at the camera and smiling wryly. The man has picked up the magical pieces of his career and put them back together again, and he has every right to smile. It seems to me, due to the excellence of his work with the Elevators as well as his best solo work, Roky Erickson should be welcomed back with open arms. His return is a uplifting tale of achievement despite huge odds, and his recovery from long term drug abuse sends a great message of personal triumph that it is indeed possible. The impact of Roky’s music has been profound and one can only hope we will have new recordings to cherish as well.

Certainly, George Brigman is a bit more obscure than Roky Erickson, though they share the same defiant spirit that is present in the best Rebel Rock., an in your face attitude if you will. His self released 1975 LP Jungle Rot was a bit much for Baltimore in 1975, but it’s reputation grew over the years, culminating in numerous European bootlegs in 5 countries, until Bona Fide reissued it with much fanfare officially in 2005. Hailed as reissue of the month by Mojo magazine among other plaudits, it made George’s raw bluesy psych available for all to hear. Now dubbed a proto-punk masterpiece, in 1975 the sludgy sounding mess of distortion filled mutant boogie only hinted at what was to come. As luck would have it, life intervened-- his band Split split up and their LP I Can Hear the Ants Dancin remained unreleased for years. Gone was the basement sound of Jungle Rot, replaced by swirling lead guitars jamming in a sea of feedback and distortion. Over the years this would eventually be released along with the Silent Bones EP and a European only comp, but it seemed no new material was coming. Finally in 2007 25 years after the release of his last all new LP, Brigman released Rags In Skull, yet another finely crafted and unusual work, which not only has the easily identifiable Brigman groove, but represents the culmination of a personal odyssey as well.

The epic span of years between Brigman’s releases highlights even more his personal struggle to get his music heard. Out of necessity, in the mid 80s his career took a back seat to providing for his family, though he never stopped writing songs and occasionally recording. The absence of a permanent drummer also hampered any attempt to get a regular working band going. Only after about the 5th bootleg of Jungle Rot, did George finally realize it was time to get back in the swing of things and finally get his new LP done. We set the table by reissuing both George’s LPs on CD, including a first release of the complete I Can Hear the Ants Dancin sessions and also three songs from George’s band Hogwash. Karl Ikola of Anopheles also provided for the first time, an authorized vinyl reissue of Jungle Rot straight from the original masters. Both the vinyl and CD reissues of Jungle Rot have sold out and Brigman’s reputation is now established worldwide. The fact that Rags in Skull has yet to find a wider audience is not too surprising, but it belies the fact that it smolders and smokes, crackling with the energy of George’s best work. For some of us, just the existence of Rags in Skull provides a glimmer of hope that more recordings will follow, and it is proof that the Rebel Rock scene is thriving once again.

George’s comeback, like Roky’s solo material, has a timeless quality that transcends eras and styles, making it difficult to put in a box. Is it psych? Hard Rock? Avant Garage? Jazz? His music sounds fresh, with sounds and textures blended in a turbulent sea which resonates with sometimes quiet fire. Sometimes the guitar can be blistering and the lyrics dripping with venom as in the autobiographical “Some Of My Best Friends Are Snakes” and sometimes the songs can be fragile, gem-like creations like the often willowy instrumental “Donna Leigh”. As much as Brigman’s axe wizardy has been touted, and despite the abundance of it on Rags In Skull, the highlight of this long-in-the-works comeback is the songwriting. The despair and bleakness of Jungle Rot has re-emerged, now sharper and seasoned, maybe a bit reflective, but still filled with spit and fire. A sense of survival fills the songs on Rags, though it seems tinged with weariness from the struggle. Still, George has once again staked his claim to a special spot in the rock and roll kingdom. Standing defiant and undaunted, spitting in the face of bootleggers and false friends while reveling in the power of his Gibson SG, Brigman takes a stand for all the rebels, musical and otherwise. Firing from the hip, he fucks with the carcass of over-hyped rock and injects his high octane blood and guts, a transfusion that restores some faded glory to a music scene awash with false contenders to the throne that George and Roky should be sitting on.

Here’s hoping that both Roky Erickson and George Brigman get their due 10 times over cause their visions are both unique and uplifting. Their personal struggles have been great and the attention that has been bestowed upon them is well deserved. Their contributions to rock and roll are enormous and may never be fully acknowledged by the so-called mainstream press. Here’s to Roky for going through hell and living to sing about it. Its an amazing personal odyssey through which his musical genius is obvious, and his rebirth as he turned 60 is a simply Herculean feat. Next month his double LP Halloween Live 79-81 will be out on Norton Records and you can hear him do his great demon songs backed by the Explosives at the peak of his first comeback. We are hoping that the future holds a nice fat recording contract for Roky and there will be new songs as well. As far as George Brigman goes, his health unfortunately precludes touring or even a live show , but he continues to work on new material. The Rags In Skull CD is available from our CD Baby page, and we also have a special offer of the Rags CD together with an original Blowin Smoke 45 from 1977 for sale on I feel it's just great that Roky Erickson and George Brigman are still dishing out great music in the 00s, and their continued presence on the music scene is a beacon of hope for rebel rockers everywhere!

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