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HOWARD THOMPSON ON ROKY ERICKSON - INTERVIEW BY ENCOULE

Howard Thompson is a living legend, one of the finest old school A&R guys to have ever walked this earth, and all round good guy to boot! Hes worked with Public Image Ltd, the Snivelling Shits, Suicide, Eddie & The Hot Rods, MX-80 Sound, Motorhead, The Real Kids, the Psychedelic Furs and Adam & The Ants, to name but 9!

He was also the man responsible for bringing Roky Erickson & Bleib Aliens classic debut long player to CBS Records in 1980. Originally titled with a set of runes that are impossible to reproduce here, the album was later re-titled The Evil One for its US release. When Howard asked Roky the meaning of the runic title, he replied: (it) stands for the system. When asked why he used said runic title, he said, Well because theres this creature, who wears glasses and got a bald head . . . and he beats people up all the time . . . and he signed it for me

Howard recently cyber-talked to Jean Encoule about his time with Roky exclusively for mudKISS, and has provided a couple of snippets of his goodself interviewing Roky in London back in 1980 in MP3 format for mudKISS readers wonderment and edification:

mudKISS - When did you first become aware of the 13th Floor Elevators, and what were your initial reactions?
 
HT - Ed Hollis (manager of Eddie and The Hot Rods) included You're Going to Miss Me on a compilation tape of US 'Punk Rock' when I asked him to do me a tape of stuff he liked. That reminded me that I'd assisted in cutting the lacquers for WEA's UK release of Lenny Kaye's Nuggets double album when I worked for Trident a year or 2 earlier. Somehow, it stood out more on Ed's cassette.

mudKISS - What did the concept of psychedelia mean, if anything, to you at the time?

HT - In the early 70s, I would be happiest listening to music on LSD in the crummy little Willesden Green flat I shared with 3 other guys. Mostly, we’d listen to the Doors, The Mothers Of Invention, Van Der Graaf Generator and Spirit. Uh, the ‘concept of psychedelia’ didn’t mean much to me at all, really. Unless I was looking at a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic, or anything by S Clay Wilson.

mudKISS - In retrospect, do you find the Elevators guilty of 'inventing' psychedelia, or not?

HT - Once Nick Kent claimed that was the case in the sleeve notes of an EP that came out through a quasi- legit outfit called Bizzarre Records (out of Praed St. in Paddington), that was good enough for me. After all, when 'psychedelic' music was really taking off in the US, I was stuck in Muswell Hill, or away at boarding school thinking the Rolling Stones and the Mothers Of Invention were what it was all about. 

mudKISS - How did you get involved with Roky Erickson?

HT - I was working at CBS Records, London. Roky's managers, Bruce Young and Craig Luckin, were in town, and they had been to see Andrew Lauder over at Liberty/UA. Andrew suggested they come and see me, as I'd begun to develop a reputation for signing artists that weren't necessarily in the mainstream. I think bringing the Hot Rods, MX-80 Sound and the Sniveling Shits to Island, Motorhead, Suicide and The Real Kids to Bronze and the Psychedelic Furs and Adam & The Ants to CBS probably put me in some sort of "untypical A&R person" category. I dunno, it's not really for me to say. Suffice to say, I really liked Bruce and Craig as people, and when they gave me a cassette of 4 or 5 Roky rough mixes, I had to do it.

 
mudKISS - Nick Kent remembers you arriving in the middle of an interview he was conducting with Roky at the Portobello Hotel in London, laden with gifts for Roky, and that Roky didn't remember who you were! What do you remember of this situation?

HT - I read Nick's book, The Dark Stuff, with great admiration, but couldn't remember that incident myself. I'm not saying it didn't happen, though. The Roky I remember was always extraordinarily polite and deferential. Quite a sweetheart, really, but difficult to have a normal conversation with.

Here is a short excerpt of a conversation we had at CBS studios on Whitfield St:

 

It was the first 'interview' I ever did and it was a LONG time before I tried another. I was very nervous and couldn't get a straight answer to practically any question. I gave up too early, I'm afraid, but did manage to get a half hour or so (including 5 songs from
the album) out of it.
 

It's worth listening to Creature With The Atom Brain for ambient comment and Roky’s Coca Cola burps! (That, and because it's just so fuckin righteous!) His wife, Holly, was at his side at the time. It was supposedly sent out to radio stations in the UK for 'promotional purposes' but no one used it. I can sort of see why, even though some of Roky's answers are priceless. If you go here: 

http://northforksound.blogspot.com/2008/04/click-your-fingers-applauding-play.html


you'll see what I wrote on my blog about RE a few months ago. I'll be putting up some b&w photos there in the next day or two, so make sure you check for them. Bruce and Craig gave them to me back in the day. I also have copies of some of Roky’s artwork, and that stuff is amazing. Maybe you should go through official channels to get some of that, first. As far as I know, no one’s published any of that (unless it’s in the book). 

mudKISS - You describe Roky as being 'charming and polite' yet almost impossible to converse with, how much time did you spend with him during yr association?

HT There was the Creature screening described in the blog (2 1/2 hours). Then when he came to London, I met him at Heathrow and travelled back to London with him. I saw how small his room was at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill Gate (apparently all the rooms were just glorified closets in a pretty setting). I spent time with Roky between his interviews at Soho Square. I saw him 'live' in San Francisco and at Fantasy Studios mixing with Karl Derfler and Duane Aslaksen and I had lunch in Austin with him, Rob Patterson (Austin writer and friend of Roky, who calls him “Leonard”) and Casey Monihan (from the Texas Music Council) and went over to his house in Del Valle with Bob Bortnick (Almo Sounds) and Rob for a visit on a different occasion.

mudKISS - Did you realize at the time how important a release 'Roky Erickson And The Aliens' would become over the ensuing years?

HT - I'm not sure that it's up to me to describe its 'importance'. I just loved the record and got it released. I felt Roky was/is a one-off and deserved more recognition. 

mudKISS - How did yr association with Roky come to an end?

HT - I had signed him to the UK company for Europe. Only Holland had the sense to pick it up outside of England. The record did not sell well enough to go forward, even though they delivered a second album not long after I’d transferred to the US in 82. CBS UK ‘passed’.

mudKISS - You have a self-declared long-standing interest in Roky's history, have you read Paul Drummond's 'Eye Mind', and how did you rate it?
 

HT - Didn't read it. I'll get it one of these days. 

mudKISS - Ditto, the Palm Pictures rockumentary, 'Yr Gonna Miss Me'?

HT - I watched it. I felt queasy and sad. 

mudKISS - What did you make of Sumner's efforts on his brother's behalf?


HT - I'm always worried that someone, who means well to begin with, gets involved with Roky but gives up after a while because they just can't get to grips with such a large undertaking. It seems like Sumner did a very good job in rehabilitating Roky. I don't know if it's true, but one of the things I heard was that since Sumner got Roky a new set of teeth, he's been much better, suggesting that perhaps the mercury in his old fillings had caused some of Roky's problems. Personally, I think the electric shock treatment at Rusk was primarily responsible, though. 

mudKISS - And Rollins?

HT - Henry tried his best. 

mudKISS - Roky is working on a new LP with Billy Gibbons as we type, what kind of LP would you expect from such a collaboration?

HT - I expect it will be very good. So many of Roky’s albums since the CBS album have been exploitative and disappointing. Roky needs a producer who knows what he’s doing and Billy, I think, will do a great job.

mudKISS - Have you caught any of the resurgent Roky's recent shows?

HT - No. I still haven’t reached the point where I believe he’s as good as I remember him being. I’ve seen a few YouTube performances and not enjoyed them, mainly because I think the band he’s using is sub-par. There’s a precision in the Aliens playing that helps make that album so successful. Most of the bands I’ve seen him use since then have had a “close-enough-for-rock-and-roll” attitude and, for me, that’s not good enough. 

Go see what else Howard has packed into his extraordinary life here:  


Jean Encoule – September 2008 

Contact Jean: wastebin@trakMARX.com