Roky died on May 31, 2019, and while not a purveyor of punk, he was punk in spirit. Instead of the traditional tributes, I thought I’d do a top ten of the versions of the song Two-Headed Dog (which is his best song). The song is based off of the story of the transplant work of Vladimir Demikhov – while the most well know transplant was in 1959, I won’t belabour the point other than to say that no dog survived the transplant more than 29 days. Roky’s song used that as a launching off point. Here’s in my opinion, the best 10 versions of the song as I see them.
10. Live in Dallas, 1979 with the Nervebreakers
So the Nervebreakers are an early punk band from Texas and were Roky’s backing band for probably a hot minute in 1979. At this point Roky was out of mental institutions and in firmly with the punk scene in Austin and particularly Raul’s club. This version from 1979, features a really wild first minute, then settles in to the song I know and love. There’s no backing vocals, which is a shame, because you really miss them when they’re gone.
9. Demon Angel: A Day And Night With Roky Erickson
This is solo performance with Roky and an acoustic guitar, and a muted electric guitar from 1984. The CD is a bootleg of the audio bits of the videotape of the same name – it’s a different performance, with Roky in fine vocal form and stripping the song down to just guitars works. It’s about 34 minutes into the embedded video.
8. The Friends of Roky Erickson
This is a bit of an oddity because the version on here says it’s from River City, Fairfax, California from 1975, which would place it at the earliest version status. It’s firmly in the rocknroll camp, unfortunately marred by some terrible live bootleg sound. It’s a great version, with some slightly different delivery.
7. Live at the Ritz, 1987
Another live bootleg, but this time from 1987 and at the Ritz in Austin, TX. Great punchy version, probably the fastest of the bunch, and has a great yowl from Roky, up there with the trademark one in “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. Roky’s voice hasn’t lost a step yet, and everyone’s still quite energetic.
6. 2007 Austin City Limits
A bit of a cheat because it’s not a record or CD, but a live broadcast, which you can see the entirety of below. I have to say, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top adds a lot to this performance, and the addition of Cam King and Freddy Steady Krc from The Explosives as well as Jon Sanchez who’s primarily a session guitarist, but might be known in punk/indie circles as the guitarist for the Flying Saucers. Perhaps out of all the live versions, this one is the tightest, but Roky’s singing is not as punctual as some of the other versions. Admittedly, this is now a man in his late 50’s/early 60’s, so yeah, he is not in a debt to anyone. Pretty much Roky’s return to do a victory lap, finally able to reap the respect and accolades for his early work.
5. 13th Floor Elevators Reunion, 1984
Holy crap, despite the few minor missteps, the band is in great form in this set from Liberty Lunch in Austin Texas in July of 1984. Roky’s voice is great, the entire band rips. Apparently the reunion was supposed to continue on to Houston and other parts, but fell apart and Roky was back touring with the Explosives. The story goes that Roky didn’t want to play the songs that Stacy Sutherland has written (most of the 13th Floor Elevators) as he was dead at the time of the reunion, so the band plays mostly Roky’s solo songs.
4. Roky Erickson & The Explosives – Halloween Live 1979-1981
OK this version makes it’s way onto a ton of releases, some legitimate, some quasi-legitimate, some bootleg. This 1979 version of Two Headed Dog was from the Raul’s Club, which is a well known punk club. Originally this was supposed to be included on the Live At Raul’s LP that came out that year, but the Roky songs were dropped because of an impasse with Roky’s record label. A great, punky, punchy and tough version.
3. Rocky Erickson & The Aliens
The classic 1980 LP released on CBS in the UK. This is the version you probably know best, and are familiar with – and it’s the standard. When I think of this song it’s the version that’s in my head. Slight psychedelic tinges, but also immediately rock n roll. Don’t worry if you’re not into new wave, there’s not a whiff of it here. Which probably explains why it didn’t do so well.
2. Rocky Erickson & Bleib Alien
The first version of the song is a very, very different take on the whole thing. From Mars Records, released in 1975, Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog) this single was fuzzed out, blown out, warped in delivery and absolutely deep to listen to. It’s been re-released on a couple compilation bootlegs, and those are worth tracking down, but the original isn’t particularly horror priced.
1.Mine, Mine, Mind 7″
This, in my opinion, is the best version of the song. From 1977, combining a punk energy with the quirkiness of Roky’s composition, the re-recording of the 1975 version cleans up the fuzziness and puts together a song that will stick in your head. The 1980 LP version is cleaner still, while this one retains it’s rough edges and gives it that something special that is just right. Roky’s voice is top notch and all the elements of this song hit their marks. In my mind, this is the perfect version of the song.