Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Cramps: Biopsies, Histrionics and Pornographs

(From Wikipedia) The Cramps were an American punk band, formed in 1976. Their line-up rotated much over their existence, with the husband and wife duo of lead singer Lux Interior and lead guitarist Poison Ivy as the only permanent members. Guitarist Bryan Gregory and drummer Pam Ballam rounded out the first complete lineup in April 1976. They were part of the early CBGB punk movement that had emerged in New York. By being the first known band to blend punk rock with rockabilly and gothic rock, The Cramps are widely recognized as innovators of psychobilly/gothabilly, as well as garage punk and horror punk.

Their music is mostly in rockabilly form, played at varying tempos, with a very minimal drumkit. An integral part of the early Cramps sound is dual guitars, without a bassist. The content of their songs and image is campy, Americana, sexual fetishism, humor, and retro
horror/sci-fi b-movie clichés. Their sound was heavily influenced by early rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll like Link Wray and Hasil Adkins, 1960s surf music acts such as The Ventures and Dick Dale, 1960s garage rock artists like The Standells, The Gants, The Trashmen, The Green Fuz and The Sonics (, as well as the post-glam/early punk scene from which they emerged. They also were influenced to a degree by The Ramones and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who is often credited for having pioneered their style of theatrical horror-blues.

Lux Interior (Erick Lee Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy (born Kristy Wallace) met in Sacramento, California in 1972. Due to their common artistic interests and shared devotion to record collecting, they decided to form The Cramps. Lux took his stage name from a car ad, and Ivy claimed to have received hers in a dream (she was first Poison Ivy Rorschach, taking her last name from that of the inventor of the Rorschach test). In 1973, they moved to Akron, Ohio, and then to New York in 1975, soon entering into CBGB's early punk scene with other emerging acts like The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Television. The lineup in 1976 was Poison Ivy Rorschach, Lux Interior, Bryan Gregory (guitar) and his sister Pam "Ballam" Gregory (drums). In a short period of time, the Cramps changed drummers twice; Miriam Linna (later of Nervus Rex, The Zantees, and The A-Bones) replaced Pam Ballam, and Nick Knox (formerly with the Electric Eels) replaced Linna in September 1977. In the late 1970s, the Cramps briefly shared a rehearsal space with The Fleshtones, and performed regularly in New York at places like CBGB's and Max's Kansas City, releasing two independent singles produced by Alex Chilton at Ardent Studios in Memphis in 1977 before being signed by Miles Copeland to the young I.R.S. Records label.

The Cramps relocated to Los Angeles in 1980 and hired guitarist Kid Congo Powers of The Gun Club. While recording their second LP, Psychedelic Jungle, the band and Miles Copeland began to dispute royalties and creative rights. The ensuing court case prevented them from releasing anything until 1983, when they recorded Smell of Female live at New York's Peppermint Lounge; Kid Congo Powers subsequently departed. Mike Metoff of The Pagans (cousin of Nick Knox) was the final second guitarist - albeit only live - of the Cramps' pre-bass era. He accompanied them on an extensive European tour in 1984 (that had been cancelled twice because they couldn't find a suitable guitarist) which included four sold out nights at the legendary Hammersmith Palais. They also recorded performances of "The Most Exalted Potentate of Love" and "You Got Good Taste" which were broadcast on the acclaimed UK music show The Tube (the mid-summer night special).

In 1985 the Cramps recorded a one-off track for the horror movie The Return of the Living Dead called "Surfin' Dead", on which Ivy played bass as well as guitar. With the release of 1986's A Date With Elvis, the Cramps permanently added a bass guitar to the mix, but had trouble finding a suitable player, so Ivy temporarily filled in as the band's bassist. Fur joined them on the world tour to promte the album. Their popularity in the UK was at its peak as evidenced by the six nights at Hammersmith in London, three at the Odeon (as well as many other sell out dates throughout the UK) and then three at the Palais when they returned from the continent. Each night of the tour opened with the band coming on one at a time each: Knox, Fur, Ivy and then Lux before launching into their take on Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel". The album featured what was to become a pre-dominating theme of their work from here on: a move away from the B-movie horror focus to an increased emphasis on sexual double entendre. The album met with differing fates on either side of the Atlantic: in Europe, it sold over 250,000 copies, while in the U.S. the band had difficulty finding a record company prepared to release it until 1990.It also included their first UK Singles Chart hit: "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" It was not until 1986 that the Cramps found a suitable permanent bass player: Candy del Mar (of Satan's Cheerleaders), who made her recorded debut on the raw live album RockinnReelininAucklandNewZealandxxx, which was followed by the studio album Stay Sick in 1990.

Knox left in 1991. The Cramps hit the top 40 singles chart in the UK for the first and only time with "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns"; Ivy posed as such both on the cover of the single and in the promotional video for the song. The Cramps went on to record more albums and singles through the 1990s and 2000s, for various labels and with varying degrees of success. In 1995 The Cramps appeared on the TV-series Beverly Hills, 90210 in the Halloween episode "Gypsies, Cramps and Fleas." They played 2 songs in show: "Mean Machine" and "Strange Love." Lux started the song by saying "Hey boys and ghouls, are you ready to rise the dead?" In honor of the excess of The Cramps, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has on display a shattered bass drum head that Lux's head went through during a live show.

On January 10, 2001, Bryan Gregory died at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center of complications following a heart attack. He was 46.On February 4, 2009 at 4:40 AM PST, Lux Interior died at the Glendale Memorial Hospital after suffering an aortic dissection which, contrary to inital reports about a pre-existing condition, was "sudden, shocking and unexpected". He was 62.

‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’
-- Mark 5:9

Former members of the Cramps

  • Bryan Gregory (Greg Beckerleg) – guitar, April 1976 – May 1980
  • Pam Ballam (Pam Beckerleg) – drums, April 1976 – September 1976
  • Miriam Linna – drums, October 1976 – June 1977
  • Nick Knox – drums, July 1977 - January 1991
  • Julien Grindsnatch – guitar, July 1980 – September 1980
  • Kid Congo Powers (Brian Tristan) – guitar, December 1980 – September 1983
  • Mike Metoff (as Ike Knox) – guitar, October 1983 – November 1983; January 1984 – July 1984
  • Click Mort - guitar, December 1983
  • Jim Sclavunos – drums, 1991
  • Touch Hazard (Tim Maag of The Mechanics) - bass, 1985
  • Fur (Jennifer Dixon) - bass, March 1986 - May 1986
  • Candy del Mar – bass, July 1986 – January 1991
  • Slim Chance – bass, March 1991-August 1998
  • Nickey Alexander – drums, June 1991 – January 1993
  • Doran Shelley – bass, 1998 - 1999
  • SugarPie Jones – bass, 2000
  • "Jungle" Jim Chandler – "Laid down the primal beat" for the European tour 2004
  • Bill "Buster" Bateman – drums, June 2004 – August 2006
  • Scott "Chopper" Franklin – bass & guitar, January 2002 – September 2006
  • Jen Hanrahan - castanets June 2000 - August 2000.
  • Sean Yseult (Shauna Reynolds) – bass, October/November 2006

(From Mister Bill's IRS Records Corner)

The Cramps
roots can be traced back to 1976 when, according to legend, Erick Purkhiser picked up hitchiker Kristy Wallace in Ohio. They discovered a mutual love of old-time rock'n'roll and classic SciFi B-movie matinee fare... The rest, as they say, is history.

They soon decided to form a band. Akron Ohio was not the place for a band like The Cramps to "happen" so the couple packed on up and moved to New York City, drawn by the lure of what they read and heard was happening at a club called CBGBs... Erick took the stage name "Lux Interior" from an ad he saw describing an automobile ("Lux" as in the advertising abbrv for "Deluxe") and Kristy took the name "Poison Ivy Rorschach", from a dream she had (of course, everyone knows that a Rorschach Test is the ink blot quiz a shrink gives folks). Lux would be the singer, Ivy the guitarist. The band was soon rounded out by Bryan Gregory on guitar and Bryan's sister Pam "Balam" on drums. Pam quickly dropped out and was replaced by Miriam Linna. After recording one demo and playing a few gigs, Miriam left to join Nervous Rex. Her replacement was Electric Eels drummer Nick Knox (Nicholas Stephanoff).

Their "minimalist sound" may take some getting used to, but this is pure raw rock'n'roll. Two guitars (they only recently submitted to having a bassist) and a basic trap drum set (Bass drum, Snare and cymbal) were the only instruments. Ivy played lead guitar while Bryan (and his subsequent replacements) played highly fuzzed and distorted guitar riffs, more than making up for the lack of a bass. In New York they became cult favorites and, with Alex Chilton (of Panther Burns fame) they recorded a couple independent singles which caught the ear of Miles Copeland, who signed them to his fledgling I.R.S. Records. Those first singles and a fifth song, were released as GRAVEST HITS. The Cramps toured briefly then headed back to the studio with Alex Chilton to begin work on their first full-length LP, SONGS THE LORD TAUGHT US

Shortly after the LP SONGS THE LORD TAUGHT US was released, Bryan Gregory left the band, taking their van and most of their equipment with him. It's rumored he didn't like the direction the band was going and wanted a more modern sound and thought the lyrics should be meaningful, like The Clash. Obviously Bryan had no idea what it meant to be "Cramped." He surfaced a while later in a band called Beast, releasing three singles. They soon Dumped Gregory, moved to the UK and became Veil, vanishing after a one shot gothic LP. Gregory later worked as either a satanic minister or a porn shop vendor, depending on who you believe. (Bryan Gregory died of heart failure in January, 2001. See the IRS Memorial Page for more details). Gregory was replaced by Julien Greinsnatch, whose time with The Cramps, while limited, was forever recorded on film in URGH! A MUSIC WAR.

Gun Club's Kid Congo Powers, a longtime fan, picked up the guitar duties and the band went into the studio to record PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE. It was during this time that The Cramps started having problems with Miles Copeland and I.R.S. Records. Royalties, unapproved cover art, and lack of promised support on tour were the reputed sources of the dispute. Ultimately the case was settled out of court, but not without having a severe impact on the band. During the period of litigation they could not record (technically they were still contracted with I.R.S.) so touring became their only source of income. Because desperate fans hungered for new material, fear of bootlegging kept The Cramps from doing new material at these concerts.

Once the case was settled, The Cramps recorded a live set at New York's Peppermint Lounge which was released (on the late great Enigma Records) as the "tastefully entitled" SMELL OF FEMALE. Kid Congo then left the band (amicably) to return to Gun Club. I.R.S., either to fulfill a term of the settlement or as a final kiss-off released the psuedo-greatest hits collection BAD MUSIC FOR BAD PEOPLE. Then a period of rotating second guitarist/bassist and rotating labels began. Guitarists/bassists who came and went included Click Mort, Ike Knox (Nick's brother), Mike Metoff (formerly of The Pagans and Nick's cousin), Fur and finally Candy Del Mar who stuck around for a while. After she left a fellow named Slim Chance assumed duties on the bass.

Nick Knox, stalwart drummer, had long suffered from vision troubles and after eye surgery left him blind in one eye, decided to leave the band and retire. He was replaced by Jim Sclavunos, and soon followed by Nicky Beat and then Harry Drumdini, arriving at the current line up of Lux, Ivy, Slim and Harry.

In 1989 The Cramps seemed to have smoothed over some of their problems with Miles and I.R.S., as they assisted in the preparation of their I.R.S. catalog for CD release. This apparent reconciliation may have only been for the sake of making sure "it was done right" for The Cramps continued to work independent of any "major label" influence. The Cramps continue to record and perform and have released many albums since leaving IRS. While this site is devoted to IRS Records exclusively, all of The Cramps recordings are worthwhile and, in humble webmaster Mr. Bill's opinion, worth seeking out and owning... Look for the aforementiond SMELL OF FEMALE, A DATE WITH ELVIS, STAY SICK, LOOK MOM NO HEAD, ROCKINNREELININAUKLANDNEWZEALND (a live concert recording), and FLAMEJOB.

In 2001, Lux and Ivy revived their Vengeance Records label and regained most of their non-I.R.S. catalog for reissue.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 LUX INTERIOR obituary from Billboard

by Cortney Harding, N.Y.
Cramps frontman Lux Interior passed away today (Feb. 4) at a Glendale, Calif., hospital due to a pre-existing heart condition, the band's publicist confirms to Billboard. He was 60.

The Cramps formed in 1976 and were part of the now legendary downtown New York punk scene. Their lineup shifted over the years but always included Lux and his wife, Poison Ivy. The band's
rockabilly-infused punk has been credited as an influence by bands like the White Stripes, Pearl Jam and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Interior, whose real name was Erick Lee Purkhiser, was born Oct. 21, 1948, in Stow, Ohio. He met Ivy in 1972 and started the band shortly thereafter.

The Cramps released 14 albums over the course of their career. Their latest, 2004's "How To Make a Monster," sold 11,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Their best-selling album, 1984's "Bad Music for Bad People," has sold 95,000 copies.

Feb 4 2009 7:59 PM EST

Cramps Singer Lux Interior Dead At 62
Singer died early Wednesday of an existing heart condition.
By James Montgomery and Jem Aswad

Lux Interior, lead singer of influential garage-punk act the Cramps, died Wednesday morning (February 4) due to an existing heart condition, according to a statement from the band's publicist. He was 62.

Born Erick Lee Purkhiser, Interior started the Cramps in 1972 with guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Wallace, later his wife) — whom, as legend has it, he picked up as a hitchhiker in California. By 1975, they had moved to New York, where they became an integral part of the burgeoning punk scene surrounding CBGBs.

Their music differed from most of the scene's other acts in that it was heavily steeped in camp, with Interior's lyrics frequently drawing from schlocky B-movies, sexual kink and deceptively clever puns. (J.H. Sasfy's liner notes to their debut EP memorably noted: "The Cramps don't pummel and you won't pogo. They ooze; you'll throb.") Sonically, the band drew from blues and rockabilly, and a key element of their sound was the trashy, dueling guitars of Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory (and later Kid Congo Powers), played with maximal scuzz and minimal drumming.

Because of that — not to mention Interior's deranged, Iggy Pop-inspired onstage antics and deep, sexualized singing voice (which one reviewer described as "the psychosexual werewolf/ Elvis hybrid from hell") — the Cramps are often cited as pioneers of "psychobilly" and "horror rock," and can count bands like the Black Lips, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Horrors and even the White Stripes as their musical progeny.

Over the course of more than 30 years, the Interior and Ivy surrounded themselves with an ever-changing lineup of drummers, guitarists and bassists, and released 13 studio albums (the last being 2003's Fiends of Dope Island). They also famously performed a concert for patients at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978 (which was recorded on grainy VHS and has since become a cult classic) and appeared on a Halloween episode of "Beverly Hills, 90210." Their video for the song "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" also drew rave reviews from Beavis and Butt-head on a memorable episode of the show.

Despite the band's long history, fans generally agree that the group's peak was in the early '80s, with the albums Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle. Many clips of the Cramps' chaotic live shows from the era can be found online; look for their version of "Tear It Up" from the 1980 film "URGH! A Music War." One memorable (and typical) show in Boston in 1986 found Interior, clad only in leopard-skin briefs, drinking red wine from an audience member's shoe, and ended with him French-kissing a woman (who wasn't his wife) for 10 full minutes with his microphone in their mouths.

Due to their imagery, obsession with kitsch and dogged dedication to touring — they wrapped up their latest jaunt across Europe and the U.S. this past November — the Cramps commanded a loyal fanbase, and even earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the form of a shattered bass drum that Interior had shoved his head through.

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