Jan. 25, 2001
Bryan Gregory, guitarist and songwriter: born Detroit 1954; married Robyn Hunt (one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Anaheim, California 10 January 2001.
With his ghoulish physique - emaciated torso, pale, gaunt face, black hair with a lock of white hanging over his right eye, bones dangling from his neck, voodoo-style - and fuzzy guitar sound, Bryan Gregory was an integral part of the original line-up of the American psychobilly group the Cramps. A founder member of the group, he played on all their early releases from the EP Gravest Hits to the single "Drug Train" via their dÃ©but album Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980). In the five years Gregory spent with the band, they went from playing New York dives to headlining major venues all over Europe.
Born in Detroit in 1955, Bryan Gregory drifted to New York in his late teens. By February 1976, he was working in a record shop where Erick Lee Purkhiser (a.k.a. Lux Interior) got a job. When Gregory came in carrying an electric guitar with "The Cramps" stencilled on the body, Lux Interior, who had already met kindred spirit "Poison Ivy" Rorschach (nÃ©e Kirsty Wallace) four years beforehand, decided to form a group with his co-worker.
Ivy also played guitar and Gregory should have switched to bass but neither Lux Interior nor his companion dared to force his hand, especially as Bryan's sister Pam "Balam" had joined on drums. Indeed, the two guitars, by turn twangy and swampy, contributed greatly to the group's minimalist, yet distinctive, psychotic style.
After a few rehearsals in the basement of the record store, Pam returned to Detroit and was replaced by Miriam Linna. In November, this line-up supported Suicide at CBGB's, the legendary New York venue where the Ramones, Television and Talking Heads had made their name. The director Amos Poe subsequently hired the Cramps to play a bunch of thugs who assault the hero in his film The Foreigner (released in 1978).
In 1977, they demoed several tracks and headlined at CBGB's in July but things really began to gel when Nick Knox (Nick Stephanoff) joined on drums the following month. The Cramps met Alex Chilton, formerly of the Boxtops and Big Star, who pronounced them "the greatest rock'n'roll group in the world".
In October, they were down at Ardent Studios in Memphis with Chilton, producing deranged covers of Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk", Roy Orbison's "Domino" and the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" alongside their own composition "Human Fly". Ork Records, which had released singles by Television and Richard Hell, couldn't quite get the financing right and the Cramps eventually issued these four tracks on two separate singles on their own label, Vengeance, in 1978. The Cramps' logo, inspired by the Tales from the Crypt comic, helped them gain further attention.
Touring as far afield as Canada and the West Coast of America, the group's live show created quite a buzz and the Police manager Miles Copeland snapped up the rights to the singles for European release as the EP Gravest Hits on his Illegal label in July 1979. He also brought the band over to Europe to support the Police on tour.
After an unsuccessful attempt at recording an album in New York, with the British guitarist Chris Spedding producing, the Cramps went back to Memphis and Alex Chilton, this time also using Sam Phillips Recording Studio (formerly Sun) as well as Ardent. The resulting sessions became Songs the Lord Taught Us, one of the best dÃ©but albums of all time. Once again combining their own compositions, drawing on trash culture in general and B-movies in particular ("Zombie Dance", "I Was a Teenage Werewolf") and inspired versions of Johnny Burnette's "Tear It Up", Link Wray's "Sunglasses After Dark" and Little Willie John's "Fever", The Cramps caught the post-punk mood brilliantly when the album was released alongside the single "Garbageman" in March 1980. Britain's own psychobilly scene of the early Eighties, with groups like the Meteors, King Kurt and Demented Are Go!, drew its inspiration wholesale from the Cramps.
However, after cutting the equally impressive EP Drug Train that July, Bryan Gregory left the group, who replaced him with Kid Congo Powers from Gun Club. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy carry on with the Cramps to this day, having scored unlikely hit singles with the sleazy "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" (1985) and "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" (1990) and having eventually signed to Creation Records, but they have never quite recaptured the magic of the line-up which featured Gregory.
Gregory soldiered on with various bands, called Beast (which released three singles between 1980 and 1984), the Dials (1992-95) and, more recently, Shiver. In between, he dabbled in the occult, worked as a tattoo artist in Florida, tried to become an actor and ran a sex-shop in California. "He is pretty burnt," Ivy would tell journalists who enquired about the former Cramps guitarist.
Indeed, ill-health had forced Bryan Gregory to curtail his musical activities, and he suffered a heart attack at the end of last year.