The Cramps invented americana. They did. OK – not the plaid shirt, bearded type of americana music that we here at AUK bring you week in, week out. But the perfect synthesis of trash TV, trash movies, sleaze, rockabilly, blues, horror, camp and kitsch that is the real American gift to the world, And The Cramps were magnificent!
From the 1970s New York punk scene came a band that had all of that CBGBs attitude, but channelled their energy through chunks of Link Wray, Sun Records also-rans and the cheapest, nastiest of TV and movie schlock. horror, sci-fi, erotica – nothing unpalatable was off limits. Their own compositions mixed in with some of the rarest 1950s and 60s cuts made for a heady brew. They even created their own sub-genre – psychobilly – which, as most genre definitions go, was wholly insufficient a way to describe the band. It was the female/male axis that made The Cramps special – yin and yang chewed up and spat out like nasty bubblegum. They were glorious.
With a few notable exceptions, the Cramps were Lux and Ivy. Lux Interior (vocals) and Poison Ivy (guitar). Baby boomers Erick and Kristy by birth. The writhing, howling front man and the cool as ice, snarling ‘fuck you’ guitarist. Off stage they were two charming, lovely people. A perfect couple. But musically they were one hundred percent committed. From ‘Human Fly’ and ‘Gravest Hits’ in the late 1970s, up to 2003’s ‘Fiends of Dope Island’ they wrestled with record labels, occasional fleeting moments of fame and never relenting god damn rock n roll! Personal highlights include ‘Stay Sick’ (1990), ‘Off The Bone’ (1983) and ‘A Date With Elvis’ (1986). The undisputed, greatest ever live show committed to film is The Cramps 1978 ’ Live At Napa State Mental Hospital’. Barely twenty minutes of camcorder footage, but once you see it (easy to find on YouTube), you’ll understand why..
Added to Lux and Ivy we must name-check their notable co-conspirators; Nick Knox (emotionless, pale and thin, drums), Bryan Gregory (skeletal, scary, spotted Flying V guitar) Candy Del Mar & Fur Dixon (badass bass wielding women). Plus Kid Congo Powers and easily a dozen others. Band personnel turnover was quite high, but Lux and Ivy called the shots – it was their circus and we were lucky to get to see the show.
The Cramps died when Lux unexpectedly passed away in 2009. But a slew of fantastic records survive them. They never matured or became gentrified. In fact their later records were dirtier and sleazier than before. And the few promo videos they committed to were almost certainly made just so they would be wholly rejected by censors and remain ‘unshown’ on MTV. Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing the band live will have enduring memories. Like many of us, I’ve seen hundreds of bands and been to hundreds of gigs but the two times I saw Lux, Ivy and the gang were evenings of pure unbridled joy. We were fortunate to have them in our world.