Get the Cramps

If Johnny Cash were to have had illegitimate children with both Vampirella and Bettie Page, the result still wouldn’t have come close to explaining THE CRAMPS.

The Cramps, circa 1990

Influenced by early rockabilly, rhythm and blues, garage rock and surf music, THE CRAMPS unofficially began when Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace) met in Sacramento, California in 1972. A mutual admiration for the rockabilly of Ricky Nelson (to whom every CRAMPS album is dedicated), the surf sounds of Dick Dale, garage bands like The Standells and The Gants and the glam rock of the New York Dolls and T. Rex would turn into a lifelong love affair for the pair and light the spark for a new kind of music that they coined as “psycho-billy” (or “voodoo psychobilly” as the term would appear on their early fliers). Though soon abandoned by the band themselves (and picked up quickly by an act called The Meteors that have claimed ownership of it ever since) the label “psycho-billy” stuck. But with Ivy’s Carl Perkins-esque guitar and Lux’s near inhalation of the microphone, THE CRAMPS became something other than the sum of their influences.

Releasing their first EP, Gravest Hits (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Gravest-Hits-Psychedelic-Jungle-Cramps/dp/B000001I0K), in 1979 (which included a cover of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”), THE CRAMPS were well cemented in the CBGB (http://www NULL.cbgb NULL.com/) punk movement of the late seventies and early eighties, playing alongside bands like Television, Blondie, The Ramones, and The Talking Heads. But unlike other American punk rock acts of the period, THE CRAMPS were never to surface with a hit song until well into the nineteen eighties.

Poison Ivy playing her signature Gretsch guitar

First came  “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=MJTzH0-Tntw&list=PL9BH9hQ8rtdXD5P9-TGI-Pc7LOtGm3PA8) followed by “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns” (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=pwnZDakp_v4&list=PL9BH9hQ8rtdXD5P9-TGI-Pc7LOtGm3PA8). But while both songs charted (well in the UK), THE CRAMPS remained little more than garage band. Punk gave way to the new wave, with bands like The Smiths — who once opened for THE CRAMPS at the then recently revamped 40s swing club “The Meadowbrook” in New Jersey — rising to a level of popularity that Lux and Ivy would never attain. But an extremely dedicated cult following — coupled with Lux and Ivy’s passion for the music and each other — carried the band through the nineties playing smaller venues and then well into the first decade of the twentieth century, where younger and younger crowds came out in increasing numbers, recognizing Lux and Ivy as punk rock progenitors.

Photo Credit © Steve Jennings

Appreciated by fans and critics alike for all things kinky and campy (never better expressed than in 2003’s fetish-filled  “Like a Bad Girld Should (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=PCYnTK9GvZc&list=PL9BH9hQ8rtdXD5P9-TGI-Pc7LOtGm3PA8)“), THE CRAMPS continued strong well into the first decade of the new century until tragedy struck on February 4, 2009 when Lux suddenly died due to aortic dissection at the age of 62.

In the end, beauty is in the eyeliner of the beholder. And while it would be hard to classify the music of THE CRAMPS as beautiful, the love shared by Lux and Ivy — the very heart of the band — may be one of the more beautiful love stories in all of rock and roll history. His worship of her and her playfulness with him kept the pair forever young.

Though they may not be remembered for much in the years to come, three events certainly solidify THE CRAMPS‘ place in rock and pop culture:

  • In June 1978 — perhaps inspired by their hero Johnny Cash having broken ground by playing Folsom Prison a decade before — THE CRAMPS gave a landmark free concert for patients at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa
  • In 2002 Lux Interior performed the voice of a character on SpongeBob SquarePants; he was the lead singer of an all-bird rock band called the Bird Brains (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=ZvI64lIaQDc)
  • In honor of Lux’s oddly volatile, sexual yet gender-bending raw and ready stage presence, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (http://www NULL.rockhall NULL.com/) has on display a torn bass drum head that Lux’s head went through during a live show.