It was two years ago today that we lost one of the true greats of rock and roll. Of course I’m talking about no one else but the great Lux Interior of The Cramps. His fans were devastated in 2009 when news of his sudden death due to aortic dissection spread like wildfire in the rock and roll community. His widow, the taciturn Poison Ivy Rorsach, has not yet resurfaced and she may have retreated from rock and roll for good. For 30 years, however, The Cramps were enormously influential on rock and roll. No one was ready for their crazed ethos when they surfaced in the late 70s with a mutant fusion of garage punk and rockabilly, held together with the stickiest glue possible; their own selves!
In a move that turned rock and roll traditions on their ear, it was Ivy who was the band’s sneering guitarist. She managed to fuse the clean trebly picking of Carl Perkins together with its antithesis; the evil fuzztone power chords of Link Wray, into an unholy alliance that managed to inject enough voltage to reanimate the stiffening corpus of rock for a new generation of degenerate rock and rollers more interested in honest cheap thrills than a limo ride to nowheresville.
That left frontman Lux as the outrageous frontman/sex symbol in the band; a role which he filled more than capably. His deviant sense of humor found a powerful outlet in his gleeful degeneracy, which was unsurpassed in music with the exception of perhaps Iggy Pop. Every time I saw him I prayed that the g-string he often reduced his stage garb to during the course of a show, would stay on as he climbed the tottering amp stacks in his 4″ black FMPs to attain a height the rest of us watching could only aspire to.
I first encountered The Cramps when I saw their “Garbageman” video on the syndicated Rockworld program in 1980. My friends and I were spellbound at the eerie blend of rockabilly and punk rock they proffered. My friend Charles spared no time in buying their debut full-length album, “Songs The Lord Taught Us.” We listened agog, to the contents therein. At the tender age of 16, in 1980, I didn’t yet have the seasoning to comprehend garage punk and was barely conversant in rockabilly. The band’s approach on that album was two guitars, vocals and drums. No bass! Ivy played the leads and second guitarist Bryan Gregory filled the spaces with feedback. Utterly insane, scary as hell feedback, which my ears would not hear anything comparable to again for another five years, when The Jesus & Mary Chain emerged. Nick Knox just kept the beat.
I finally saw the band when they toured behind their breakthrough “Stay Sick” album in 1990. At the time, ten years of waiting to see a favorite band live seemed interminable to my 27 year old self. The band didn’t disappoint, to put it mildly. There is no one more capable of filling a stage than Lux Interior! He could do it without any video projections or props either! When I met my wife in the mid 90s, I exposed her to what had emerged from her old haunts in Akron, Ohio and from that point on seeing the band became a musical goal for her. When we traveled to Atlanta to see them at The Roxy on their “Big Beat From Badsville” tour it was time and money well spent. We eventually saw the group three more times, the last being when they hit our town in 2004, when they were touring behind what would be their final release, “How To Make A Monster.” Here’s how they legacy shapes up under the Rock GPA® lens.
Next: We examine the lurid body of work The Cramps have left us, album by album…