The Cramps – An Appreciation

February 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm (Uncategorized)

Last week’s passing on Lux Interior essentially means the end of  the Cramps. Lux and Poison Ivy were the original members, and the only two constants during the groups three decades of existence.

The Cramps’ origins began in 1972 in Scramento, Ca., when Erick Purkhiser picked up Kristy Wallace when she was hitchhiking.  In 1975, they moved to New York and became part of the emerging punk scene there. But they were unique. They weren’t exactly punk like the Ramones and the Dictators, and they weren’t the literary rebels like the Talking Heads, Television or Patti Smith.  

In the sleeve notes to How to Make a Monster, Lux mentions he once told a friend his band was like Carl Perkins mixed with the Shadows of Knight. “that sounds horrible!” was the response. But for more than three decaces, the Cramps blend of rockabilly, punk, horror, sci-fi and B-movies served us very well.

Here’s a few high points.

Gravest Hits 

 A five song EP containing Human Fly, Jack Scott’s The Way I Walk, Domino,  the Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird and Ricky Nelson’s Lonesome Town. They were, as Lux proclaimed on Garbageman, the hottest thing in the north to come out of the south. Jack Scott’s The Way I walk was a Cramps live favourite, then one night Lux turned on the TV, and saw Robert Gordon performing the song. He was bitter. The Ramones cover of Surfin bird was cool ‘because they asked us first.’

 Songs the Lord Taught Us.

The first full length record. Highlights:  the whole damn thing. Covers of the Sonics, Johnny Burnettee, Peggy Lee, and more. I was a Teenage Werewolf neatly incorporated Link Wray’;s Rumble. I got this for Christmas in 1980, and played the thing to death. Today, it’s available with extra tracks. If you’ve seen the great 80’s vampire movie Near Dark, remember the bar scene? That’s the Cramps version of Fever playing during the slaughter.

After Songs the Lord Taught Us, the Cramps and IRS owner miles Copeland hada falling out over royalties. For a couple of years, they didn’t record and when they did, they had a new guitarists. Kid Congo Powers, formerly of the Gun Club and later of the Bad Seeds. Kid Congo was a great guitarist and had co-written ‘For the Love of Ivy, ‘ on the Gun Club’s Fire of Love  but he wasn’t as weird as Bryan Gregory.

Consequently, the second album, Psychodelic Jungle sounded , well, restrained. Make not mistake, it’s still a lot of fun: Goo Goo Muck, the Crusher, and Green Door are inspired, but overall they can’t match the dementia of STLTU. Psychodelic Jungle was repackaged with the Gravest HitsEP. It’s value for money, but you can’t help but notice the difference between the two recordings.

Smell of Femalewas a welcome return to form. The risque title, Ivy in a cat suit on the cover, and pow! a great live recording of all new songs. Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Call of the Wighat, and many more including the Count 5’s Psychotic Reaction. My only complaint, is it’s too damn short. The CD version adds three tracks – two from the concert, and Surfin Dead which appeared in some mid-eighties zombie movie.

And that’s it for me. I like the other Cramps records, but these ones are extra-special. OK, I do have to mention How to make a Monster which was released on Vengeance in 2004. Monsteris 2 CDs of questionable quality home recordings, demos and live versions. For the Cramps fan though, it’s a treasure trove. You can really trace the development of the songs. The bulk are from the early days, some even feature Kicksfanzine editor and A-Bones drummer Miriam Linna on drums. Almost all of the early ones have Bryan Gregory. Pretty much everything on this record is unreleased, and there is a very nice booklet with many many cool pictures – including a couple of Ivy when she worked as a dominatrix (Focus! Focus!)

I saw the Cramps live three times. Always outstanding.  If you never saw the Cramps live there’s plenty on You Tube, but seek out this concert from Napa, a state mental home. 

It just about sums things up.

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3 Comments

  1. Richard S. said,

    I didn’t know Lux Interior died. That’s sad. Since my main “music blog” has become a blog devoted to classic Bollywood movies (because that’s what I’m obsessed with now), people in the blogosphere might not know about my first-wave New York punk rock roots.

    And that might seem like quite a jump, even for a period of 32 years. But on the other hand, maybe not. If The Cramps never covered “Jaan Pehechaan Ho,” they should have (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgeuUAzThto).

    I bought two singles by The Cramps back around ’77 to ’78, when I was about 15 years old. I don’t even remember now what was an A-side and what was the B-side, but I remember that together they contained “The Way I Walk,” “Human Fly,” “Domino” and “Surfin’ Bird.” I think I saw The Cramps at least three times in or around 1979. I wasn’t living in NYC at that point; I’d just moved to Philly to go to college. Back then, Brian Gregory was with them, and they were very, very different from anything else I’d seen. It was better seeing them in Philly, because the scene was less trendy, so it was more intimate and wild.

    Oh, well, farewell, Lux and Cramps.

  2. The Cramps in Bollywood? « Notes from Underground said,

    […] Cramps in Bollywood? By fischerzed Categories: Uncategorized A comment on The Cramps: An Appreciation suggested that although this track wasn’t ever covered by the Cramps, it wouldn’t have […]

  3. Number 100 « Notes from Underground said,

    […] something insular about the whole process). The most active is something I wrote called The Cramps: an Appreciation, which is steadily getting hits. I am puzzled about the popularity of some and not others because […]

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