Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Zombie Dance...The Story of The Cramps & Show # 323

The Cramps had their initial beginnings in Sacramento, California in 1972. Erik Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace met at the City College there and soon found out some common interests that they shared. They both loved music, record collecting and the strange, obscure, and early primal sounds of Rock and Roll. They soon decided to form a band, Erik would be the vocalist renaming himself Lux Interior, naming himself after a car advertisement, and Kristy would be the guitarist calling herself Poison Ivy Rorschach. Her name is said to have come to her in a dream, but it is also hinted that it originated from the Rorschach, test. They would move to Akron, Ohio briefly and then to New York in 1975. In New York, Lux met Greg Beckerleg through working at a record store, he would soon join the band as a second guitarist renaming himself Bryan Gregory. He also got his sister to join as the drummer. The band would change drummers twice fairly quickly from Miriam Linna to former Electric Eels drummer Nicky Knox.

The bands sound differed greatly from all of the artists from the emerging New York scene at the time. While they did have the energy and attitude of Punk, their sound consisted of a mix of Rockabilly, early Rhythm and Blues, 60s Surf such as Dick Dale, Link Wray and The Ventures, 60s Garage such as The Standells, The Trashmen, Green Fuzz and The Sonics, as well as bands such as The Ramones and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Their songs visually projected images of B Horror/Sci-Fi movies, while physically they bashed out their songs with two guitars, minimalist drumming, and Lux Interiors demented ghastly vocal style. They clawed their way through the New York scene playing places such as CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, quickly building up a following. The band first released two seven inch singles on their own label Vengeance Records. The singles were recorded in Memphis in 1977 at Ardent Studios with Alex Chilton in the producing seat. The band would sign to Miles Copeland’s I.R.S. label and the bands first EP, Gravest Hits was released in 1979. The EP was a collection of the bands first two independently released singles. Of the five songs on the EP, there was only one original “Human Fly”. This fuzz guitar drenched song was complete with surf like effects that fly in and out of the primal drumming and Lux’s distorted vocals and buzzing sound effects. With lyrics like “I Got 96 Tears and 96 Eyes”, the band references the popular Garage Rock hit by ? and The Mysterians. The other songs on the EP are covers of classic 50s and 60s songs in true Cramps style. This EP is the first evidence of a Rockabilly revival and the first beginnings of the genre that would be known as Psychobilly.

After touring in support of The Police, The Cramps returned to Memphis with Alex Chilton producing to record their first full length album at Phillips Recording that would be entitled Songs The Lord Taught Us. The album featured more originals than covers this time with songs such as “Garbage Man”, “TV Set”, “I Was A Teenage Werewolf”, “Zombie Dance”, and “Mystery Plane” the band upped the ante on this album added more primal psychosis to their sound (also with the help of Chilton’s producing abilities) releasing and album encompassing their beginnings on Gravest Hits, while adding more layers to their sound at the same time. Also on the album are covers of The Sonics “Strychnine”, and Billy Burnette’s “Tear It Up”. The song "Garbage Man" is apparently a song about the state of mainstream radio at the time. The B-side to this song was the twisted and humorous song "Drug Train". Released in 1980 the album should have been followed with a US tour, but following its release guitarist Bryan Gregory split town leaving the band without telling them and taking a van full of their equipment. Minus one guitarist Lux, Ivy, and Nick Knox relocated to Hollywood, California.

The band quickly recruited Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo Powers in their ranks and they began recording their second full length album Psychedelic Jungle, which would be released in 1981. The album features Cramps reworkings of “Green Fuz”, and “Goo Goo Muck”. The album also contains originals such as “Can’t Find My Mind”, “The Natives are Restless”, and “Caveman”. There is also the strange freak out sensibilities of “Don’t Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk”, and the unique Cramps rearrangement of the song “Green Door”, originally done in the 50’s by Bob Davie. Overall, the album has a swampy, trashy creepiness. The album was produced by The Cramps themselves with Paul McKenna handling engineering duties. It should also be noted that the cover of the album was taken by famed photographer Anton Corbijn. Some of the B-sides produced from these recording sessions are just as essential as material found on Psychedelic Jungle. "She Said" said is a stripped back cover of a song originally by Hasil Adkins, the song is rumoured to be sung by Lux with a disposable cup in his mouth to give it an incoherent vocal style. The other B-sides include "Save It", and "New Kind of Kick".

During the recording of this album the band got into a dispute about royalties and creative rights with their label at the time, resulting in them having to go to court. During this time, the band was not allowed to record any new material until the matter was settled. In 1983 The Cramps returned in recorded form with the live album Smell of Female, which was recorded at New York’s Peppermint Lounge. The band would once again face line up changes, adding Mike Metoff (renamed Ike Knox) of The Pagans on guitar. He accompanied them on their 1984 European Tour, which included four nights at The Hammersmith Apollo in London, all of which were sold out. Two compilations were released compiling material from their earlier releases and B-sides. In 1983 ...Off the Bone was released in the UK and in 1984 Bad Music For Bad People in the US.

In 1985, The Cramps recorded a song for the Horror movie The Return of The Living Dead. The song they contributed was called “Surfin’ Dead”. On this track there was even bass guitar played by Poison Ivy, she also played the guitar. This would also be the beginning of an era of The Cramps where they modified their primal two guitar and drum attack to include bass. This was even more evident on the bands next full length album A Date With Elvis that was released on Big Beat Records. For this album Poison Ivy ended up played both the guitar and bass parts. The band also shifted their lyrical prowess on this album, from their classic B Horror/Sci-Fi movie themed lyrics to ones that featured more double entendres in the sexual realm. Musically the album had a Garage Rock fuzz, mixed with their Rockabilly and Surf connotations for a unique and original album featuring songs such as “Kizmiaz”, “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” This album being the bands seventh full length release was recorded in Hollywood, California at Ocean Way Studios by engineers Steve McMillan and Mark Ettel. The band toured in support of this album playing many sold out dates in places in Europe, even having their first charting hit with “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” in the UK.

Acquiring a permanent bassist (Candy Del Mar) in 1986, the band recorded a live album Reelin’ and Rocking in Auckland New Zealand that was released in 1987. The band signed to Enigma Records and then released another full length album that was produced by Poison Ivy entitled Stay Sick! In 1990. Nick Knox left the band in 1991, at the time they had a top 40 hit in the UK with “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns”. In 1995, The Cramps appeared on a Halloween episode of the TV Show Beverly Hills 90210, performing two songs “Mean Machine” and “Strange Love”. The band continued on in various incarnations through out the 90s and early 2000’s releasing more albums and playing numerous live shows. The bands last full length album would be released in 2002, it was entitled Fiends of Dope Island on their own Vengeance record label. A collection of live recordings, and demos from the bands early career was released in 2004 on a compilation called How To Make A Monster. On February 4th, 2009 Lux Interior passed away due to aortic dissection, he was 62. The Cramps were a fascinating musical concoction of Rock and Roll mixing in a variety of styles that came out sounding unique, fresh and exciting. They helped coin the term Psychobilly, and while Lux Interior has said that this description does not suit their style, they definitely had a style all their own.

This Week's Play List:

1. The Cramps - Human Fly
2. The Cramps - Mystery Plane (Original Mix)
3. Sting-Rays - Catman
4. The Razorbacks - Saturday Night
5. Deja Voodoo - Cheese and Crackers
6. The Dundrells - Nothing On TV
7. Bob Dylan - Walkin' Down The Line
8. Olenka & The Autumn Lovers - Clean
9. Gamma Gamma Rays - Health & Growth
10. The Cramps - Can't Find My Mind
11. The Cramps - Green Door
12. Link Wray - Jack the Ripper
13. The Hillbilly Soul Surfers - Cha Wow Wow
14. The Reverb Syndicate - Shake Don't Stir
15. Say Domino - The Amount
16. Anagram - I've Been Wrong Before
17. The Mark Inside - House of Cards
18. The Cortinas - TV Families
19. The Scabs - Amory Building
20. The Sonics - Have Love Will Travel
21. The Kinks - Till The End of the Day
22. The Kinks - I'm Not Like Everybody Else
23. The Cramps - Sunglasses After Dark
24. The Cramps - Good Taste (Live)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for October 26th. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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