The Cramps

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The Cramps
The Cramps in 1982
The Cramps in 1982
Background information
OriginNew York, New York, United States
Years active1976–2009
LabelsIllegal, I.R.S., Big Beat, Enigma, The Medicine Label, Epitaph, Vengeance
Past members See members section for others

The Cramps were an American rock band formed in 1976 and active until 2006. The band split after the death of lead singer Lux Interior in 2009.[5] Their line-up rotated frequently during their existence, with the husband-and-wife duo of Interior and lead guitarist and occasional bass guitarist Poison Ivy comprising the only ever-present members. The addition of guitarist Bryan Gregory and drummer Pam Balam resulted in the first complete lineup in April 1976.

They were part of the early CBGB punk rock movement that had emerged in New York. The Cramps were one of the first punk bands, and also widely recognized as one of the prime innovators of psychobilly, a style fusing the basic musical elements of rockabilly with grotesque lyrical themes inspired by horror movies and other macabre topics.


Their music is mostly in rockabilly form, played at varying tempos, with a minimal drumkit. An integral part of the early Cramps sound was dual guitars, without a bassist. The focus of their songs' lyrical content and their image was camp humor, sexual double-entendre, and retro horror/sci-fi b-movie iconography.

Their sound was heavily influenced by early rockabilly, such as Jerry Lott AKA The Phantom, whose 1958 single 'Love Me' they covered,[6] rhythm and blues, and rock and roll like Link Wray and Hasil Adkins, 1960s surf music acts such as the Ventures and Dick Dale, 1960s garage rock artists like the Standells, the Trashmen, the Green Fuz and the Sonics, as well as the post-glam/early punk scene from which they emerged, as well as citing Ricky Nelson as being an influence during numerous interviews. They also were influenced to a degree by the Ramones and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who were an influence for their style of theatrical horror-blues.[7]

Despite being a Blues band by concept according to Ivy, the Cramps have influenced countless subsequent bands in the garage, punk and revival rockabilly styles,[8][9] and helped create the psychobilly genre. "Psychobilly" was a term coined by the Cramps, although Lux Interior maintained that the term did not describe their own style.[10]



Lux Interior in 2004

Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace) met in Sacramento, California in 1972.[11] In light of their common artistic interests and shared devotion to record collecting, they decided to form the Cramps. Lux took his stage name from a car ad, and Ivy claimed to have received hers in a dream (she was first Poison Ivy Rorschach, taking her last name from that of the inventor of the Rorschach test). In 1973, they moved to Akron, Ohio, and then to New York in 1975, soon entering into CBGB's early punk scene with other emerging acts like Suicide, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, and Mink DeVille. The lineup in 1976 was Poison Ivy Rorschach, Lux Interior, Bryan Gregory (guitar), and his sister Pam "Balam" (drums).

In a short period of time, the Cramps changed drummers twice; Miriam Linna (later of Nervus Rex, the Zantees, and the A-Bones and co-owner of Norton Records) replaced Pam Balam, and Nick Knox (formerly with the Electric Eels) replaced Linna in September 1977. In the late 1970s, the Cramps briefly shared a rehearsal space with the Fleshtones, and performed regularly in New York at clubs such as CBGB and Max's Kansas City, releasing two independent singles produced by Alex Chilton at Ardent Studios in Memphis in 1977 before being signed by Miles Copeland III to the young I.R.S. Records label. Their first tour of Great Britain was as supporting act to the Police on that band's first UK tour promoting Outlandos d'Amour.

In June 1978, they gave a landmark free concert for patients at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa, recorded on a Sony Portapak video camera by the San Francisco collective Target Video and later released as Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. Once back to the east coast, they played the revamped 1940s swing club "The Meadowbrook" in New Jersey, which had a huge stage and dance floor. Next they recorded two singles in New York City, which were later re-released on their 1979 Gravest Hits EP, before Chilton brought them back that year to Memphis to record their first full-length album, Songs the Lord Taught Us, at Phillips Recording, operated by former Sun Records label owner Sam Phillips.


Poison Ivy performing with the Cramps, 1991, Tokyo

The Cramps relocated to Los Angeles in 1980 and hired guitarist Kid Congo Powers of the Gun Club. While recording their second LP, Psychedelic Jungle, the band and Miles Copeland began to dispute royalties and creative rights. The ensuing court case prevented them from releasing anything until 1983, when they recorded Smell of Female live at New York's Peppermint Lounge; Kid Congo Powers subsequently departed. Mike Metoff of the Pagans (cousin of Nick Knox) was the final second guitarist – albeit only live – of the Cramps' pre-bass era. He accompanied them on an extensive European tour in 1984 (that had been cancelled twice because they could not find a suitable guitarist) which included four sold out nights at the Hammersmith Palais. They also recorded performances of "Thee Most Exalted Potentate of Love" and "You Got Good Taste" which were broadcast on 'The Midsummer Night's Tube 1984.' Smell of Female peaked at No. 74 in the UK Albums Chart.[12]

The band appears in the 1982 film Urgh! A Music War.[13]

In 1985 the Cramps recorded a one-off track for the horror movie The Return of the Living Dead called "Surfin' Dead", on which Ivy played bass as well as guitar. With the release of 1986's A Date With Elvis, the Cramps permanently added a bass guitar to the mix, but had trouble finding a suitable player, so Ivy temporarily filled in as the band's bassist. Fur (Jennifer Dixon) joined them on the world tour to promote the album. Their popularity in the UK was at its peak as evidenced by the six nights at Hammersmith in London, three at the Odeon (as well as many other sell out dates throughout the UK) and then three at the Palais when they returned from the continent. Each night of the tour opened with the band coming on one at a time each: Knox, Fur, Ivy and then Lux before launching into their take on Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel". The album featured what was to become a predominating theme of their work from here on: a move away from the B-movie horror focus to an increased emphasis on sexual double entendre. The album met with differing fates on either side of the Atlantic: in Europe, it sold over 250,000 copies, while in the U.S. the band had difficulty finding a record company prepared to release it until 1990.[14] It also included their first UK Singles Chart hit: "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?"[12][15]

It was not until 1986 that the Cramps found a suitable permanent bass player: Candy del Mar (of Satan's Cheerleaders), who made her recorded debut on the raw live album RockinnReelininAucklandNewZealandxxx, which was followed by the studio album Stay Sick in 1990. It spent one week at No. 62 in the UK Albums Chart in February 1990.[12]


Candy del Mar left the band in 1991 Knox also left the band in 1991. The Cramps hit the Top 40 in the UK for the first and only time with "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns";[12] Ivy posed as such both on the cover of the single and in the promotional video for the song. The Cramps went on to record more albums and singles through the 1990s and 2000s, for various labels.[15] When the band signed to The Medicine Label, a Warner Brothers imprint, in 1994 – the label made the announcement via a limited edition (500 copies) 12" live album of the Cramps' first two Max's Kansas City shows, given away to all ticket holders as they exited a secret CBGB show in early January of that year.

In 1994, the Cramps made their national US television debut on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing "Ultra Twist".

In 1995 the Cramps appeared on the TV-series Beverly Hills, 90210 in the Halloween episode "Gypsies, Cramps and Fleas."[16] They played two songs in show: "Mean Machine" and "Strange Love." Lux Interior started the song by saying "Hey boys and ghouls, are you ready to raise the dead?".

In honor of the success of the Cramps, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has on display a shattered bass drum head that Lux's head went through during a live show.


On January 10, 2001, Bryan Gregory died at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center of complications following a heart attack. He was 49.[17]

In 2002, the Cramps released their final album, Fiends of Dope Island, on their own label, Vengeance Records.

They played their final shows in Europe in the summer of 2006 and their last live show was 4 November 2006 at the Marquee Theater in Tempe, Arizona.

On February 4, 2009, Lux Interior died at the Glendale Memorial Hospital after suffering an aortic dissection which, contrary to initial reports about a pre-existing condition, was "sudden, shocking and unexpected".[18]


Final lineup

  • Lux Interior (Erick Purkhiser) – vocals, harmonica, percussion (1976–2009; until his death)
  • Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace) – guitar, theremin, bass (1976–2009)
  • Harry Drumdini (Harry Meisenheimer) – drums (1993–2003, 2006–2009)



Studio albums[edit]


Live albums[edit]



  1. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Cramps | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved December 23, 2019.
  2. ^ Ensminger, David A. (2011). Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 250. ISBN 978-1-60473-969-5.
  3. ^ Barry, Dave (2015). Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. Penguin. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-101-63150-8.
  4. ^ Ph.D, Jacqueline Edmondson (2013). Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 502. ISBN 978-0-313-39348-8.
  5. ^ The Wild Wild World of The Cramps: Ian Johnston, Omnibus Press, 1990
  6. ^ {}
  7. ^ "Lux Interior: maniacal front man of the Cramps". The Times. February 6, 2009. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
  8. ^ Adam Sweeting (February 6, 2009). "Lux Interior Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
  9. ^ Brown, August (February 4, 2009). "Lux Interior dies at 60; founder, front man of punk band the Cramps". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  10. ^ Epstein, Daniel Robert (July 15, 2003). "The Cramps by Missy". SuicideGirls. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  11. ^ Leibrock, Rachel (February 4, 2009). "Cramps singer Lux Interior dies at 60". The Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on February 8, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 124. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  13. ^ "Gypsies, Cramps and Fleas". IMDb. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
  14. ^ The Cramps, A Short Rock n Roll History: Dick Porter, Plexus 2007; pg 111
  15. ^ a b Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 219–220. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  16. ^ "Gypsies, Cramps and Fleas". Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  17. ^ "Cramps Star Bryan Gregory Dies". NME. January 15, 2001. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  18. ^ "The Cramps". The Cramps. Retrieved December 18, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Wild Wild World of the Cramps by Ian Johnston, 1990, Omnibus Press, ISBN 0-7119-2350-7

External links[edit]