The Cramps still causing a disturbance almost 30 years later

What follows is an article written by Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn, with Poison Ivy from the Cramps. There was a quote from it in a book I referenced as part of my nod to Lux and Ivy yesterday; Steve commented the original post with a correction to the text, then followed up with the interview in its entirety. It’s a good one; Cramps fans would do well to check it out. I figured it deserved a post all on its own. Thanks, Steve!

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The Cramps still causing a disturbance almost 30 years later
Published: September 24, 2004
IF YOU GO

The Cramps with The American Plague and the Chesterfield Kings

WHEN: 9 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Blue Cat’s, 125 E. Jackson Ave., Knoxville’s Old City

HOW MUCH: $18

CALL: 544-4300

ON THE WEB: www.thecramps.com

By Steve Wildsmith

of The Daily Times Staff

The phone rings for a late-night interview, and the voice on the other end of the line is instantly apologizing for being late.

She hasn’t slept in two days, she explains, and had just gotten to sleep when her band’s tour manager rang, rousting her for an unscheduled interview. The words “I’m sorry” drift over a crackling connection from Tempe, Ariz., at least three times.

She comes across as warm, friendly and personable — more like a church receptionist than the legendary Poison Ivy, co-founder of The Cramps with her husband, Lux Interior … former dominatrix and quintessential rock ‘n’ roll bad girl/vixen … godmother to such neo-horror rockers as Kittie, the Gore Gore Girls and Jack Off Jill.

What gives?

“We’re very well-rounded people, so when we’re sweet, we’re very sweet,” she explains simply. “But when we’re dangerous, we’re very dangerous. We have many facets — sweet, deadly and in-between.

“I don’t think that’s unusual. I am who I am — I don’t do it for the fans, and it certainly ain’t easy being me. How I dress, how I behave — it’s my form of self-expression.”

Ivy and Interior have been expressing themselves in their own unique way since the mid-1970s, when the girl formerly known as Kristy Wallace thumbed a ride from LSD enthusiast and Alice Cooper fan Erick Purkhiser. From that fateful ride, The Cramps were born.

Wallace and Purkhiser discovered a mutual attraction to the quirky and unusual — vintage monster movies, lurid sex, greasy ’60s garage rock and the rockabilly of the 1950s that seemed so perverse and immoral to the conservative mindset of that time. They decided to form a band, with Wallace christening herself Poison Ivy Rorschach and Purkhiser settling on Lux Interior.

From Sacramento, they made their way to New York City (after a brief stay in Ohio), where day jobs put them in touch with other musicians, mainly guitarist Bryan Beckerleg (stage name: Bryan Gregory) and Miriam Linna on drums. They began playing around the legendary punk scene of 1970s New York, earning questioning looks and puzzled expressions from fans at such famous venues as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s.

“Looking back, it just seems unreal,” Ivy said. “There was such an incredible scene at CBGB’s at that time, and it was like Mecca to us — everyone just kind of migrated there. I don’t know if we’d gotten the same attention if there wasn’t a scene like that. We were incredibly lucky, and there hasn’t been anything like it since.”

The Cramps struck up a fast friendship with The Ramones, one that endured beyond the punk explosion of the day. Ivy and Interior, in fact, were close friends with the late Johnny Ramone, who died recently.

“We were very close, and we saw a lot of each other over the past year,” she said. “Watching his deterioration was just gut-wrenching.

“It’s still hard to process it all, because it seems so mythologically weird — first Joey, then DeeDee, and now Johnny. They left such a mark, and knowing them personally, it’s still really hard. Even talking about it, I’m having trouble. It’s just too recent and too much.”

She prefers to remember The Ramones in their glory days — fast, furious, sneering punks wearing ripped jeans and leather jackets roaring through one 3-minute song after another from the famous CBGB’s stage.

“I just remember taking Bryan, who hadn’t seen The Ramones yet, to a show,” she said. “He’d had less than half a glass of wine and a hit off somebody’s joint, but when The Ramones came out, this energy was so overwhelming, he threw up in the gutter outside.

“He just got so overwhelmed by them, it was too much. He couldn’t deal with it. They were like white light and white heat, like a nuclear blast or an explosion. When The Ramones came out on stage, it was like a magnesium flare — you didn’t see anything else.”

In 1979, The Cramps released “Gravest Hits,” a compilation of all the singles and 7-inch demos they’d put out in the preceding years. They opened for The Police in Europe and recorded their first full-length album in 1980, “Songs the Lord Taught Us.”

After line-up shuffles, Interior and Ivy moved to Hollywood, Calif., where they were soon embroiled in a lawsuit with I.R.S. Records that prevented them from recording new material for several years. When they did, a string of albums followed — 1986’s “A Date With Elvis,” 1990’s “Stay Sick,” 1991’s “Look Mom No Head!” and 1994’s major-label debut, “Flamejob.” The band even appeared on “Beverly Hills 90210” in 1995, and two years later the band released “Big Beat from Badsville.”

Three years ago, the band began dipping into its overwhelming vault of rare recordings, releasing several discs worth this year on the album “How to Make a Monster.” According to Poison Ivy, releasing those blasts from the past was both cathartic and troubling.

“We picked through a lot of material that meant a lot to us,” she said. “It was thrilling, but it was also reliving the past, which is a mixed bag. You need to move on in life, but we did say we were going to write a booklet for `How to Make a Monster,’ and once we decided that, there was no turning back.

“We recalled some stuff that was best left forgotten, but also a lot of really good times that we truly appreciated.”

Tuesday, The Cramps will throw down at Blue Cat’s in Knoxville’s Old City. It’s Poison Ivy’s first visit to Knoxville, ironic considering her father — Dudley Ross Wallace — was born there.

As usual, she’ll appear on stage looking like the ghost of Bettie Page, strutting her stuff and playing guitar while Lux Interior snarls and postures for the crowd’s delight. They’ll enthrall the fans with tales of madness and gore, all the while amping up the atmosphere like steamy heat in a car at a late-night B-movie right before a teenage make-out session.

It’s what they know. It’s what they do. And if Poison Ivy could have a face-to-face conversation with her younger self, the impressionable Kristy Wallace, as she’s about to get into a wide-eyed Erick Purkhiser’s car along some dusty highway relegated to punk rock legend, she’d urge her onward.

“I’d tell her to take that ride, to not miss that ride,” she said. “I’m still on a ride with Lux, and we’re still so much in love with the music and each other.

“We’ve been accused of not growing over the years, of staying the same, but we’re just a spin-off of what we loved. To us, it’s a continuum that had been going on for decades, and we were just a part of it. When we discovered our mutual love for it, we just had to play.”

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