Lux Interior, lead singer of The Cramps, aka Erick Lee Purkhiser, passed away 5 years ago, aged 60, on 4th February 2009 due to an existing heart condition at Glendale Memorial Hospital, California at 4:30 a.m. PST.
Lux Interior was an inspirational figure to countless musicians and Cramps aficionados around the globe. Although they never sold millions of albums, he and wife Poison Ivy’s recordings as The Cramps have made an immense impression upon contemporary music which shows no sign of abating. The Cramps surfaced from the bowels of the original New York punk/No Wave scene in the late 70’s with a unique resonance and appearance, based in equal parts on rockabilly, 1960’s garage punk and surf music, immersed in horror/B-movie imagery. Lux was an inimitable frontman who turned every stage upon which he performed into a place of fervour, recklessness and genuine autonomy. He was definitely an uncommon and surprisingly charming star who will always be sorely missed.
The interview below was originally published in the October 10th 1991 issue of the long defunct London weekly listings magazine City Limits. It was the cover story.
This was my second major interview with the band. Lux and Ivy were as erudite, entertaining and amiable as ever, promoting their Ace Records LP release, Look Mom, No Head! Much had changed in The Cramps camp since my previous interview with the group in early 1990. Two key members had left, detailed in the interview below, and the sterling work of the Look Mom, No Head! drummer, Jim Sclavunos (8 Eyed Spy, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Grinderman) went unacknowledged by Lux and Ivy. In fact, Jim Sclavunos had parted company with the band before the record was even released. This was obviously The Cramps’ loss.
This interview is a snap shot in time of The Cramps in transition, at the height of their fame in Europe, twenty years ago.
Lux Interior and Poison Ivy are bringing their own brand of Americana to London to play the Town and Country Club for an unprecedented five sold out gigs on October 25th, 26th, 28th, 29th, and 30th. IAN JOHNSTON met up with them.
Whether you like it or not, sleepy London town is soon to plunged into the twilight zone. America’s most warped export, The Cramps, are about to lay siege to The Town and Country Club for five nights of riotous debauchery to promote their latest LP Look Mon, No Head!, possibly their best waxing to date. The Cramps get better with age, although they thankfully make every effort to resist maturing. There are always far too many po-faced adult oriented rock stars polluting the airwaves with their dreary musings and the Cramps’ terminal delinquency and humour is the perfect tonic to such inanities.
Uninhibited singer, ladies’ shoe fetishist and contortionist, Lux Interior, and his long-time partner, Sultry guitarist Poison Ivy, have always intuitively understood what constitutes great hedonistic rock ”n’ roll, and have devoted most of their lives to producing it. Drawing inspirations from a sleazy vault brimming with overlooked rockabilly, country, blues, R&B, punk and surf records, numerous exploitation movies, burlesque strippers, serial killers and all manner of Americana, Lux and Ivy have created their own world. But it is a world that is rooted in reality and has nothing to do with parody or camp, in their eyes. “You can see a film like Naughty Dallas (the 1964 exploitation docudrama classic, directed by the late, self proclaimed ”Cinema Schlockmeister’ Larry Buchanan) and the strippers really existed. It happened, there was no concept or anything. These are things that interest us because they’re to do with real people,” opines the striking Mr. Interior as a way of expressing his disgust at those who see the band as a two-dimensional cartoon. “We have 3000 films on video tape and we’re looking for stuff all the time,” declares Ivy. It is precisely this fanatical obsession with B-culture which gives The Cramps their edge and which has sustained them throughout their turbulent career. If she was not in a rock ” n’ roll band, Ivy would probably be under lock and key.
Since they last played in the UK at the 1990 Reading Festival, some changes have occurred within the band. Firstly, they have rejoined independent label Big Beat for their current releases, after their major label Enigma collapsed while they were in the middle of their first tour of Japan. “Just when we liked the idea of being on one label,” says Ivy ruefully. “We were horrified that there would be another long gap between releases. It’s been stop and start all our lives.” Previously, there was a four-year silence between A Date With Elvis and last year’s offering, Stay Sick. “It allows us to go on enjoying ourselves but this time we decided we couldn’t wait for some great deal. All these arsehole people at record companies lie to you all the time, and we’ve been lied to by them all,” mutters Lux.
Secondly, two band members have disappeared. Unsurprisingly, gum-chewing bass player Candy Del Mar has vacated the traditionally unstable second guitar slot, but also departed is the band’s laid ” back and dapper drummer, Nick Knox, who has occupied the drum seat since 1977. “He’s kind of a rock ”n’ roll casualty,’ quips Lux with a sly grin. “He’s really not up to touring,’ Ivy carefully elaborates. “We loved everything he did but” ¦ his health” ¦ he likes to drink and whatever. We always wanted members who could match our energy and it was clear that wasn’t happening any more. Candy just changed interest in music and started listening to 70’s stuff.”
The new recruits are drummer Nick Alexander (formerly of The Weirdos) and the wonderfully monikered bassist Slim Chance (ex Mad Daddies, named after a Cramps song ” they started out as a Cramps cover band). This injection of new blood has undoubtedly energised Lux and Ivy a great deal. “We’re not changing direction in any way, it’s just not quite as drunken sounding,” laughs Ivy as she describes how the tighter rhythm section has allowed her more freedom as a guitarist. “They are both crazy men! I can’t wait to play with them on stage,” adds Lux. “Before, there was a little bit of self-satisfaction creeping into The Cramps, which really flipped us out. On Stay Sick one of the members wasn’t doing so good and the other was having terrible problems and we just couldn’t play the songs. On this LP, we had been playing these songs for five hours every day for two months before we went into the studio. We could play them like a blast furnace.”
The band’s harder and more direct rock sound ” partially influenced by Lux and Ivy listening to a lot of 60’s biker and hot rod groups ” infects new Cramped anthems such as ” Blow Up Your Mind (Lux: “Yes, this is a message song advocating teen suicide” ), ” Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots’ and the manic ” Alligator Stomp’. “Yeah, that’s a real dance,” Lux informs me. “It was real popular in Cleveland, Ohio. In the mid-70’s (where the band where based before moving to New York), Devo, Electric Eels and Pere Ubu played in these bars and everyone was Gatoring there. What a sight! Everyone lies on the floor and rolls over the top of each other. Particularly impressive to see David Thomas (lead singer with Pere Ubu), all 150 pounds of him, rolling on the floor, knocking people down. One time we were in Italy, and they threw a party for us, but we were thrown out. I kept playing The Stooges’ ” 1970′ and Nick (Knox) was gatoring on the floor. It lasted 20 minutes. In Italy you get thrown out of your own party!”
Other highlights include a smouldering cover of Captain Beefheart’s theme for the movie Blue Collar, ” Hard Workin’ Man’, and a duet between Lux and Iggy Pop on a version of ” Miniskirt Blues’ by The Flower Children. Lux and Ivy had wanted their hero Iggy to croon on the track for some time but had never really plucked up the courage to ask, despite playing several concerts with him. Lux takes up the story: “ When we were recording I went to the liquor store and there he was buying three beers. He happened to be rehearsing next door and I asked him to drop and say hi to the band. When he dropped in he said, ” You got anything I can sing on?’ I said (Lux adopts a perfect Oliver Hardy impression), ” We certainly do!’ He sang it in one take, in and out of there in ten minutes.”
Far from being merely the revivalist band that their detractors claim, Lux and Ivy are constantly trying to make exhilarating rock ‘n’ roll music for the present and they know there subject inside out. Lux: “A lot of people call us old fashioned. In France, someone just called us ” a clever museum’ or ” antique dealers’.” Ivy chips in, “The difference between us and a lot of artists now is that their influences are only two weeks old.” Lux: ” Where as some people are concerned about what a guy ate for breakfast before he made a record, we are just not interested. What’s important is what it meant when it happened. Why it happened. What was the result of it?”
The couple’s most fervent desire is to somehow “change culture” , reach a mainstream audience and cause the same seismic upheavals as their idols Jerry lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. ” I think that’s perhaps why we have all these personnel changes,” muses Lux. “We will do whatever we have to do to attain this dream. It always seems just out of reach.” The pair believe that it is only the conservative music industry, which prevents them from reaching their goal. Lux: “I don’t know what will happen. Maybe we will cause a little change in one place; people will start wearing garter belts or something. I don’t know what, but whatever we can do, we’ll do. Ours is not to reason why, ours is to get out there and do it!” Long may they continue to do so.
Copyright © Ian Johnston
Ian Johnston is the author of The Wild, Wild World Of The Cramps.