The Cramps always considered themselves to be a “Rock and Roll” band in the truest, purest sense of the word, and in turn, they considered that Rock and Roll should be primal, offensive, sexual, free wheeling and wild. Even though they were sometimes thought of as “The Addams” side of the extended punk rock family, The Cramps, never ever thought of themselves as a novelty act.
They brought old school tearaway rock and roll energy, comic graphics, b-movie horror and pulp fiction into the Punk rock fray. Simultaneously glamorous and trashy, the combination of Lux’s be-bop-a-lula slapback vocals and Poison Ivy’s heavy leanings towards the Link Wray/Dick Dale school of twang, The Cramps set themselves apart from their contemporaries.
Californian born Kristy Wallace, met future Cramps frontman and partner at Art School in Sacramento, where legend has it that Erick (as Lux was still called) and his friend picked her up while hitch-hiking. The couple first moved back to Erick’s hometown of Akron Ohio, before travelling to NYC in 1974, already toying with the idea of being in a band. At the beginning of November 1976 The Cramps played their debut show at CBGBs, with fellow escaped Ohioans, The Dead Boys. An early adopter of the “bad girl” look, Kristy had even started working as a dominatrix in her new home city, apparently discovering that line of work paid much better than waitressing.
As their newly named alter egos of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, The Cramps took their vision of raw rock and roll into the Punk clubs, where they found a home amongst fellow outsiders. The Cramps injected drama, dress-up and a degree of nostalgia noir into the still forming counter-culture. With names that sounded like villains from Batman, the pair took their twisted Gotham twilight tales of sex, serial killers and 1950s sci-fi spaceships and turned them into songs.
“Some other band, some female guitar player, said she got hassled, but I don’t. I guess I look like I would dish it back.”
The Cramps went onto record at Sam Phillips legendary Sun Studios, some say initially funded by Ivy’s income as a dominatrix, and the band even first coined the term “Psychobilly” way back in 1976. Their live performances were always a riot of swampy psycho-rock, with Lux in heels and Poison Ivy leading the band with her trusty Gretsch, all the time, dressed for the kill.
“If something bad was happening, Ivy would snap her fingers and point and we’d have to beat someone up. It was like being in a gang – like a juvenile delinquent band – and it was great” – Kid Congo Powers
Often called the brains of the band, as the co-writer, arranger, lead guitarist and producer of the Cramps, Poison Ivy never seems to get the professional credit she’s due. How many times do you ever see her mentioned on any poll or “best of” list? Hmmmm. Together Poison Ivy and Lux Interior, not only produced some of the most original and defining tracks of the era but were also one of the most enduring couples of the punk and post punk generation. The Cramps were active from their formation in the mid 1970s until they were cut short in 2009, when Lux sadly and unexpectedly died as a result of a heart condition.