Whats Inside a Band?

The lost years of the Cramps

Photo by James BunoanThe Cramps drip obsolete culture like your hidden sores drip pus: B horror movies, buried rock & roll sounds, and barfy sex regurgitated as 1-4-5 fuzz from Poison Ivy Rorschach's pink-polished phalanges. Add singer Lux Interior's hillbilly hiccups up top, and you get 25-plus years of golden goo-goo muck. But you already know what the Cramps do. If you don't, immediately submerge your fat head in a toilet: flush, repeat. Because these are the years of the Cramps that got scrubbed out of the history book—the shit years when Ohio made them wanna die until they moved to New York and got cute. This is the formative period (Cramps? Period!) of a lifelong love affair with sounds to teach us the world ain't round—it's SQUARE!

EARLY 1960s:Akron, Ohio, is the holiest of holes. Saved only by horror-TV-host Ghoulardi knifing (say it with me: KA-NIFF-ING) through a mono speaker on his Goodyear-factory-foreman daddy's television, an attentive future Lux Interior decides to take it west. LATE 1960s-EARLY 1970s: Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison and John Lennon are all alive. Music is dead. SOMETIME IN 1972: After escaping a hippy haze of wine and hallucinogens in San Francisco, Vip Vop (who will one day be rechristened Lux) brushes the leaves outta his mop top, and somewhere near Sacramento—as the legend goes, anyway—he picks up Ivy hitchhiking. Love at first sight? Well, maybe it's more interesting than the way they really met. Reminds me: I gotta stop by the free clinic for my test results. LATE 1973/EARLY 1974:Lux and Ivy hightail it out of Sacramento as the heavy hand of the law begins to suffocate their personalities. "In Sacramento, everyone was into witchcraft, mysticism and acoustic music. They used to laugh at rock & roll!" Ivy said in 1989. "Nothing good ever came to that godforsaken East Jesusburg!" The pair collapse into the broken arms of Cleveland, Ohio, the only town in America God hates more than Akron. Except Parma. AUGUST 1974: Richard Nixon resigns. Downhill slide begins. FALL 1975: Lux and Ivy unload the mountains of rockabilly and '60s garage records they had collected in secondhand shops in northeast Ohio into a cramped (like wow, I'm two for two) New York apartment. Somewhere along the way, Ivy got swirly eyed over a Kinks record and christened the future duo the Cramps, in homage to the leaky pains experienced by girls without sense enough to kill themselves. Or me. FEBRUARY 1976: Lux starts working at a local record shop where he meets Detroit transplant Bryan Gregory, who had seen the Stooges "500 times." The meeting is further complicated by occurring on Ivy's birthday. It must have been a sign. Gregory shows up the next day with a secondhand guitar still wet from the CRAMPS stencil he painted on it. Neither Lux nor Ivy has the strength to tell him they needed a bass player. You can take the boy out of Detroit . . . JUNE 1976: Gregory's sister Pam arrives from Detroit and, with a ceremony like the Titanic's, is christened Pam Balam. She is handed two unfried drumsticks and taught to count. The Cramps lock the door and begin rehearsing. Pam keeps getting stuck after 1-2-3. AUGUST 1976: After a summer of Morse code as performed by a rock on a toppled log, the door was unlocked to let Pam worm her way back to Detroit to pursue her interest in boys. SEPTEMBER 1976: Enter pink-pajama-clad Miriam Linna, an old friend from Ohio who was the head honcho of the Rocket From the Tombs fan club (see: reasons why it's important to die before you expire). Miss Pajama Pants (okay, so the story goes Miriam forgot to change out of her pink pajamas when Lux and Ivy invited her to the bar) soon had sticks in her hand and a blanket to keep her warm while she slept on Lux and Ivy's couch. She was shown the parts Pam made up but still couldn't play. Miriam (who had never played drums) found inspiration in a one-armed drummer named Moulty who played with '60s punk progenitors the Barbarians: "If Moulty can drum with a hook, then I can drum with both hands," she says. NOVEMBER 1976:The Cramps ooze and the crowd throbs at the very first gig at New York's famous for-nothing-except-hype hole CBGBs. Owner Hilly Krystal wasn't impressed with the less-than-tuned performance and told the band they sounded like a "bad joke." That didn't stop the Cramps from playing there for the next three years. Not that he wasn't right. JUNE 1977: Richard Robinson, producer of the Flaming Groovies, presses record for five songs: "What's Behind the Mask," "Love Me," "Teenage Werewolf," "Sunglasses After Dark" and "TV Set" don't quite make the needle jump into the red. The songs don't see the light of day till years later, when they are bootlegged. The reason? The session sucked. Get over it. JULY 1977: The Cramps play their first headlining gig at CBGB's to a packed house. Linna quits the band right after. NOVEMBER 2004: The Cramps release the How to Make a Monsterdouble CD, covering those lost years. Linna politely refuses an interview.
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