From trashy horror flicks and macabre comics to skin-tight leather and ghoulish makeup, punk-rock pioneers The Cramps were masters of sordid kitsch and sleazy pop culture. They were also among the most influential and enduring rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time.
Few better embodied their era’s provocative punk-rock spirit than singer Lux Interior, an iconic frontman known as much for his music as for his wild stage presence and larger-than-life persona.
This year marks the 40th since Interior and his wife, guitarist Poison Ivy, founded the band, which recorded eight albums from 1980 to 2003, released dozens of singles, and garnered a massive cult following over their lengthy career.
Of course, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy went by very different names when they first met in 1972 when both were art students at Sacramento State. Back then, they were Erick Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace, and they met when Purkhiser and a friend stopped to give Wallace a ride as she was hitchhiking back to her apartment from the Sacramento State campus. The pair bonded over shared interests in kitschy pop culture, flea markets, music and art, even taking classes together such as “Art and Shamanism.” They began playing music and soon founded The Cramps.
Purkhiser graduated in 1973, and two years later, the pair moved to Ohio and then New York. There, they married and became a part of the city’s thriving punk movement. Outrageous, spirited, sometimes offensive, and wholly unique to the American music scene, The Cramps became regulars at legendary New York rock clubs CBGB and Max’s Kansas City before releasing their first EP, Gravest Hits, in 1979. Their first long-player in 1980, Songs the Lord Taught Us, became a huge hit with audiences riding the first wave of punk music. The Cramps blended 1950s-era rockabilly with hard-and-fast, edgy garage rock to form a style all their own, a genre known as psychobilly.
Though the band never reached a level of mega-stardom like fellow American punk pioneers The Ramones, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or Patti Smith, The Cramps are widely credited as rock trailblazers who influenced countless musicians and bands, from Tiger Army to The White Stripes.
Lux Interior passed away in 2009 after one of the longest and most impactful musical careers of the past century. He is survived by Poison Ivy and a legacy — in all its leopard-clad glory — that profoundly changed music culture in ways still felt today.