Posts Tagged ‘The Cramps’

Kid Congo, who’s played in Gun Club, The Cramps, The Bad Seeds and more, releases a new EP that’s a tribute to the late non-binary, African American singer and Los Angeles legend Sean De Lear.  It’s been a while. He’s got a new EP of groovin’ garage goodness with some songs about life, death and the slippery world of memory and dreams. Here he comes strutting on out of the desert in a pale pink linen suit just as cool as an evening breeze. Kid Congo might be dressed sharp and have things weighing on his mind but he’s not to cool to bust a move or throw some shapes. His band The Pink Monkey Birds know all about shaking their tail feathers and so “Swing From The Sean DeLear” is an infectiously funky set that’ll have you toe tappin’, head noddin’ and finger snappin’ before you even know it. 

Kicking off with the title track, ‘Sean DeLear’ is a rough and excitable stomp with some old school Iggy Pop swagger about it. The song is a remembrance and a celebration of a Los Angeles underground star. Sean DeLear was a non-binary, African American singer and scene fixture, by all accounts a force of nature and embodiment of the sort of subcultural vitality we’re all sadly missing these days, sat at home watching our screens. The band kick out the jams to keep the flame burning. Eventually ‘Sean DeLear’ wanders off into the night in search of further adventure and the tune unravels. ‘(Are You) Ready, Freddy?’ brings the full tilt rock ‘n’ roll freak out ending that it might have got. Apparently a staple of their live set it’s an overheated guitar riot, with occasional yells of the title, anchored by the pulse of its tight, elastic bassline and hectic, driving drums.

“We’re at the end of the end of privilege.” Now here’s something, Kid hasn’t gone in much on politics in the past but these have been some severely trying times for us all, ‘(I Can’t Afford) Your Shitty Dreamhouse’ is a righteous middle finger to the man. A traditional rock ‘n’ roll “fuck you” to an ugly establishment consensus of “racist, conservative… disgusting bullshit.” More than the increasingly impossible dream of a secure, affordable, home the dream house here is a particular vision of America. That sickly nostalgia for a better day that never was. I puzzled over the line “get your hair, out of my hair” but I’m now pretty sure it refers to the mysterious coiffure of the last President, whose time in office Kid seems to have sat out as a recording artist. All that fun and the tune is infectiously, unstoppably, funky into the bargain, clap your hands and chant along brothers and sisters.

The final track is an hallucinatory wonder. A loose Chicano groove that takes your hand and leads you into the dream space. There’s atmospheric flute breezing by through a kind of tough cocktail jazz. Kid pops up with an occasional spoken interlude. These concern a dream in which his friend and former Gun Club bandmate, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, wanders into his kitchen to pay a visit. Pierce has been dead 25 years but there’s no great revelation passed on or anything particularly eventful that occurs, just Kid’s warm sense of happiness in seeing his friend again that fills the whole track. About midway through the tempo picks up and the playing becomes a touch more dramatic but the magic of it is that it just kind of hangs there, a full 14 minutes worth of percolating sound without a big lyrical narrative or even really much in the way of musical development and yet it rolls by without ever dragging its feet.

It’s a joy and a surprise, which seems to be how Kid Congo felt about the dream itself. This whole EP is solid greatness, really a spirit lifting tonic. It’s good to welcome them back, the band sounding sharp and limitless. Hopefully it means a new album is out there on the not too far horizon. In the meantime this will do just fine.

“Swing From The Sean DeLear” by Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey BirdsIn The Red Records

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How do you describe a creative force like Poison Ivy? Born Kirsty Marlana Wallace and also known as Poison Ivy Rorschach, she was armed with a guitar and a strong desire for change. With her band The Cramps’ influence spanning over three decades, she led the alt-scene in New York at CBGB’s, the hallowed hall of punk which opened in 1973 by Hilly Kristal in Manhattan’s East Village. A 350-capacity venue, its intimacy was a draw for other emerging bands such as The Ramones and Patti Smith. Ultimately, Poison Ivy had big hair and even bigger dreams, she was the driving force behind shaping the alternative music scene.

Rumoured to have taken the name ‘Poison Ivy’ from a dream while at Sacramento State University, she always aligned herself as an outsider, hence chosen to wear more revealing clothes and smokey make-up. Always keen to paint her life outside of the lines, she decided to work as a dominatrix at The Victorian, leaving her former job as a waitress due to the huge difference in pay. She met Lux Interior at College in 1972, who actually took his name from a car ad. This meeting prompted the birthing of her brainchild with Interior, who also became her late husband and the lead singer of their punk-rock band, The Cramps. Despite its changing line up from its creation in April 1976, until its disbandment in 2009 due to the death of Interior, they left a legacy yet to be diminished.

The Cramps were managed by Ivy, as both a band and a gang. She was an impressively accomplished lead and rhythm guitarist, always staying true to her artistic vision. The band brought the emerging genre of psychobilly to the forefront of people’s attention. Usually referred to as a cult band, they blended rockabilly and ‘60s garage rock with punk. They used pop culture as their inspirations and were a literal project of America. They quickly gained a reputation for their unusual, rockabilly-inspired music and wild live performances. The Cramps, with Ivy, Lux, and various other guitarists, drummers, and bassists, continued to release records and perform live until the fall of 2006, enjoying some commercial success (mainly in Europe) and acquiring a strong cult following worldwide.

The rockabilly element was partly due to Ivy’s admiration for American Shawnee Rock ‘n’ Roll musician, Link Wray, who was placed by Rolling Stone as 45/100 of the greatest guitarists of all time. They even covered the “King of Rock and Roll’s” track themselves, a strong rendition of the King’s hit track, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Early on, Ivy used a clear plexiglass Dan Armstrong guitar, then the unusual Canadian-made Bill Lewis guitar heard on the first few Cramps recordings. Since 1985 she has mostly used a 1958 Gretsch 6120 hollow-body. She uses Fender Pro Reverb amplifiers onstage, and smaller Valco and Allen amps in the studio.

Always thriving off the unusual, one of The Cramps most infamous shows was their performance at Napa State Mental Hospital. Some of their lyrics may have been regarded as being slightly near the knuckle, such as ‘Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?’, ‘All Women Are Bad’ or ‘Bikini Girls with Machine Guns’, with the latter being their sole Top 40 chart success. Also, Ivy posing as the track title also reiterated her unique persona and her tendency to step away from the norm, in a similar way to the likes of Jordan Mooney and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX.

Throughout the band’s career, they played with the idea of image and identity, after swapping their focus on B-side horror to sexual ventures. Not only were they ahead of their time with their music, image and love of horror, but the band itself was also split evenly with half men and half women, something which is still rarely seen decades later. They celebrated their relative longevity by marking their 25th anniversary with a re-issue of their post-I.R.S discography. Their last album of fresh material “Fiends of Dope Island” (2003), successfully set the band’s sound in front of the backdrop of the 21st Century.

Their last time performing as a band live may have been at House of Blues in Anaheim, California, in November 2006, but Poison Ivy and the band’s influence is yet to dwindle. They sparked the movement for horror punk and changed what people thought music should be. Poison Ivy herself acted as an inspiration for others to accept themselves as they truly were, and with her obvious guitar skills, became a role model for any girl to pick up an instrument. We can still learn a lot from one of the most underrated bands in alt-history.

The Albums:
Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980,Illegal Records)
Psychedelic Jungle (1981,I.R.S._Records)
A Date with Elvis (1986,Big Beat Records)
Stay Sick! (1990,Enigma_Records)
Look Mom No Head! (1991, Enigma)
Flamejob (1994, The Medicine Label)
Big Beat from Badsville (1997, Epitaph_Records)
Fiends of Dope Island (2003, Vengeance)

Gravest Hits (1979, Illegal)
Blues Fix (1992, Big Beat)

Live albums
Smell of Female – (live at the Peppermint Lounge) (1983, Big Beat)
RockinnReelininAucklandNewZealandXXX (1987, Vengeance)

Off the Bone (1983, Illegal)
Bad Music for Bad People (1984, I.R.S.)
How to Make a Monster (2004, Vengeance)
The Cramps: File Under Sacred Music Early Singles 1978–1981 (2012, Munster)

If you’re interested in finding out more about Poison Ivy and The Cramps, make sure to read “Journey To The Centre of The Cramps” by Dick Porter

This 2CD compilation may well gain first prize as the longest titled album this year, its release also extends the long running USP of being in some way linked to The Cramps, but specifically the fabled record collection of Lux and Ivy; this is an arena that has been well serviced over the years by the wonderful ‘Born Bad’ series, the ‘Songs The Cramps Taught Us’ releases and also by the infamous ‘Purple Knif’ and ‘Vip Vop Tapes’, the later of which were actually put together by Lux for a radio show.

‘Good For Nothin’ Tunes’ contains 50 tracks “enthused over by Lux and Ivy”, with sleeve notes by Dave Henderson from Mojo Magazine; quite how we know these tracks were actually enthused over by either Lux or Ivy remains a mystery; Lux has been gone for over 10 yrs, and Ivy almost immediately became somewhat reclusive; so whilst actually approval from The Cramps legends is largely missing, I think we can be sure that had they heard them, they would most definitely have liked them.

“If the boogie-woogie kills me, I don’t mind dyin” hollers Tender Slim during his rockin blues opener “Don’t Cut Out On Me”, originally released as a double A-side in 1962, though was re-issued as a bootleg green vinyl 7” in 2015, Slim hailed from South Carolina and went under an array of similar names including Fender ‘Guitar’ Slim, Tender Joe Richardson, however by 2007 he was known as Deacon Richardson and releasing material entitled “We’re Still on This Mission Praising God” which suggests he’d long given up on hellfire rockabilly!

Dave Hill was the stage name of actor David Hess, who in 1956 recorded the original version of the Otis Blackwell composition “All Shook Up”, Hill provided a solid vocal delivery whilst Ray Ellis And His Orchestra delivered the driving music which was released via the Aladdin label on a 10” shellac disc (a decent copy of which would set you back at least £50) the following year the track became a worldwide #1 hit for Elvis Presley.

Dave Hill

Witchcraft is always a popular theme of these compilations, this one is no different; we get Betty Lavette‘Witchcraft In The Air’, a standard soul voiced stomper, Lavette had a lengthy recording career, much of her material has been subject to CD reissue on labels including Charly RecordsEartha Kitt dabbled with the spooks during ‘I’d Rather Be Burned As A Witch’ which came out in 1959 and cemented her status as the foil to the girl-next-door charms of Doris Day.

Bobby Bare‘Vampira’ is pure 50’s sexploitation set to a swing beat which includes a raunchy almost spoken word fade out, a real highlight is ‘Slave Girl’ by Ray Ethier; Ethier remains a complete unknown on the rockabilly scene despite him being lead guitarist for Ben Hewitt, he also recorded this on 7” under his own name; it’s an absolute belter, twanging guitar, slap bass and reminded me of Glen Glenn. Sadly, matters of the heart intervened, Ray fell in love with a lady by the name of Patricia June and married her. Pat telling Ray that is was either her or the guitar… he chose her!

J.J. Jackson & The Jackels provide plenty of “ooh-ahh” chanting during this hump-dancer soul tinged classic, that has recently been released by Norton Records and was included on the 2009 compilation ‘The Roots Of The Cramps’ which at least provides a genuine Lux & Ivy related link.

The Poets ‘Dead’ is a genuinely strange record, a seriously twisted doo-wop vibe complete with horror lyrics and accompanying screams and lupine howls that no doubt terrified audiences in 1959; this is a cleaned-up recording, an original of which would set you back at least £20.

Scott Engel provided this album title with his 1958 B-side to his ‘Kathleen’ single, his label clearly liked the track as they again put it on the B-side of the following years ‘Livin End’ 7”, why if they liked it so much didn’t they flip it to the A-side… I guess it matters not as a few years later Engel would change his name to Scott Walker and moved to the UK as The Walker Brothers sought success from this classic rockabilly belter to the 2014 Walker written album with Sunn O))) is one hell of a journey!!

Ronnie Dee Dawson began his recording career with ‘Action Packed’ a pure rockabilly scorcher in 1959 when he was just 20yrs old, he had however been a French horn player for his father’s dance band The Manhattan Merrymakers, quite where he picked up the middle name Dee is a mystery, he was christened Ronnie Monroe Dawson and also recorded as Snake Munroe, and The Blonde Bomber, he benefitted from the 80’s rockabilly revival and continued to tour up until his death in 2003 age just 64.

The Savoys ‘Domino’ was originally titled ‘Domino (Just For Kicks)’ and came out in summer 1959, the source clearly being Roy Orbison’s ‘Domino’ which predated it by 3yrs, these days a lawsuit would follow, how times have changed; no matter how long the world keeps spinning there is unlikely to be a track as odd as ‘Bernice (Part 1)’ by Brother Theodore, a true out there spoken word oddity, sonorous Germanic voice delivering a stream of consciousness monologue with ham B-movie scary sounds.

Disc 2 contains gems from The Del-Tones, who’s ‘Knees Shakin’ is a sultry guitar instrumental with some neat boogie-woogie piano, whilst Richie Deran ‘Girl And A Hot Rod’ is a genuine rockabilly belter as our boy believes he can satisfy his teenage angst with as the title proclaims a “girl and a hot rod” – originally released on the Pontiac label in 1960, this was Deran’s only release which is a real shame as this is the perfect blend of snare heavy rock ’n’ roll and youthfully yelped rockabilly.

Its back to the weird stuff with Glenn And Christy, their sole release being ‘Wombat Twist’ which came out on Sonic Records label in 1962, the label was based in LaGrange, Illinois though there is no information as to where either Glenn And Christy came from or even who they were; for reasons best known to them they delivered a sort of spoken word lyric over a damn fine rockin groove that features some neat guitar work.

For the really way out there stuff, few come close to Jack Paar; his track ‘Blue Wiggle’ defies description and to be polite would be described as a novelty record, the track was originally a B-side released via RCA Victor in 1958. Paar was a former radio and TV talk show host who is probably best known for being the second host of The Tonight Show. During his earlier days Paar worked at WGAR in Cleveland. By chance, he was working the night Orson Welles did his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast. Paar apparently even tried to calm down the panicked listeners by saying, “The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?” The A-side ‘Funny What You Learn From Women’ as also included and is equally odd as we hear Paar accompanied by a whistler detailing what he learnt from the fairer sex!

Hasil Adkins should be familiar to anyone with even a mild interest in both The Cramps and obscure primitive rock ‘n’ roll, Adkins was a self-taught one-man band. The reason for this was because when he first heard Hank Williams on the radio he didn’t know there was a band behind Hank, he mistakenly thought that Hank Williams played all the instruments, and set out to do the same; he is featured here with his debut 7” ‘She Mine’ which was credited to Hasil Adkins & His Happy Guitar when released in 1962.

The Revels ‘Dead Man’s Stroll’ appeared on the earlier Righteous “Magnificent: 62 Classics From The Cramps’ Insane Collection” so quite why its needs another outing I’m unsure.
Dave Gardner was an interesting character, he flunked out of university after a single term of input as a Baptist Minister, before becoming a comedian, though this was curtailed when arrested for dope possession and later tax evasion, some of these wilder traits are evident on his ‘Mad Witch’ single from 1957.

Charlie Feathers should also be familiar to Cramps followers, and on ‘Tongue Tied Jill’ he described said lady as “my real gone chick” on this mono recording from 1956, a genuine barn yard nascent rockabilly blast with all the appropriate yelps and hollers.

Milton Feher closes the album with ‘Walking Without Effort’ a track lifted from an album ‘Relaxing Body And Mind: The Relaxation Record’ which came out in 1962, and was marketed as a therapeutic record; Feher without any musical accompaniment narrates advice on life, love and beyond; the album came out on Folkways Records, a label that became one of the worlds largest independent labels, and is currently owned by The Smithsonian Institute. As one of the terms of that deal, the Smithsonian agreed to keep all titles in print, which they continue to do to this day under the Smithsonian Folkways banner, as such you can get a new CD of the album for under £10!!

In total you get 50 slices of madcap vinyl that includes rare B-sides, introductions to dance crazes you had never heard of, and general madness, all of which has been sourced from the best available originals then subtly remastered, its a great compilation that showcases the driven and possibly unhinged belief of some of the artists and labels that released this stuff; there is genuine passion, blood, sweat and other dubious substances within the majority of these recordings, and for that reason alone this collection should be applauded, and lets hope we have now exhausted the Cramps tie in and similar tracks are just released for their own sake in the future.

• Featuring super rare sides, howling rockabilly, juvenile delinquent anthems, a host of dance trends, plenty of haunting weirdness and lots of hi-octane rock ‘n’ roll.

• Including Eartha Kitt, Ernie K Doe, Ronnie Dawson, Bobby Bare, Scott Engel (later of The Walker Brothers), Ken Nordine and Charlie Feathers.

• Plus beatnik blues and the crazed excess of Portuguese Joe, Myron Lee And The Caddies, The Poets, Charles Senn and Mike Page’s ‘Long Black Shiny Car’.

• Along with the awesome ‘Wombat Twist’ by Glenn And Christy and Harvey Hurt’s stupendous ‘Big Dog Little Dog’ – it’s hit after hit.

The Craps 1989

Drummer Nick Knox, of the legendary psychobilly band the Cramps, passed away today (June 15th). He was 60 years of age. From the period of 1977-1991, Knox toured with the band and appeared on some of the Cramps’ most crucial recordings.

Nick Knox, drummer with the Cramps from 1977 until 1991. He was the band’s longest-serving drummer and appeared on their first four albums including 1986’s A Date With Elvis.

Knox played in the proto-punk band the Electric Eels before joining Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach in the Cramps. They were mainstays of New York’s CBGB scene alongside the Ramones, Television and others. A Date With Elvis ,the title a play on Elvis Presley’s 1959 album of the same name – was the band’s most commercially successful album. It followed 1980’s Songs the Lord Taught Us and 1981 follow-upPsychedelic Jungle. Knox appeared on their fourth release, 1990’s Stay Sick! before his departure.

Knox (whose real name was Nicholas Stephanoff) joined the NYC-via Akron, Ohio, outfit in 1977 alongside larger-than-life frontman Lux Interior, tough-chick guitarist Poison Ivy and spooky guitarist Bryan Gregory. Anybody who saw this era of the band knew that Knox’s jet-black hair and the sunglasses (at dark) framing his stoic face was another key of cool in the pioneering psycho/goth/rockabilly outfit’s chain.

In 1991, Knox left the Cramps and the music scene, returning to Garfield Heights, Ohio, and keeping an extremely low profile. In 2013, Knox appeared on Terminal, an album by Cheese Borger And The Cleveland Steamers, playing drums on three tracks. His last live performance was in 2003 with another notorious Cle-punk ensemble, the Pagans, at an event called “Ohio’s Punk Past,” curated and promoted by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. (Pagans’ guitarist Mike Metoff is Knox’s cousin. Metoff also had a brief stint in the Cramps under the name Ike Knox.) Recently, Knox returned to the Cleveland music scene as a “senior adviser” to Archie And The Bunkers, the self-proclaimed “hi-fi organ punk” garage-rock duo. Knox would occasionally DJ at Bunkers shows alongside Miriam Linna, whom he replaced in the Cramps.

Listeners unfamiliar with the Cramps’ classic work should start with the crucial compilations Off The BoneandBad Music For Bad People. But if you want to see the real punks, you punk, here’s the band in one of their finest hours, from the 1980 movie URGH!, A Music War, throwing down “Tear It Up.” (Watch your face on the flying cymbal.)

Among those paying tribute was Miriam Linna, the Cramps’ previous drummer. In a long Facebook post during which she recalled moments from their four-decade friendship, she said she’d recently visited Knox in an intensive care unit in Cleveland. She reported that they’d reconnected in 2017, during her own illness, and made a point of speaking on the phone every day, noting, “I looked forward to the daily check up calls, and I soon realized that he needed the pep talks as well.” She added, “I thank God that Nicky was a friend of mine. He was one of the kindest, funniest, most amazing human beings ever and I was very lucky to have been in his orbit.”

Former guitarist Kid Congo Powers tweeted, “Nick Knox Coolest of the cool. R.I.P. Glad to have played to your boss Beat. Meet you on the mystery plane.”

Bad Music For Bad People is a sumptuous collection of 11 hits (“Human Fly” is represented) and B-sides that often serves as an introduction to the psychobilly legends’ swampy goo goo muck.

“Bad Music for Bad People” is the second compilation album of previously released material by the American garage punk band the Cramps. It was released in 1984 on I.R.S. Records and was seen by most fans as a cynical cash-in by the record label, following the departure of the band. Sounds, the now defunct UK music paper, gave the album a 5-star review but said, “Miles Copeland’s IRS label pick the carrion of their former label mates even cleaner by releasing a watered down version of the ...Off the Bone singles collection that was released in the UK.

The Band:

  • Lux Interior – vocals
  • Bryan Gregory – guitar
  • Kid Congo Powers – guitar
  • Poison Ivy Rorschach – guitar
  • Nick Knox – drums