The Cramps dug their way out of the campy crypt to create a trash subculture with the grotesque garage glamour of this rip-roaring rockabilly raveup. Demented lovebirds Lux Interior (Erick Lee Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy (Kristy Marlana Wallace) met in 1972 in Sacramento, California when Purkhiser picked up Wallace while she was hitchhiking. Ivy says: “Everyone hitchhiked in California at that time. It was a very hippy era. We all thought it was safe, but it was hare-brained, looking back. I think we would have met anyway. It was destiny...I was Poison Ivy in Sacramento. I still have a driver’s licence that says that, and this was before any thought of a band. Lux was Flip Flop on his driver’s licence. When we went to Ohio, he was Raven Beauty and eventually changed to Lux Interior. For some reason that doesn’t make sense to me now. I thought I needed a last name, and Rorschach [named after the inventor of those infamous ‘inkblot’ psychiatric tests] came to me in a dream. But I was already Poison Ivy before The Cramps. We were reinventing ourselves, but not because of the band. Only our shrink knows why.”
Lux considers: "She was somebody really special when I met her, we immediately got along and we’ve never spent any time apart since. She’s just… smart, and interested in all the things that I was interested in. When we first met, all we wanted to do was go to rock’n’roll shows. And at that time, going to rock’n’roll shows in southern California was great ’cos everybody got dressed up like crazy and… it almost didn’t matter who the band was. The audience was more interesting than the bands. I’d wanted to be in a band and she played guitar and we got this idea within days of meeting each other: that we should have a band.”
In 1973, they moved to Akron, Ohio, and then to New York in 1975, where they got caught up in the burgeoning punk scene. Ivy remembers: “It was easier than you’d imagine. That’s why we feel so grateful and so fortunate with the scene that was there at the time. Monday night was audition night at CBGBs, but not everybody could get on. We did straight away because we’d made friends with The Dead Boys, who were really hot at the time. So The Dead Boys headlined this audition night, and we played our first show to a packed house. A lot of people saw us, as chaotic as we were, including Peter Crowley who booked Max’s Kansas City. He loved us and immediately booked us. Hilly Kristal thought we sucked, which we probably did. But Peter loved us and we started playing Max’s regularly, supporting Suicide. We got a following just from that. We put these flyers up all over town and that’s where the ‘psychobilly’ tag came from… we thought it up just to get people interested in us. We clicked straight away. The biggest break was when the Ramones saw us, and dug us, and then they let us open for ’em. Their audience loved us. New York was just a magnetic Mecca for people and there was just this swell of energy. We were hanging out at CBGBs and Max’s every night of the week, and so was everybody else. A swirl of creativity. It must be so hard for bands now. People are much more jaded.”
They recorded two singles with Alex Chilton at Ardent Studios in Memphis in 1977 leading to a deal with the new I.R.S. Records label and a UK tour with The Police for "Outlandos D'amour". In 1979 they put out the Gravest Hits EP with their singles plus new songs recorded in New York.
Ivy ponders the origin of their unique style: “It was a natural, organic thing. People think we’re more image-conscious than we are… it’s really more self-expression of our personal tastes. And we didn’t know who else would be in the band — we didn’t know anyone who even knew who The Sonics were, and they were a must as an influence. We had to do rockabilly songs. When we first went into the basement of the Musical Maze record store with Bryan Gregory and his sister Pam to jam, we didn’t know how we’d sound. So we just did it. We didn’t have enough going on to discuss it! When we met Bryan we just connected. It was a chemistry thing. There was never a plan.”
Their debut album 'Songs the Lord Taught Us' was also produced by Alex Chilton. The sessions took place at Sun Records founder Sam C. Phillips' Recording Studio in Memphis and featured Lux Interior on vocals; Poison Ivy Rorschach on guitar; Bryan Gregory on guitar; and Nick Knox on drums; with Booker C playing organ on "Fever". 'Songs the Lord Taught Us' went to number one on the UK indie rock album chart.
Lux defends their throwback shtick: “At the time when we started, and even today, you hear people say, ‘We want to do something new. We don’t wanna have anything to do with the past.’ Well, that’s okay, but you sure get a lotta crap that way.”
"I Was a Teenage Werewolf"
'Songs the Lord Taught Us'
All songs written and composed by Lux Interior and Ivy Rorschach; except where indicated.
1. "TV Set" 3:12
2. "Rock On The Moon" Jimmy Stewart 1:53
3. "Garbageman" 3:37
4. "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" 3:03
5. "Sunglasses After Dark" Dwight Pullen 3:47
6. "The Mad Daddy" 3:48
1. "Mystery Plane" 2:43
2. "Zombie Dance" 1:55
3. "What's Behind the Mask" 2:05
4. "Strychnine" Gerry Roslie 2:24
5. "I'm Cramped" The Cramps 2:37
6. "Tear It Up" Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette, Paul Burlison 2:32
7. "Fever" John Davenport, Eddie Cooley 4:17
14. "I Was a Teenage Werewolf (With False Start)" (Original Mix) 4:48
15. "Mystery Plane" (Original Mix) 2:39
16. "Twist and Shout" 2:32
17. "I'm Cramped" (Original Mix) 2:37
18. "The Mad Daddy" (Original Mix) 3:15
live at Napa State Mental Hospital, June 1978