Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Cramps Gravest Hits

It’s difficult for anyone who wasn’t around at the time to realize just how weird and unique the Cramps were for their time. Even with the variety of bands popping up in the punk/new wave scene, this group stood out. Sexy and sultry Poison Ivy Rorschach, mistress of the revered guitar, the stoic Nick Knox, who was kind enough to continue drumming with the band posthumously, the frightening Bryan Gregory, master of noise and feedback and in front of it all, wildman performer Lux Interior. Good looking, manic and a great vocalist, he never stood still throughout a show and could give Iggy a run for his money in the self-destructive arena. This crazed combo never made it as big as some of their contemporaries, but they continued to do exactly what they wanted to do. It’s still hard to believe that Lux is gone…man, what a loss to the world of r’n’r.

After their first single or two, the band released a 12” EP called Gravest Hits. All of their elements came together right from the starts – surf influences mixed with rockabilly and garage, with more than a healthy dose of b-movie horror/camp. Starting with a simple riff on Ivy’s tremeloed guitar, "Human Fly" comes alive when Bryan and Nick kick in with a wall of fuzz and a basic but incredibly effective drum beat. There is plenty of space here but it still has a wonderful sound. On top of this Lux hiccups through lines reflecting as much r’n’r as horror movie (“I’ve got 96 tears and 96 eyes”). What an intro to this group!

Their menacing version of “The Way I Walk” is much darker and fiercer than any other, even though Robert Gordon beat them to the recording studio. This is closer to the feel of the original, though even more savage and Gregory’s screams are hair-raising! An upbeat piece of rockabilly is Roy Orbison’s “Domino” which is as raw and primitive as you could possibly imagine.

The Ramones beat them to the punch by releasing “Surfin’ Bird” first, but again, the Cramps win the championship for most manic! This fits Lux’s vocal stylings to a “T” – even more so than Joey’s – and the band eventually turns this into a pure wall of mind-numbing noise! Beautiful!

The record closed on a quieter note with a plaintive cover of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town”, with Lux over-acting and Bryan making some sad sounds with his slide guitar. I saw them close shows with this one, which was a big change from bands who would close with their noisiest and wildest tune. But, these cats were never afraid to take chances!