So much credit has been given to The Misfits over the years, that another band, equally important and also formed in the same period, is often overlooked for its contribution to the horror rock genre. There is absolutely no question that The Misfits were founding fathers of the “Horror Punk” scene as I detail in Part III of this series. But let’s take a moment to pay homage to a early progenitor of the “Psychobilly” scene who brought the horror in a highly influential way that puts them firmly as the other bookend to this four part series :: The Cramps.
Formed in the mid-1970’s (before The Misfits, actually) in Sacramento, California by Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy (born Kristy Marlana Wallace), The Cramps quickly relocated to find a home along side of legendary acts like The Ramones, Patti Smith and Television at iconic New York clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.
The Cramps struck their own profile among the emergent punk / alt scene, living at the intersection of trashy Americana, sexual fetishism and cheap, horror B-movie clichés. The result was a devilishly clever mix of humor and shock. The shuddering, strutting, cross-dressing Lux Interior cut the aspect of the perfect front man, backed by Ivy’s guitar, an important female icon on the early alt scene. These elements, coupled with songs like “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” “Zombie Dance,” “Human Fly,” “Aloha from Hell,” and “Surfin’ Dead” and imagery surrounding the band straight out of teenage horror film classics all added up to a potent cocktail of horror rock power.
As a creative professional with a focus on design and as someone who has ever-harbored a deep love for the trashier side of Americana, this collective image remains captivating today as much as it was when it was hatched. Though the band changed personnel over a long career, they never lost sight of their image.
What makes The Cramps is most interesting for me, however, is the music itself. More than any of the other acts on this list, The Cramps pushed stylistic boundaries. Early on, the band used a double-guitar-with-no-bass sound giving them something truly distinctive among their peers. Also, they were not defined simply as a punk artist, creating instead, a fusion of punk, surf and rockabilly that formed an early example of “psychobilly.” This fusion is what makes the band still so fascinating to me. Listen to these classics to get a sense of the sound ::
In 1978, the band gave a landmark free performance at the Napa California State Mental Hospital. What an idea! It takes Johnny Cash’s prison performances and actually one-ups them, transplanting the original idea into a decidedly proto-punk space. It’s TOTALLY worth watching the full performance. It’s a great setlist and you can see the band at the height of their electrifying powers ::
Look at these image materials as well. I am lucky enough to have the Alan Forbes piece featuring The Bride of Frankenstein (with the whip) shown below as a part of my personal art collection. I keep it in my office as a reminder to bring disruption to my creativity in the way The Cramps did.
Horror fans, join me and pay tribute to the glorious trash brilliance of The Cramps!
This also brings to a close my exploration of the founders of the horror rock genre. All of these artists are true mavericks who remain vital today. My hope is that you will explore each of them beyond this introduction. Turn it up and feel the chill!