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Cult thing

The Cramps’ Poison Ivy on making a monster


If you're a novice Cramps fan, or completely in the dark, the band's new CD, How To Make A Monster, on their own Vengeance Records label, ain't for you.

"It's the kinda thing our fans really dig," says guitarist, Poison Ivy. "If somebody had never heard The Cramps and that's what they picked up, I think they'd probably be bewildered by it."

How To Make A Monster is a compilation of the earliest recordings the band ever did. Mined from rehearsals, early shows, and crude studio demos, it's raw, raunchy, and primitive. But amidst all the depraved howling, feedback, and jungle beats, a tease of what the band was to become glimmers. It's like the vague image seen on a sonogram --- if the baby were in stiletto heels, clutching a switchblade, and howling "pa pa ooo mau mau" like a schizophrenic Tarzan.

And at the very heart of this demon rock 'n' roll lurk the demons themselves --- founding members Poison Ivy and Lux Interior --- who met by chance out West.

"I was hitchhiking downtown, near Sacramento University and he picked me up," says Ivy. "Looking back it probably wasn't the safest thing to do. We just started to go to concerts together, getting high together at concerts. I don't know, we just kind of fueled each other --- a dangerous pair."

The duo's insatiable love for music planted the seed.

"I already played guitar," says Ivy. "And I was amazed --- I was astounded --- by Lux. He just had this vast knowledge of music. I'd never known anyone that had so many records and so into it. I was kind of amazed he wasn't in a band."

By the time they moved to New York City in 1976 it was time to start a band. The mission was clear and the newly formed Cramps began rehearsing in a cramped NYC apartment. With Lux working in a record shop and Ivy working in a dungeon as a dominatrix, it was only a matter of time.

"I think we felt we had arrived," Ivy says. "We were high on rock 'n' roll and all the music we collected and we just felt like we were ready to unload it on the world. I'm sure we thought we'd take over the world with cool rock 'n' roll."

These early sessions rendered some of the rawest, bloodiest, lo-fi urban jungle bop ever heard, with the band playing songs with trainwreck endings and middles and beginnings. The band barely kept it together.

"Even through our ineptness, what we were trying to do still was sort of coming through," she says. "I think we had this intense presence as a band and as individuals. We were doing something alarming and different and unique. We were just so sure of ourselves --- probably more than we should have been."

The Cramps' sound soon developed into a mutation of B-movie themes and exploitation film imagery, shoehorned with primal rock, blues, country, r&b, and its bastard offspring, rockabilly, the most dangerous ingredient of all according to Ivy.

"It was something so just pure rhythm, pure sex," she says, "just aggressive, sexual, rhythmic, feverish. You know, 'cause even blues is created by people within a community. But the guys doing rockabilly, they were sticking their necks out the way they dressed, the way they acted."

The Cramps accurately captured rockabilly's primitive wail. But they pushed the boundaries of sexuality, fashion, and good taste even more than the progenitors.

It was initially a twin guitar attack, no bass, and barebones drums with virtually no cymbals or flash. Lux's vocals were a torrent of gasps and hiccups drowning in reverb.

The Cramps rapidly drew a rabid following of subversives, punks, rockers, weirdos, and vintage music fans --- all who got it. But not everyone got it.

"When we started out we thought our music was universal," Ivy says. "But it is a cult thing and it creates kind of a subculture."

That was almost 30 years ago. The Cramps still have the same mission.

"To keep the flame," Ivy says. "To keep it burning. We never stopped doing it. We never stopped playing. We never stopped making records. We never stopped being The Cramps."

The Cramps play with The Gore Gore Girls and The Irving Klaws on Thursday, October 14, at Sphere Entertainment Complex, 681 Main Street, Buffalo, at 7 p.m. Tickets: $18.50. 716-852-3900. All ages.