Sometime in the mid-70s, Erick Lee Purkhiser of Stow, Ohio exchanged his given name for words he found in an automobile catalogue. Taking on the mantle of Lux Interior, the quiet, arty boy from an Akron suburb disappeared into the persona of a hoodlum staggering away from a knife fight.
He returned from university in California with a girlfriend – Kristy Marlana Wallace – who called herself Poison Ivy (pictured at right) and shared his new-found taste for the trash aesthetic of punk rock.
The myth they promoted was that they met when he picked her up while hitchhiking in Sacramento. There was also a story that Purkhiser joined the navy to avoid being drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam but escaped service due to a drugs charge.
Together personally and professionally for over 30 years, Lux and Ivy fronted The Cramps – a group who fused the buzzsaw guitar sound of indie rock with the hiccuping rhythms of 50s rockabilly, inventing the sound they called ‘psychobilly’ and blazing a trail for the scene that would become known as Goth.
For three decades, the pair presided over an ever-changeable line-up. They consistently produced their own special brand of psychobilly freak show, brimming with sex and drugs . . . and zombies and werewolves.
The band were initially signed to Miles Copeland’s IRS label and supported The Police on an early tour. The group first emerged with the single, Human Fly (1978) – a fuzzbox death march produced by former Big Star main man Alex Chilton at the famed Sun studios and imbibed with the ghost of early Elvis.
Chilton also produced their debut album, Songs The Lord Taught Us – a mix of rockabilly, surf intros, 60s garage and freaky psychedelia converged in one unholy lysergic soup. I Was a Teenage Werewolf and The Mad Daddy – a tribute to rock ‘n’ roll DJ Pete Myers – sounded like transmissions straight from Dracula’s lair.
During a 1980 tour of the United States, guitarist Bryan Gregory drove off with Cramps’ lighting director, Andrella, and a van full of their equipment – sold to fund his growing drug addiction – and was never seen by the band again.
The Cramps made 12 albums which rarely troubled the chart compilers but always remained a serious draw on the live circuit and were regarded as one of the acts from that era who retained their credibility.
Lux and Ivy knew their old Rock & Roll 45s, even if, at times (Ricky Nelson‘s Lonesome Town, for example), their treatment bordered on the criminally insane.
Given their ghoulish image, they were also the kind of group in whose vicinity rumours always found fertile soil: In 1987, there were allegations that Lux had died of a heroin overdose. The (false) rumours were strong enough to bring half a dozen wreaths to the singer’s door.
Lux Interior eventually died on 4 February 2009 at a hospital in Glendale, California, from a pre-existing heart condition. He was 62.
Longtime drummer Nick Knox (born Nicholas Stephanoff) died in June 2018, aged 60.
Lux Interior (Erick Purkhiser)
Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace)
Bryan Gregory (Greg Beckerleg)
Pam “Ballam” Beckerleg
Nick Knox (Nicholas Stephanoff)
Candy del Mar
Kid Congo Powers (Brian Tristan)
Ike Knox (Mike Metoff)
Touch Hazard (Tim Maag)
Jennifer “Fur” Dixon
Harry “Drumdini” Meisenheimer