Lux Interior, lead singer of influential garage-punk act the Cramps, died Wednesday morning (February 4) due to an existing heart condition, according to a statement from the band's publicist. He was 62.
Born Erick Lee Purkhiser, Interior started the Cramps in 1972 with guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Wallace, later his wife) — whom, as legend has it, he picked up as a hitchhiker in California. By 1975, they had moved to New York, where they became an integral part of the burgeoning punk scene surrounding CBGBs.
Their music differed from most of the scene's other acts in that it was heavily steeped in camp, with Interior's lyrics frequently drawing from schlocky B-movies, sexual kink and deceptively clever puns. (J.H. Sasfy's liner notes to their debut EP memorably noted: "The Cramps don't pummel and you won't pogo. They ooze; you'll throb.") Sonically, the band drew from blues and rockabilly, and a key element of their sound was the trashy, dueling guitars of Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory (and later Kid Congo Powers), played with maximal scuzz and minimal drumming.
Because of that — not to mention Interior's deranged, Iggy Pop-inspired onstage antics and deep, sexualized singing voice (which one reviewer described as "the psychosexual werewolf/ Elvis hybrid from hell") — the Cramps are often cited as pioneers of "psychobilly" and "horror rock," and can count bands like the Black Lips, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Horrors and even the White Stripes as their musical progeny.
Over the course of more than 30 years, the Interior and Ivy surrounded themselves with an ever-changing lineup of drummers, guitarists and bassists, and released 13 studio albums (the last being 2003's Fiends of Dope Island). They also famously performed a concert for patients at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978 (which was recorded on grainy VHS and has since become a cult classic) and appeared on a Halloween episode of "Beverly Hills, 90210." Their video for the song "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" also drew rave reviews from Beavis and Butt-head on a memorable episode of the show.
Despite the band's long history, fans generally agree that the group's peak was in the early '80s, with the albums Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle. Many clips of the Cramps' chaotic live shows from the era can be found online; look for their version of "Tear It Up" from the 1980 film "URGH! A Music War." One memorable (and typical) show in Boston in 1986 found Interior, clad only in leopard-skin briefs, drinking red wine from an audience member's shoe, and ended with him French-kissing a woman (who wasn't his wife) for 10 full minutes with his microphone in their mouths.
Due to their imagery, obsession with kitsch and dogged dedication to touring — they wrapped up their latest jaunt across Europe and the U.S. this past November — the Cramps commanded a loyal fanbase, and even earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the form of a shattered bass drum that Interior had shoved his head through.