The Cramps’ Ivy Rorschach could be happy just sittin’ on a porch, playing guitar



By Steve Newton

Psychosexual. Psychosomatic. Psychobabble. Psychobilly? You’ll find all but the last word in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, because California demento-rockers the Cramps coined the term psychobilly themselves back in the mid-’70s. Since then it has become synonymous for many with twisted Cramps tunes like “Goo Goo Muck”, “Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon”, and “Eyeball in My Martini”. But according to guitarist “Poison” Ivy Rorschach, calling from the L.A. home she shares with vocalist Lux Interior, the term has come to mean different things to different people.

“It was just something we used to put on our posters,” she points out, “like a carnival buzzword that meant that we mixed up rockabilly, voodoo—you know, a bunch of things that we’d been into, but it was really just rock ’n’ roll. I think ‘psychobilly’ to some people now has evolved to mean a specific genre of music where bands play super fast, and it involves standup bass and mohawk haircuts and things. And that’s cool too, but that’s not what we do, and never was.”

The latest recorded example of the Cramps’ own brand of psychobilly is 1997’s Big Beat From Badsville, which was dedicated to late TV-horror host Ghoulardi and includes such freaky tracks as “Hypno Sex Ray”, “Sheena’s in a Goth Gang”, and “Haulass Hyena”. One reason the band has been so long between albums is that it was trying to terminate its contract with Epitaph, a popular label that many acts would die to get signed by. But the Cramps had their reasons for wanting out.

“In our case,” Rorschach explains, “the guy who signed us [Brett Gurewitz], who originally started that label, loved our band, and then he had some personal problems, evidently, and the guy who took over from him didn’t seem like as big of a fan. He kind of turned the label to a different direction—a successful one, you know, they have Tom Waits and Merle Haggard, and I really dig Merle Haggard—but a different one than when we were signed. We had no problem with that, and those artists, but what we do have a problem with is being neglected, and that’s how we felt.”

Cramps fans should be happy to hear that a new album is expected by early next year. Hopefully the band can bounce back from its Epitaph episode and return to the manic vibe of its full-length debut, Songs the Lord Taught Us. That acclaimed 1980 release was produced by legendary Big Star vocalist Alex Chilton.

“He showed us that recording could be fun,” says Rorschach, “because prior to that we’d had some bad recording experiences. And I know people who’ve been in bands for 20 years and still hate recording; they think it’s a very uptight experience. But with Alex we learned that you could treat it like a party, just keep it loose, and that that’s actually how you’re gonna get the better performances.”

As anyone who’s seen the Cramps in concert can attest, they have no trouble bringing that edgy, anything-goes party vibe to the stage. When the band plays the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (November 5), in the rhythmic company of former Celebrity Skin bassist Sugarpie Jones and drummer Harry Drumdini, who knows what will transpire? A venue of that type certainly puts the band in the right mood for mayhem.

“We’ve done a lot of festivals and bigger shows,” Rorschach says, “but it’s a different kind of situation, it’s not just our crowd. We like doing our own shows, and places like the Commodore are just great. A lot of modern venues are just like a box or something, so we especially like doing the kind of older, vintage rooms that have a lot of style and atmosphere to them.”

The last time this scribbler saw the Cramps in concert, 10 years or so ago, Interior left the Commodore stage wearing nothing but his shiny black pumps. But doffing his duds is far from the wildest deed the singer has perpetrated on-stage.

“Once when we were in Germany,” Rorschach recalls, “Lux kept hackin’ at the stage with a mike-stand base—he’d do that sometimes. Apparently he weakened the floor by doing it, and he jumped up in the air in the middle of a song and disappeared. We couldn’t figure out what happened, but he went right through the floor. And then he crawled out again and kept on singing. I don’t know if the audience thought it was part of our show or not. That was really strange.”

Rorschach will inevitably show up on-stage decked out like a kinky cigarette girl, but don’t expect her to get too involved in the shenanigans. She leaves that type of action to the highly capable Interior, and is content just to riff out on her trademark orange 1958 Chet Atkins–model Gretsch.

“I love playing guitar,” she proclaims. “I could be happy just sittin’ on a porch, playing guitar.”

“Poison” Ivy Rorschach sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.

On the Cramps’ status as a cult band: “I’m not sure exactly what defines a cult band, but we have a lot of loyal fans that followed us for a long time. And a lot of people became aware of us through more underground means, I suppose, because we’re not as accessible through mainstream media. I guess that makes for a cult.”

On her biggest guitar influences: “Link Wray, Duane Eddy, and Davey Allan and the Arrows. And, less obvious, Ike Turner is a great guitar influence. He is, and he’s also responsible for just a lot of rock ’n’ roll existing. And that guy’s got an unfair bad rap. Believe me, it’s a frame-up.”

On where the Cramps get their artistic inspiration: “Lux and I have always been reckless and sought out thrills, taken risks, probably blown our minds in certain pursuits. It’s only from living this way that we come up with this stuff.”

To hear the full audio of my 1990 interview with Poison Ivy of the Cramps subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

Leave a Reply