The Cramps’ Poison Ivy says that what passes for rock ‘n’ roll isn’t


By Steve Newton

Legend has it that B-movie mogul Samuel Z. Arkoff took an ass-backwards (but ultimately effective) approach to producing his low-budget films. First off he’d come up with a catchy title; then he’d build an advertising campaign around that title; and only then would he start shooting the actual film.

Cramps guitarist Poison Ivy and singer Lux Interior take a similar approach on many of their tunes, but you can’t really blame ’em. I mean, if you thought of a classic song title like “The Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon”, wouldn’t you want a tune to go with it?

“That was a title that we almost used on our last album,” says Ivy, “but we didn’t have the words for it. And another song, “All Women Are Bad”, is the name of a movie that we have a poster of. And sometimes we slide movie titles into songs. On “Mama Oo Pow Pow” it mentions Scream of the Butterfly, which is the title of an exploitation movie.”

Low-budget B-movies and cult-horror films are important points of reference for the Cramps, and reflect the band’s style of music–a mutant strain of rockabilly that is the embodiment of all things trashy. Tunes like “Human Fly”, “Goo Goo Muck”, and “I Ain’t Nothin’ but a Gorehound” are the type of songs that Ivy and Interior come up with after watching twisted flicks in the comfort of their Spanish-style Hollywood home, conveniently located right next to a graveyard.

“We’ve been so busy doin’ band stuff that we haven’t seen a lot of movies lately,” instructs Ivy, “but we do collect a lot of movies–we’ve got like 3,000 on videotape. Of the few ones I’ve seen lately I’ve liked Blue Velvet, and The Fly, and Evil Dead 2. But Lux and I aren’t really into all the fancy special effects; we prefer the older horror movies.”

Anyone with a real interest in junk movies might have figured that the Cramps’ latest single/video, “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”, had been inspired by Ted V. Mikels’ no-budget gutter epic The Doll Squad, or maybe Russ Meyers’ Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. No such luck.

“It was mainly inspired by a videotape we saw in this survivalist catalogue,” says Ivy. “In between the stuff about how to clean your gun and how to make bombs at home was a video about ‘Sexy Girls with Sexy Guns’. We got it, and it’s just these girls out in the middle of the desert in bikinis, just blastin’ off major artillery, chewin’ up the sand, and bouncin’ all over. And it was just a powerful image–sexy and strong.”

Ivy herself adopts that image in the video for “Bikini Girls”, bouncing around in a skimpy two-piece while brandishing a not-so-skimpy weapon. But Ivy–who also graces the cover of the new Cramps LP, Stay Sick–is much more than a machine-gun-toting sex goddess. She’s also a rockin’ guitarist. Ivy cites her biggest musical influences as people like Link Wray, Ike Turner, Hubert Sumlin, and the Ventures, but says there are few players around today that really impress her.

“There’s kind of a scarcity of guitar players, at least any that have a primitive, strong style. That’s what I like–I’m not impressed by speed or technique. I like somebody that’s got just a really frightening, violent style.”

Today’s music scene in general doesn’t get Ivy too hopped up, either.

“I think rock ‘n’ roll’s been in bad shape throughout the ’80s,” she says. “I’m hopin’ that the ’90s will just kick everybody in the ass. I think what passes for rock ‘n’ roll isn’t, and it’s alarming how many people respond to mechanical kinda dance music that’s not very sensuous or human sounding.”

One band that is in Ivy’s good books these days is the B-52’s, another mixed-gender group that finds inspiration in the various facets of junk culture–although in a milder, more mainstream vein than the Cramps.

“I think it’s great, the success they’re having. We saw them at Max’s Kansas City, the first show they ever did in New York in…God, I don’t know, it might have been late ’78. And they started out as a pretty raw rock ‘n’ roll band. I prefer ’em as that, but they still seem like kind of charismatic people to me.”

And what about the Cramps’ success so far? Ivy’s fairly happy with the way things have gone for the most demented band in the land.

“I’m satisfied in a way,” she says. “I mean I’m happy that we’re able to do this and not do something else for a living. We probably wouldn’t be able to do anything else; we’d probably be in the nuthouse.

“But I would welcome even larger success,” she adds. “I think what the Cramps do can appeal to large amounts of people. Not everybody–it’s definitely not easy-listening music–but I think there’s a lot of misfits out in the world. If one percent of the population likes us, that’s a lot of people.”

To hear the full audio of my 1990 interview with Poison Ivy subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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

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