My Dad’s a banjo player. And that’s not a strange euphemism for any dodgy Deliverance-influenced way of life. He’s a straight-up, proper bluegrass bashin’, six-fingered pickin’ ‘n strummin’ banjo player. And quite good too. Plays in a band and everything. Which is more than I do these days. Maybe once I retire…..
As a teenager when I was learning to play the cheap plank of wood and rubber band combo that passed as my first electric guitar, he’d show me how to play the chords to any number of Buddy Holly songs, when all I really wanted to do was play the She Sells Sanctuary riff in front of the mirror. He couldn’t show me, thankfully (how uncool would that have been?), but it didn’t stop him listening to my records from afar and watching any videos I was in the process of freeze-framing in order to establish what chords, strings and frets my latest idol was playing. Now and again he’d point out a D chord or a hammer-on at the 7th fret, but that was as far as he got. I got quite good at learning by ear/watching telly. I still play Blackbird the same way after watching Paul McCartney’s MTV Unplugged. And I finally worked out She Sells Sanctuary (dead easy, but you knew that already).
One night I was watching for the umpteenth time a video of The Cramps, taped from arts show Later, long before it morphed into the Jools Holland-endorsed franchise of modern times. This was late-era, almost-classic line-up Cramps, on telly to promote the Stay Sick album. On hearing another unfamiliar racket starting up, my Dad poked his head around the living room door and feigned interest. “Who’s this? This looks interesting.” He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have to. The camera panned up and down Lux in his Fonz-in-high heels ‘n PVC get-up, then panned up and down Poison Ivy wearing a mini skirt and a Gretsch and not much else, then panned up and down straight-backed drummer Nick Knox before settling on bubblegum-blowing bass player Candy del Mar in her tiny black bikini top. “Look at the size of her fingers,” he said without a trace of irony. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s not hard to track down that very show. I urge you to watch it:
Conclusive proof, if it were needed, that The Cramps were the last truly great rock and roll band.
I came to The Cramps quite late and only saw them live once, at the Barrowlands. Promoting that same Stay Sick album, as it happens. At the back of the Barrowlands, where the sound desk and special seated guests area is, there’s a wee 6 inch high ledge, ideal for short arses like myself to stand on and get a better view of the stage. Just before The Cramps came on, we were looking for a good viewing place and were headed in that direction. Perched on the end of the ledge with a girl on either side (combined age 32, and I’m being kind) was Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. My pal Rab, suitably refreshed despite the warm beer in the plastic glass, and dismayed at the direction the Scream had taken with their new material, decided to have a wee word with the man – “That Loaded‘s shite, Bobby. You should’ve stuck to Ivy Ivy Ivy.“
Gillespie looked up. He was in full faux rockstar casualty mode at the time, lank hair ‘n leathers ‘n all. Flashing a Lennon peace sign, from beneath the fringe came the immortal words, spoken in that strange accent that’s more yer actual Florida than Mount Florida. “Ecstasy, motherfucker.” And almost to the beat of his poetry, The Cramps walked on and started. “Good mawnin’ Captain! Good mawnin’ to yoo! Ah-ha-ha, ah, ha, ha!!!” And away they went. Lux hanging off the mic stand like a transvestite Twiggy Pop, to-ing and fro-ing his vocals between hiccuping hillbilly and graverobber growl, Ivy playing like a hot-wired Scotty Moore. They were absolutely dynamite. Gillespie would kill to have an ounce of their effortless cool, that much is obvious. Anyway, anytime I listen to The Cramps, I think of that story. That and, “Look at the size of her fingers.”
Here’s some late-era Cramps;
Two cover versions (the first 2) and an outrageously good self-penned rip-off of Hang On Sloopy that does exactly what it says on the tin. The twang’s the thang, baby!
There’s a Cramps tribute on in McChuills, Glasgow this Saturday night, with The Primevals amongst others taking part. Just a wee heads up if you’re at a loose end. Click on the link. You might say it Lux interestin’…….(Scottish pun).