Lux Interior, co-founder and lead singer of the pioneering horror-punk band the Cramps, died Wednesday in Glendale of a pre-existing heart condition. He was 60.
Born in Stow, Ohio, Interior — whose real name was Erick Lee Purkhiser — met his future wife Kristy Wallace — who would later take the stage name Poison Ivy — in Sacramento in 1972, bonding over their love of record collecting.
The pair moved first to Akron, Ohio, and then to New York and started the Cramps, with Interior on lead vocals and Ivy on guitar. The group was a part of the late ’70s early punk scene centered at Manhattan clubs like CBGB, alongside acts like the Ramones and Patti Smith.
Their unmistakable sound was a lo-fi synthesis of rockabilly and surf guitar staged with a deviant dose of midnight-movie camp. Some called it “psychobilly.”
The pale, tall, gaunt Interior appeared shirtless with black hair and tiny, low-slung black pants, looking part zombie, part Elvis Presley as he crawled, writhed and howled his way across the stage.
The group had the raw intensity of punk but took the music in new directions by incorporating theatrical elements, often horror-themed, in songs like “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns.” Their breakthrough debut EP was 1979’s “Gravest Hits.”
The band made a notorious appearance at a California mental institution, Napa State Hospital, in 1978. The performance, the video of which is still popular on YouTube, was a punk-era echo of the Folsom Prison concert of Johnny Cash, one of the band’s influences.
Interior and Ivy relocated to Los Angeles in 1980. Their 1986 album “A Date With Elvis” sold more than a quarter of a million copies in Europe, where they became cult heroes. Among their most famous songs were 1980’s “Garbageman” and 1981’s “Goo Goo Muck.”
Interior was widely rumored in 1987 to have died from a heroin overdose, and his wife received flowers and funeral wreaths.
“At first I thought it was kind of funny,” he told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “But then it started to give me a creepy feeling.”
The Cramps’ lineup changed often through the decades, but Interior and Ivy remained the center. Their bluesy, trebly sound — the group didn’t have a bass guitarist — resonates in modern minimalist groups like the White Stripes and the Black Lips.
The band’s last release was the 2004 rarities collection “How to Make a Monster.” They were still touring as recently as last November.