Becoming Kid Congo Poweers and Making Psychedelic
Jungle (1980 – 1981)
The Cramps in 1981.
So I got the
blessing from Jeffrey to go ahead and pursue an actual music career
(I was not sure we would have that in The Gun Club) and I was a
bit frightened. I didn’t know what would happen. To us, The
Cramps were big rock stars…a real band that made real records
and really played live.
totally sure I could… cut the mustard. So, that was
my first reaction…and then I was really shocked and excited
that my favorite underground band had asked me to play with them.
There was no audition process, they just said, “No, you’re
in the band.” They remembered I looked good and they liked
what they saw in The Gun Club and that was enough for them.
So I was initiated
into the world of The Cramps (which was a very tightly knit kind
of world and a very tightly run ship…and very focused). That
was something new to me. Before, it was very much about certain
records and certain types of records like rockabilly, like garage
rock (stuff I was already into), but now, I was going to have to
dive much deeper into this world. The B-movie world…the horror
movie world. Another chapter in learning about sub-culture started.
said that I had to have a different name. So we went along the process
of thinking of different names for me. That was the first thing
I had to do…change my identity. So we came up with a whole
long list of different things… things I thought of, things
they thought of… I had all my friends writing lists of different
things it could be. We were thinking first since my actual name
is Brian I should be “Brian Gris Gris” - instead of
Bryan Gregory. They didn’t go for that. They wanted him gone.
Then there was Mr. Tristan, and then there was “Thing”.
Then one day, I think Ivy and Lux came up with “Congo Powers”
because they had the Congo voodoo candles, Santeria candles (I think
it was called the “Congo” candle). On it, read, “When
you light this candle, Congo powers will be revealed to you”.
So we liked that. Congo Powers sounded really good. Kid was another
name that was floating around…”The Kid”, ”Kid
Murder”, “Kid” this and “Kid” that.
And I actually liked kid a lot Kid was my idea because I thought
it either sounded like a boxer or a pirate. So we thought Kid Congo
Powers had a nice ring to it. It went along with Ivy’s name
at the time (Poison Ivy Rorschach)…a three-word name, Lux
Interior (who got his name from and ad from a car with a “luxury
interior”) and Nick Knox, (who I’m not sure where his
name came from…but it’s a great name).
So, I got my
name and I decided I needed to look the part and so I started to
get looks together…and clothes. I was already quite a sharp
dresser and that was quite of the attraction to them. I had kind
of messy messy greasy greaser hair- kind of punky greaser. They
told me they were impressed that I had a gold blazer from Lansky
brothers in Memphis (where Elvis did some of his shopping). And
that was the clincher for them…that I actually had a gold
blazer from Lansky Brothers. So I was allowed to wear that. I started
getting my look together.
I got my tattoo.
I went to Hollywood boulevard and went to this Filipino tattoo artist
and I looked over to what they had and I saw this shrunken head
on the wall and it really reminded me of a Korean War marine’s
tattoo. Like some vet who had gone insane and probably chopped peoples
heads off and then got a tattoo of it to remember. And when I got
that tattoo, I started to feel a little more “Cramps-like”.
I started hanging
out with them, listening to records, watching movies, and getting
influences that they had.
I decided to
start growing my hair longer…I decided I wanted to look something
like Ronnie Spector (that was a big influence on my look at the
time – I was a big Ronnie Spector fan). I wanted to look something
like Ronnie Spector and Ronnie Spector’s boyfriend put together.
The thing is
that I knew I had big shoes to fill, because Bryan Gregory was so
iconic in the band…and such a face of The Cramps. And they
had already made their mark and toured the world and he was a big
favorite in the band so I knew I had to step up to the plate –
as far as image was concerned - as well as musically.
I started to
focus on kind of an “anything goes” kind of look - really
mix the feminine with the masculine and make it sexy. The Cramps
were so much about sex. Almost more than anything. So it had to
be a sexy look. I think at first I wore a turban and wrap around
sunglasses - that was my first look. I thought that was pretty great
and I probably should employ that again - very “Screaming
Jay Hawkins” sort of thing.
went into rehearsing with them. They were getting ready to make
the Psychedelic Jungle album. They had the songs and they
had been playing some old songs and some cover versions.
I really loved
Bryan Gregory and so I wanted to do what I loved about him - which
was that oozy fuzz bassy sound. It was also one of the first times
I started experimenting with sound as sound. They gave me my first
fuzz pedal. I’d never used a pedal before -- I just played
straight into the amplifier with The Gun Club. I started learning
songs and trying to add my own version of what I would like it to
sound like. They were going through a period of more psychedelic
than “burn them out rockabilly” and they were also quite
oozy and sexy. There was no bass guitar. I went for that really
fat “RRRRRrrr” kind of sound. It was all about having
the beat come down and then slide some and then go into the next
one. That’s what I decided to make my root bassyness.
a really proficient guitar player at the time. The good thing is
that Ivy taught me a lot about rockabilly rhythm and blues scales
because I had to play things with a lot of bass lines. So I practiced
a lot. I remember thinking, “God, these songs are so hard
how am I ever going to remember all of them! I look at it now and
I’m all “Ha-ha, how am I going to remember E-A-G? How
am I going to remember the same pattern every time?” I learned
a lot about blues actually with them too. They were very bluesy
at the time. Very slow as molasses.
The first show
I played with them was in London at The Lyceum. It must have been
the end of 1980 - I think we were probably very under-rehearsed.
I really didn’t know about having sound at concerts and stuff.
And even though we made it through the concert and I was a big hit
with the fans and the London press, it was kind of a diabolical
We went back,
practiced and started recording Psychedelic Jungle at A&M
studios in Hollywood. It was my first recording experience. So that
was a pretty posh thing - a big recording studio. We were on I.R.S
records, run by Miles Copeland and the company was on the A&M
lot - the company was a subdivision of A&M records. We had a
lot of amps and a lot of different things and I learned a lot fast.
That’s when I really had to pay attention to Ivy a lot and
she was actually a really good teacher. She showed me what to do.
They knew I had no experience when they got me in the band, but
I think they liked having a slave in their band. They knew they
could make me a slave - and I was more than willing.
When we recorded
Psychedelic Jungle, it was recorded at A&M studios
which was a different thing for The Cramps to do. They had recorded
with Alex Chilton in Memphis at Sam Philips Studio and everything
had been quite historic with that, so this was like going into new
territory. I think that choice had to do with “That’s
where the Doors were” - and I think that’s even where
The Stooges were. And it was also because of the record company,
I.R.S, and how Miles Copeland got a good deal. I don’t know
if it was a conscious choice to have a cleaner sound or not. I think
that’s just where we were and it was time to make a record.
For that song
“Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk”, I remember
the engineer saying, “Karen Carpenter has the most perfect
crash cymbal. I have to go to Karen Carpenter’s locker and
get her crash cymbal!”. And I thought that was really good
ironic choice for a song called “Don’t Eat Stuff Off
the Sidewalk" - to use Karen Carpenter’s cymbal. So that
is her crash cymbal on that song.
We did lots
of different weird experiments like taking lots of speed so we would
be like ghosts when we played. I think that worked sometimes - but
I don’t remember because you really can’t remember things
when you’re on speed. I remember when we did that song “She
Said,” Lux, to get that correct Hasil Adkins sound and phrasing,
he stuck a whole styrofoam cup in his mouth and sang the entire
song chewing on a styrofoam cup. So this is where I was learning
what recording technique was all about. And then we just ran around
throwing ashtrays and screaming.
And I was really
happy with the sounds. I really like "I Can't Find My Mind."
Maybe we did become ghosts because you could hear these really weird
overtones and things in my guitar and every time the guitar stops
you could hear these breaks – you could hear these squeaks
like…these amazing sounds. So songs like “Beautiful
Gardens” was a totally improvised song. We had a riff I kept
playing this crazy riff and again, that was one of our ghost songs
where we completely improvised the song. So we would play a riff
and a beat and then Lux would go off and it went wherever it went
(it went into some beautiful gardens). And there’s a backwards
vocal on it - and at one point it fades out and comes back in and
you hear this backwards weird sound and its Lux saying, “If
you knew what I knew about this record company, this place would
be a parking lot”. What I really always loved about Songs
the Lord Taught Us and Gravest Hits was Bryan Gregory’s
guitar solos. They were just pure weird sound. So with "Caveman,"
I got to make a sound like a caveman - and I think quite successfully.
Some of the
cover versions I heard at their house (part of my training) in the
tape they gave me (that’s how you train new band members –
you give them tapes of influences). I had known the songs from live
and did my research in the original versions of them…and that
was the great thing about The Cramps is that they turned a lot of
people into older music that you otherwise wouldn’t have known
about, because they had such obscure choices. I actually brought
“The Crusher” to them. I was a big fan of the song and
I thought that was the perfect Cramps song…I used to hear
it a lot on the Dr. Demento show when I was a teenager (I would
I was really
impressed with Lux and Ivy’s record collection. I was a record
collector myself, me and Jeffrey and all our friends (as most people
who play music should be) and they had one of the biggest record
collections I had ever seen and very well catalogued by style, year
- and even label. With that came the right look. And the right look
was black…black and shiny and sexy. We would have clothes
made a lot. There was an allowance for getting our clothes done.
The Cramps were a fully formed vision, it wasn’t just like
- whatever. It was all very focused, a strict vision, a true vision…nothing
ironic about it in the least. People think, “Ooh horror movies,
and Ooh black”. But no, it’s so much more than that…it
was a whole lifestyle. A manifesto.
to Kid Congo Powers Oral History Part 4,
The Cramps 2
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New York Night Train , 2005