Underworld fuzz guitarist Bryan Gregory died Wednesday, January 10, at Anaheim Memorial Hospital. The 49-year-old Detroit native had recently suffered a heart attack, and while the hospital wont release the cause of death, Gregory had reportedly been ill for several weeks. He was best known for a spectacular stint with the Cramps, where his drawn, acne-scarred visage, framed by a trademark shock of long, skunk-striped hair, and a penchant for distortion and feedback earned him a reputation as one of the punk-rock eras most distinctive practitioners.
From their 1976 start together in NYC, the Cramps dark, dirty rockabilly blitz was an at-the-time unparalleled sound, and Gregorys bizarre image, juxtaposed against singer Lux Interiors towering elasticity and guitarist Poison Ivys deadpan cool, made for an unforgettable frontline. His 1980 split from the Cramps, concurrent with the bands litigious departure from IRS Records, generated a tsunami of fan gossip and resentment. Gregory resurfaced in 1982 with Beast, a death-rock quartet fronted by singer Andrella Christopher; heavy on candle-lit atmospherics and midtempo dirges, Beast released one full-length album and undertook U.S. and European tours, but disbanded by 1984. In 1992, Gregorys band the Dials performed a handful of shows, and at the time of his death hed formed a new outfit, Shiver. Contrary to cult-propelled rumor, Gregory patched things up with Lux and Ivy in 1991, and this bittersweet recollection (see below) from Poison Ivy should reconcile much of the confusion surrounding one of rock & rolls most lurid triumvirates.
Sadly, after 20 years of misinformation and misquotes regarding the Bryan Gregory chapter of the Cramps, heres my one and only chance to directly express my feelings. While its true that Bryan didnt actually play on some of the seminal recordings that are attributed to him (he wasnt always present for Songs the Lord Taught Us), he could be a truly charismatic live performer when the spirit moved him particularly in the CBGB/Maxs Kansas City days, when spirit was everywhere in the air.
He wasnt anything like the myth promoted by his record company and subsequently the press; the real Bryan had a kooky charm the public doesnt even know about the truth was far stranger than fiction. He and I shared a birthday, and we met on our mutual birthday on February 20, 1976. We were almost the same size and could fit into each others pants and shoes. We understood each other because we werent the boygirl next door, and wed both already been through a lot and knew how to hustle tooth and nail to survive. We could be our scary selves without horrifying each other. My fondest memory is of tripping on acid together in Central Park that summer. We were never quite able to sustain that high.
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Bryans creative forte was more visual than sonic when we met him, he had just moved to New York to pursue a graphic-arts career. He loved art, jewelry making, decorating I think it was the visual aspects of the Cramps that appealed to him most. Lux and I had come to New York in 1975 with a mess of songs and crude home demos and a plan to take over the world, but I think it was mostly our exotic looks and Flying V guitar that lured Bryan to join us. When we gave the guitar to him, he immediately decorated it with polka-dot price stickers and painted our name in fancy script on the case, and you know what? It looked hot!
Bryan was more enigmatic and incongruous than imagination would allow. Once, in a packed coffee shop, he pulled a switchblade on a boothful of square businessmen who were snickering about him, but on another occasion he whined that he couldnt leave his apartment because the neighborhood teen toughs followed him down the street teasingly singing Sweet Child in the City. A sense of adventure led him to let Lux dangle him upside down by his ankles from a 17th-floor high-rise window just to see what its like, yet he despised touring because of his fear and hatred of foreigners. He thought rockabilly was goofy but said we made it work for us cuz youre so weird. We had a brief, intense relationship, and I dont think any of us knew what hit us. At one time we all wanted to be in a band that people were afraid of offstage. He was a true DMF Detroit Motherfucker.
On a soul level, the affair was over by 1979, after we started touring and recording regularly. Without a passion for and understanding of the fundamental forces influencing the Cramps, a combination of too much hard work, chemical haze and backstage leeches drove him to the next bright, shiny object in his path and a pursuit of so-called social relevance. Ill always remember the high-flyin Bryan that few people had the privilege to know, before he stopped being a rocker and became a rock star . . . the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he rocked.