Sunday, July 14, 2024

Leather Jackets & Diesel Smoke – Chili Dippin’ In Red Tiger Shoes, Gems and Oddities from Lux and Ivy’s Vault

It’s no secret and Lux Interior and Ivy Rorschach of The Cramps had significant records collections, both in terms of size and content. How much of these compilations have anything to do with that is uncertain – educated guessing seems very likely, and in fairness, I’ve never heard one of these comps and felt that fundamentally, the tracks included weren’t relevant in some way. The collections have never quite hit the mark in the same way as the bootlegs – ‘Lux and Ivy’s Favorites’, a 17-volume deep dive was both reverential and canny, touching the many genres the pair loved. There were also Christmas-themed compilations and other strands such as ‘Songs the Cramps Taught Us’, all of which were basically Radio John Waters.

The comps were put together largely for love – to keep Lux and Ivy’s flame alive and to tempt listeners into exploring their world from different angles. More unscrupulous types issued CDs and vinyl featuring many of these tracks and claiming the idea of their own, more pointedly making money from the enterprise. Where this ongoing series from Cherry Red exists is unclear. If there were copious sleeve notes, it would have historical significance. One would hope that given their names are being used, Ivy does at least receive a pay cheque.

They’ve varied between themed editions – exotica; voodoo shenanigans and the like to hodge-podge carveries such as this, which they’ve tried to skew as being pop music in all its various guises, which really opens the door for anything they could get their hands on. It’s absolutely fine, and you could happily collect these indefinitely but there’s no feeling that there’s any real curating going on here, other than what’s available track-wise. ‘Lux and Ivy’s Favorites’ at least gave you a feeling of collectability as there were numbered editions – here, it could just as easily be the same 500 tracks in constant rotation under different banners. If you’re going to use the legacies of Lux and Ivy, I think they deserve more thought and insight.

To the CDs in hand – rowdy rock ‘n’ rollers Conny and the Bellhops kick off disc one with ‘Shot Rod’, pretty typical of the late 50s/early 60s hoopla you get on collections of this sort. Tyrone Schmidling’s ‘You’re Gone, I’m Left’ is even more basic (in a good way) with his frantic barking and strumming backed up by what sounds like an excited horse on percussion. The same horse seems to appear again on both backing vocals and production duties on Pat Patterson’s ‘Rat-a-Ma-Cue’ which is almost drowned out by crackle, perhaps mercifully. Alas, he crops back up on disc two with a reprise.

The Accidentals ‘Twangin’ Machine’ is a real obscurity, opening with a slightly metallic ‘voice of the Mysterons’ vocal and then picking up the pace to deliver fulsomely on the twang. More of this, please! Dan Beard with the Crew Cut’s ‘Rakin’ and Scrapin” doesn’t make enough of a throaty saxophone and leaves you with 1957 r’n’r by numbers. The Century-Five‘s ‘Red Tiger Shoes’ is absolutely what you’d expect on a comp like this – part Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, part girl group, part skronk – it shouldn’t be difficult to put toe-tappers like this together, rather than resorting to simply anything obscure released over a decade.

One of the real treasures of this set is Pam Thum ‘The Three Year Old Indian Princess’s’ ‘The Devil’s Old Suitcase’. A preposterous novelty, organ and choir-drenched flop with a punchable child singing, it’s great and I can imagine the delight at finding this in a box of dusty singles…but it just doesn’t fit here. It’s not a party record; it’s not an example of anything stylistically other than it’s unknown and distinctly odd. If that’s what we were invited to expect, fine, but it just leaves this set feeling lazily produced. To labour the point, we then have schmaltzy vocal duos sandwiched between dirty rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just too haphazard with no explanation.

I’ve found myself going back to listen to The Willow’s ‘Trail of Tears’ several times – a strange something and nothing track which clings to your brain by virtue of a haunting Slim Whitman-esque yodel.  Occasionally the odd known name appears, such as master drummer Hal Blaine on Raiders’ otherwise unremarkable ‘Hocus Pocus’, whilst another great percussionist, Sandy Nelson, is present with ‘The City’, a sinister dive into the metropolis that had me immediately purchasing a box set of his work. William Cobbs (better known as Willie) may not be known but his track ‘You Don’t Love Me’ is immediately recognisable as that which Dawn Penn paid her gas bills with. In fact, Willie had swiped it from Bo Diddley, but it’s a great track either way.

Don Ralke’s ‘Zooba’ is one of my faves on the set, somewhere in the crime jazz, exotica, drumcore pastures, it’s very much the kind of thing I’d like playing when I walk in a room. “I took a trip to Pakistan/while working for an oriental man” sings Ritchie Adams on ‘Pakistan’, setting off alarm bells and klaxons in all sorts of departments, but fortunately, the worst it sinks to is a line about a bed of nails and some ‘ethnic warbling’. A near miss.  We then run into several more pointedly exotica-based tracks and bluegrass courtesy of John Reedy and his Stone Mountain Trio. which, again, is lovely, but just makes this collection incredibly haphazard.

These sets need someone with a big hat on in charge. Someone to guide us through these tracks properly, giving us more insight and context and a reason to understand why they’ve been collected together. As it is, though largely enjoyable, it’s a set which struggles to find its own identity.

Daz Lawrence

You can buy Leather Jackets & Diesel Smoke – Chili Dippin’ In Red Tiger Shoes, Gems and Oddities from Lux and Ivy’s Vault here



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