From The Action to The Walking Clampetts, Michael Purkhiser is in 3D
Rock guitarist Michael Purkhiser is back with a new collection of songs.
In fact, it’s an old collection.
The Stow native enjoyed regional success in the 1980s as a member of The Action and The Walking Clampetts, packing clubs from Akron to Kent to Cleveland and Youngstown.
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His “3-D” studio project, which was recorded in 1997 at Big Adventure Sound in Akron, was finally released after 25 years. In trying to describe the raw and energetic fusion of styles, Purkhiser coined a new term.
“It’s not surf music per se, but it sounds a bit like surf music,” he said. “And at the time I was writing this stuff, I was listening to UK film soundtracks and TV soundtracks. We needed a name for this stuff, so I called it ‘surftrack’ music. C was surfing but it was also soundtrack music.
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The four-song instrumental EP is available on limited-edition red vinyl via MuSick Recordings or can be downloaded from Bandcamp. The album, available July 22, features previously unreleased work by the musician’s late brother, Erick Lee Purkhiser, better known as horror-punk legend Lux Interior, lead singer and co-founder of The Cramps.
In honor of the “3-D” release, Purkhiser, 67, took some time out in Los Angeles to chat with us about his music career.
Let’s start at the beginning.
British invasion at Stow
He was 9 when the Beatles invaded his childhood home in 1964. His older brother Rick, who had a large record collection, introduced him to the Fab Four.
“He was the one who got me to The Beatles, The Who, and the whole British Invasion,” Purkhiser said. “He was totally into the music.”
The kid was so inspired he picked up a guitar and figured out the notes.
“I started out acoustic, but the strings were way off the fretboard, so it really hurt my hands,” Purkhiser said.
When his Elvis-loving mother, Ruth, realized her son really wanted to play, she bought him an electric guitar at the Akron Music Center.
“It was called Vox Student Prince,” Purkhiser said. “It was like the cheapest model they made, I found out years later, and I still have that guitar.”
He played in garage bands for a few years before forming Tea in 1969 at the age of 14. His mother drove him to rehearsals and his brother, a talented artist, designed a poster. Tea performed at high school dances and random concerts around Stow.
“We played Led Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix,” he said. “We were into the heavier stuff.”
He and his brother inspired each other. He still wishes he had the letter Rick sent from California in the early 1970s.
“He wrote to me and was like, ‘Man, I see what you see in bands now. I will start a group,” Purkhiser said. “That kind of all started his musical thing.”
Rick Purkhiser met his future wife, Kristy Wallace, in Sacramento State in 1972. They lived briefly in Akron before moving to New York and forming The Cramps, a self-proclaimed “psychobilly” band. The lead vocalist took on the stage name Lux Interior while the guitarist became Poison Ivy.
“He’s always been really supportive of me and what I’ve done,” Purkhiser said. “I’ve always been really supportive of him and what he’s done with The Cramps.”
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After graduating from Stow High in 1972 at the age of 16, Purkhiser attended the University of Akron and earned an associate of science degree in electrical/electronic maintenance and repair technology. He ran an electronics business, repairing, building, and modifying amplifiers.
His favorite bands from Ohio in the early 1970s were The Raspberries, James Gang and Glass Harp. He remembers seeing The Raspberry at JB’s in Kent.
“They came out wearing matching outfits and Marshall amps,” Purkhiser said. “It was like, ‘Oh, man.’ They sounded amazing.
The action comes on stage
Around 1978, Purkhiser responded to an ad in Scene magazine from bassist Brent Warren, who was looking for a guitarist.
“We both loved raspberries and wanted to create something like power-pop,” he said.
With drummer Brian Shearer, they formed The Action, a trio that was critically acclaimed if not very commercially successful.
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Their home was The Bank, an Akron nightclub with a cool scene. They also played at JB’s in Kent, Agora in Cleveland, Pirate’s Cove in the Flats and Phantasy in Lakewood.
The band released the singles “Get Back to Me” and “She’s Got My Heart” on Radiogram Records, played New York clubs like CBGB and Hurray, and opened bands like The Romantics and Joan Jett.
Purkhiser believes the band failed to live up to their potential because of their studio recordings, which in retrospect seem lighthearted. The band just didn’t sound as powerful in the studio as they did in concert.
“We walked into many offices in New York to talk to people,” he said. “A lot of them liked the material, but I think they were put off by the fact that it was a bit too ugly.”
The Action’s 1982 WMMS coffee break gig was the only good recorded representation of the band’s sound, he said.
The band continued for a few more years, with Cliff Bryant taking over from Shearer on drums, but it eventually ran its course and broke up in 1984.
Rockabilly to the rescue
Enter The Walking Clampetts, a rockabilly-surf band that singer-guitarist John Teagle formed in 1981 as Johnny Clampett & The Walkers. Purkhiser used to go see them at Mother’s Junction in Kent and thought they were cool.
In a sweaty club with a packed dance floor, the band threw down classics from Link Wray, Dick Dale, Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette and more.
“At first it was like ‘Get up and play a song with us.’ Then it was like, ‘Get up and play some songs with us.’ Eventually it was like, ‘Why don’t you just be in the band?’ ” he said.
Purkhiser joined Teagle, bassist Bob Basone and drummer Michael Hammer in the band’s classic incarnation.
“It was a good composition,” he said. “We really had a lot of fun.”
The group opened for Stray Cats, Los Lobos and The Smithereens. The Clampetts mostly did covers, but recorded some original material in the late 1980s and discussed with a producer the possibility of releasing something.
“But nothing ever came of it, so we kind of let it go,” Purkhiser said.
The Clampetts separated in 1990, but couldn’t stay apart for long. They began having reunion shows in 1991, which continue 30 years later. The most recent was in April at Jilly’s Music Room in Akron.
“I try to come back once a year, usually when we do these shows, and I get to see everyone,” Purkhiser said.
After The Clampetts, Purkhiser worked as a front engineer who toured with 1964: The Tribute, a well-known Beatles tribute, and the Broadway production “Rain”, also a Fab Four tribute. He built amps to reproduce the distinctive Beatles sound.
‘3-D’ is a studio project in Akron
In 1997 he started writing new material, which led to “3-D”, a nod to his brother’s passion for 3-D photography. He recorded over 20 tracks at Big Adventure in Akron with Marky Ray, Dave “Tate” Stephenson, John Koury and other musicians.
They released a five-song EP titled “Universal Conquest” and planned to release another record, “Stere-O-View”, on a Cleveland label.
Purkhiser told his brother Lux about the album and asked if he could illustrate it.
“So he did the illustration and sent it to me, and I thought it was really, really cool,” Purkhiser said. “But the record never came out, so the tapes and artwork sat on the shelves for 25 years.”
Lux Interior died suddenly of an aortic dissection on February 4, 2009 in Glendale, California. He was 62 years old.
“I just thought he was the greatest,” Purkhiser then praised. “He was so inspiring and so alive.”
The “3-D” project was almost forgotten. Purkhiser went on the road, making facade sound. Other than reuniting with The Walking Clampetts, he was not musically active.
The independent label releases songs
Based in Los Angeles since 2014, Purkhiser is National Repair Manager in the audio division of Production Resource Group (PRG), a global company that provides equipment and services for the live music industry.
“I was lucky because I have a good job and made a lot of new friends here,” he said.
A friend, Art Bourasseau, owns MuSick Recordings, an independent label specializing in instrumental rock, surf and garage.
“We meet for dinner once a week, but I’ve never talked about my music,” Purkhiser said. “Finally, a mutual friend of ours, Evan Foster from The Boss Martians in Seattle, heard my music and he really freaked out.”
Foster told Bourasseau he had to listen to those killer “3-D” songs.
“And that’s when Art listened to it and decided to release it,” Purkhiser said.
Foster mastered the tracks at No-Count Studios in Seattle.
Four of the instrumentals Purkhiser wrote 25 years ago – “Razor Ridge”, “Moonshot ’69”, “Requiem for a Surfer” and “3-D Theme” – feature on the new EP, and original artwork by Lux Interior, including a portable camera and optical stereo devices, can finally be seen by the public.
The first surftrack world record is a tribute to a big brother.
“He was the one who introduced me to music,” Purkhiser said.
Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected].
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