Fur Dixon, the former bass player of The Hollywood Hellbillies, The Whirlybirds and most notably the Cramps, may not be on your radar but she should be. We met up at a cafe in San Fernando Valley, and with her periwinkle hair, band t-shirt and sunglasses, she very much looks the part of a rockstar. Fur and I were talking about California and my trip to Bakersfield, but before I can even ask how she got her start playing music, she launches into an epic story about the country music legend of Bakersfield, longtime Hee Haw co-host, Buck Owens….
Fur Dixon He was an influence on me. First, he was an influence on me because I grew up in this religion and I started singing when I was 12 and I somehow fell into this youth organization from my mother’s church. I did the local contest—won it, did the regional contest—won it. The national competition was in California and they almost didn’t let me do it because I was younger. I was twelve or thirteen and everybody else was a junior or senior. They changed the rules and let me in and I came out to California for the nationals in Pasadena. They had this extravagant auditorium and the trip was all paid for with church people’s money. The guy who was in charge, the son of the founder of the church, was good pals with Buck Owens and he was one of the judges. He flew in for the weekend with his wife whom he only stayed married to for the weekend, Janet Jay, and they were judges. And I won the national one. I remember shaking Buck Owens hand and his hair was bright orange…. then I went on to absolutely love Buck Owens.
Dangerous Minds: So you’re from New York, how did you end up living in California?
Fur Dixon:That was how. That was my first time out and after that everything was wiped off the table. I didn’t give a crap about anything back home. I had to get to California. So this church decided I could be utilized better if my mother and I moved to California. I was sixteen, 1978 we moved out here. It took me a few years to find my legs in LA. Besides the kids I hung out with that listened to Bowie and Pink Floyd and Queen it was like New Jersey—getting high, drinking, making out with scuzzy boys and listening to all this music that was happening. So when I moved to LA all I knew were these church people. I got kicked out of that before very long.
How did you get your start with punk rock?
Fur Dixon: I was living in Pasadena, excommunicated. I walked away from that when I was seventeen. It was the home of KROQ. It was the first place I ever heard young Elvis, I had only seen old Elvis. They used to play all this different stuff before new wave dance music. I listened to Rodney Bingenheimer and Dusty Street and I got totally educated. I lived down the street from this theater called Perkins Palace, it was 1981-1982 and there was this explosion of every kind of music. I would walk to work past Perkins Palace and Wendy O Williams would have like a five night in a row stint there and she would blow up one type of car every night on stage. I saw the Ramones one night and their equipment caught on fire and then I made over to Hollywood because that was happening. But the thing I was really attracted to was rockabilly. I was living in Pasadena, partying like crazy, working two jobs, putting a band together and I was at rehearsal and I blew my voice out for like six months. That’s how crazy that time was. I couldn’t sing and I had to play music, my boyfriend was a guitar player, so I started playing bass. I have a really good sense of rhythm.
When were you nicknamed Fur?
Fur Dixon: When I got to Hollywood, it was 1982. The rockabilly scene was pretty cool. LA at the time was not the friendliest by any means. I made some friends and I met the guy who became my boyfriend and he was in the band Keith Joe Dick and the Goners. His sister, Boom Boom, became my friend. Boom Boom wanted to get into the scene and we met this other girl and I got into this band called the Screaming Sirens. All the girls had to have nicknames and they named me Fur. I was in that band for about two and a half months and I split. I went to Texas to see my boyfriend, Gary who had joined another band called the Whirlybirds. Their bass player quit and they hired me and I just went on the road, I like never went home. That went on for a like a year.
Tell me about the Hollywood Hellbillies. Did you all really have livestock on stage?
We did the Whirlybirds and we were gonna move to Austin but the singer was crazy so we told him we weren’t gonna do that. I thought about the Hollywood Hillbillies because I was really getting into country music and I was a big fan of June Carter and Johnny Cash. I really like June Carter and her comedic sense. The stuff that was going on in LA at the time was getting darker and darker and more goth and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. So what we did was day-glo and campy and silly and we had live chickens on stage. I built a wooden hitching post and I clipped their wings and they would just sit there. We played this combination of surf and biker instrumentals, old country. We did whatever the hell we wanted to do… We did an album and it’s actually going to be released. I forgot we had done it because at that point I was over it. This was the summer of 1985 and I just walked away from it, to me it had run its course.
So then you were approached by Lux Interior?
Fur Dixon: Yeah, I didn’t even think about it. But some months later I got married. That was not satisfying. I was looking for an escape plan and I was looking in LA Weekly and there was an ad saying The Cramps were looking for a bass player and they were going on tour. I was looking for adventure. It all happened very quickly. We rehearsed like twice.
What was touring with them like?
Fur Dixon: It was great and it was awful and it was boring and it was exciting. All this crazy shit was happening in Europe. I was having panic attacks and bad culture shock. It was a lot. Being on stage was fine. That in itself was not an issue. They kept extending the tour. Things started out fun. Then it started stepping down quickly. They were very controlling so when my husband came over that’s when the trouble really started. Nick Knox’s wife came over and when our people were in town and we had people to go places with, that’s when the trouble started. It degraded very rapidly on many different levels. The last part of that was this business meeting that was really screwed up. I was not a stranger to walking out on stuff that was not cool. I had an idea how it was going to go and it went exactly as I expected. So I walked out. We were friends first. They would take me and my ex-husband to dinner but it didn’t stay like that.
These days Fur Dixon is recording an album with her band WTFUKUSHIMA!! As she hits the studio, her bandmates include Dusty Watson of the Sonics on drums, Dave Provost of the Dream Syndicate on bass, Dave Wronski of Slacktone on guitar and Paul Roessler of 45 Grave and Screamers on keyboards. She hopes to release the album this year and instead of doing the mainstream fundraising, she is doing it all DIY. As a part of her fundraising efforts, you can buy her art from her website to support the release. She says the new album captures a 1960’s Vegas vibe with a slightly “James Bond” feel while still being rock n’ roll. You can check out a video of her band playing live below.