According to CBS/WJZ news reports, Baltimore musician Kraig Krixer and his friend and roomate John Gurkis were found dead, and somewhat decomposed, inside Krixer’s condo at the Red Fox Farm Condos in Nottingham (Perry Hall), Maryland, on January 21, 2011. After the bodies were discovered, the fire department tested for carbon monoxide to see if that could be the cause of the two men’s death, but that came up negative. Krixer was 59; Gurlis was 58.
“Right now, we’re investigating as a suspicious death. The bodies have been taken to the medical examiner’s office and the outcome of the investigation will be pending the autopsy,” said Lt. Rob McCullough.
It’s all pretty shocking to me. I remember Kraig “Trixy” Krixer from my days hanging out in the late ’70s at Baltimore’s Marble Bar on W. Franklin Street, where Kraig played with “New Wave” bands like The Accused, smoked those skinny brown More cigarettes (like Kojak), and was a fret-shredding guitar hero.
Krixer also played with such late ’60s and ’70s/’80s bands as Orange Wedge, Black Foot Smoke, OHO , Poobah, Weaszel (where he was billed as Fritz von Krizler on “Attack guitar”), Razor (with his brother Cris Krixer on bass), Blue Car (with former Aux vocalist Charlie Klingenstein and future Berserk & Garage Sale bassist Dave Cawley), Riff, and Trixy & The Testones. The latter, an OHO- and Dark Side-associated musical ensemble, released a single in 1978 that included punked-up covers of The Gong Show host Chuck Barris’ “Palisades Park” and the Dave Clark Five’s “Bits and Pieces.”
Trixy & The Testones also recorded “a punky yet Spectoresque” version of “Then She Kissed Me” that appeared on The Best of Baltimore’s Buried LP (Balto-Weird Records, 1979).
They also performed a number of times as part of “The Gohog Review,” playing short sets at such Maryland venues such as the Marble Bar in downtown Baltimore and The Oddfellows Hall in Towson throughout 1979-80, often sharing the bill with Dark Side and The Weaszels.
Aside from Krixer, the Testones were usually Jeff (drums/perc) and Jay Graboski–rhythm guitar & backing vocals (aka Jeff Jamm and Johnny Love respectively), David Wylde (bass, vocals), Vic DeMize (keys, synthesizer), Steve Simcoe on sax (aka Shemp Averagio) with guests Bill Phelan on 12-string electric guitar on “Then She Kissed Me” and, of course, Bob Tiefenwerth (Lao Lewd), who played glockenspeil on “Palisades Park.”
“Palisades Park” charted in the top 15 singles both at radio KFJC in Los Altos Hills, CA and WIRC in Buffalo, NY, and was favorably reviewed by rock music journalists. A sampling is included below:
“Trixy & the Testones have released an intense version of the old Chuck Barris hit, ‘Palisades Park’. It is rock in its most primitive incarnation. ‘Where The Action Is’ carried to a frenzied extreme. The 45, both sides in total, comes to over two hundred seconds of aural stimulation.” –Patti Rosenberg (City Paper)
“As far as Trixy and the Testones go, their only bow to the past is in the mix, which sounds vaguely like Phil Spector working out of a phone booth. I won’t go as far as to say that the performance reminds me of the Gong Show, but the wacky enthusiasm is the same. Is this a good single? Well, don’t go looking for it on Casey Casem’s American Top Forty, but don’t dismiss it either. It’s fun, tight and rocky, and neatly avoids the obvious traps of pretense and camp. Probably the best local party record I’ve heard.”–J.D. Considine (Baltimore News-American)
“I always wished the Ramones would pick up on this song, and failing that, these boys have done a credible job with just the sort of arrangement I had in my head (and even once tried to work out on guitar!). Better produced, it might sound like a hit.”–Greg Shaw (Bomp! Issue #21)
“Forget the Ramones comparisons, this high-energy romp is influenced but beyond. The arrangement is Sixties sublime, Trixy’s delivery is hysterical, and you will not believe the pace. Two minutes of pure teen fun, no harmful additives. –(Unicorn Times, August 1979)
“And from Towson, Maryland, Trixy & the Testones pulverize ‘Palisades Park’ to interesting effect.”–(New York Rocker, April-May 1979)
The Ramones references are interesting because apparently Joey Ramone himself was a fan! OHO (and Dark Side, Food for Worms, and various other “Gohog” bands) guitarist Jay Grabowski, who maintains the OHO music web site (ohomusic.com, which is probably the best source for information about Krixer’s musical career), writes that Krixer became a huge Ramones fan sometime around 1975:
Shortly thereafter, Trixy (aka Fagen de Razor – a pen name he assumed during a brief stint as a writer for the Port City News) became a huge Ramones fan and I suspect patterned The Testones loosely upon their band model and strictly upon their approach to arrangement (with a tip of the hat to Phil Spector) and the execution of their material; what with the rapid, crunching 1/8 note guitar down strokes, snotty/nasal vocals and racing tunes often ending under the 2-minute mark (note that the Testones’ version of “Palisades Park” clocks in at 1:58).
I do not, however, recall how Trixy made Johnny Ramone’s acquaintance but the late band leader/guitarist did send Kraig a postcard after he was serviced with and had apparently listened to our recording of “Palisades Park.” It reads as follows: “I liked the record alot (sic). Palisades Park came out really good. We always had wanted to do that song but never did.” – Johnny Ramone. (The Ramones eventually did record a version of this Chuck Barris’ tune made popular in 1962 by Freddie “Boom-Boom” Cannon, releasing it 27 years later on their 1989 LP, Brain Drain, & 10 years after the Testones’ 45 rpm, 7″ version.)
Grabowski also recalls how he and OHO first came to be associated with Kraig Krixer:
I first became aware of Kraig Krixer’s existence as lead guitarist for local Baltimore band, Orange Wedge, in the early 70s. By 1973 Wedge had dispensed with the “Orange,” Joe Farce took over as sole guitarist and Kraig switched teams over to OHO contemporaries, the glam-rock band Poobah, assuming a transexual persona and taking the moniker of “Trixy the Space Queen,” ala Ziggy (Bowie) and Roxy Music. Most Poobah members went by similarly androgynous stage names (e.g. Crystal Chandelier, Steptoe the Magnificent). Our acquaintance furthered when Kraig & I found ourselves working in the same bureau at SSA during the mid-to-late 70s, where and when the idea of the Testones project arose, was incubated, then spawned.
Kraig additionally played blistering guitar on both the 1979 and the 1985 versions of The Weaszels‘ “I’m Still Wild,” the former a track on the 1st Baltimore’s Buried LP (opere citato above), the latter on their Whack ‘n’ Wild CD, independently released in 1992. The BBB version provoked one rabid DJ/fan to compose a 5 page, hand-written paean to the song/band that I intend to transkey to this journal when it’s time to address the KZMU question posed regarding The Weaszels . Suffice it to say at this point that we had never before or since received such enthusiastic praise from anyone. Another advantage of dealing with this list of questions, where we have the chance to tell the untold stories of the incidental musical one-offs of and tangents to our “career,” is this opportunity to root through our archives, artifacts and testimonials, urging nebulous memories to re-surface to a more clearly conscious level, then relate them in this forum.
In 1979 Kraig formed the band Razor & I was invited to play as the 2nd guitarist on a track later included on the 1st Best of Baltimore’s Buried LP. In Spring 1985 Kraig guested as lead guitarist on “Ethiopa” & “Change In the Wind” showing up either together or individually on the following OHO releases: Audition (1989), OHO (1990), UP (2003), The Oriency Anthology (2004) & Bricolage (2008). (David always felt Kraig’s guitar soloing to be his strong suit, his ideation being that Trixy dance in from stage right, across the proscenium over to stage left licks a blazin’, then fading out of view behind the curtain while wailing his final bended note.) “Wind” ranked OHO among 4 finalists in Musician Magazine‘s “Best Unsigned Band Contest” in 1986 (for which we were awarded a pricey JBL sound system), providing enough momentum to carry the band two years hence to late Summer 1988 when we were chosen as finalists for that year’s Yamaha Soundcheck Competition
One of my favorite Grabowski recollections about Kraig Krixer is the one about the video Grabowski’s band Food for Worms made for a song called “It Needs a Haircut.” I am tangentially involved in this story, because the song was inspired by a conversation I had with Food for Worms keyboardist Mark O’Connor about my barber, this guy named Charles, who used to groom corpses for funeral viewings. I was fascinated when Charles told me how he once cleaned up a long-haired biker dude so that he’d look like choir boy when viewed by his mom in the casket! As Grabowski recalls, the song was orginally included on The 98 Rock Album before being made into a video for MTV:
“It Needs a Haircut,” built around a catchy David Reeve instrumental hook/riff and based on a true story overheard by another band member about a corpse that required the attention of a hair stylist, was our contribution to this LP. “Haircut” made the final cut as the closer for the album’s music program and every song received a substantial amount of airplay on 98 Rock, WIYY-FM, and for a significant period of time…All this was during the MTV “music video” heyday and David insisted that our band invest in making a video. Bratt Studio engineer, Bill Pratt, had received some national exposure on that cable network with a video by his band at the time, The Gents. Finalists in the MTV “Basement Tape” competition, the Gents were bold enough to have had their ambitious video shot on film stock with its classy “look”, easily making it to the last round of the competition.
We hired a video producer, picked a tune (“Haircut” of course–it was under 3 minutes–less filming and editing time/expense), created a storyboard and rented some costumes and cheap props. The most expensive prop we purchased for $80 from an undertaker who had converted a coffin-like cadaver transporter into a more convincing coffin substitute by staining it and affixing budget line casket handles. (We eventually gave this to Trixy & The Testones guitarist, Kraig Krixer, who somewhat coveted it and upon delivery to his home put it to practical use for towel and linen storage.)
According to Grabowski, OHO’s “Change in the Wind” (which featured Krixer on guitar) was also featured as incidental soundtrack music in 1998’s Edge of 17, an independent film that was an unexpected hit at that year’s Sundance Film Festival and was listed as being among the “100 Best Gay & Lesbian Features” ever in the 2003 edition of the Facets Movie Lovers Guide. It also placed in the final 3 of the “Music for Film and TV” category of the 2003 Independent Music Awards sponsored by The Musician’s Atlas. “Kraig certainly contributed to all of this and the time is nigh to give him his propers,” Grabowski wrote on the ohomusic site. “Thanks, Kraig.”
Jay Grabowski worked with Krixer at the Social Security Administration facility in Woodlawn from the mid-1970s until Kraig retired from SSA in the early 00’s due to health issues. In a November 2009 “What’s Up” update to the ohomusic web site, Grabowski’s wrote “[Kraig Krixer] currently lives quietly and simply in Perry Hall, a northeast Baltimore suburb, with his collection of unique electric guitars that includes a coveted white John Thurston-made “tear drop,” a Vox inspired guitar, modeled after the one Rolling Stone Brian Jones played during the 2nd British Invasion in 1964.”
Jaguar Bytes, a former bartender at the Marble Bar, had the following recollections of Kraig Krixer:
A cute little guy with black hair. The pretty boy type. Always wore a black leather jacket… not that that helps much considering that we all did!
His brother Kris was about the same height (maybe 5’8″ish) with white blonde hair. He too always wore a leather jacket except he eventually had this thing where he was always buying all sorts of different colors. Originally, he always wore a black one but eventually you’d never know if he’d be wearing his red one, his white one or some other variety.
The two were both very close and lived together on Elm Ave. in Hampden. Both smoked those More cigarettes and played guitar though Kraig was more active on the music front. Kris often hung out with this guy you may know named Carl. (Forget his last name right now.) A very good looking tall and slender guy with perfect dark hair. Between the 3 of them, they had that typical rock star pretty boy look down that often made its presence at the Marble. The kind of guys who would wear girls jeans and tops and get away with it without looking like they were in drag. They pulled it off well and we all ate it up like we did with all the other peculiarities at any of the local cool scenes.
Another guy that Kraig often hung out with was Charlie Klingenstein (some last name like that). Another good looking guy with dark hair. Had the Bryan Ferry thing down. The two of them were in a band called Blue Car for a short time and played the Marble on occasion. Maybe in ’81 or ’82.
Not sure what else I can say that might jog your memory. If I run across any clear pictures, I’ll try to post them here.
Though I haven’t seen either for years, for some odd reason, I had been thinking about both of them a lot lately. Sorry that I will never again get to see Kraig. He will be missed.
As Jaguar Bytes observes, not only did both Kraig and his brother Cris have that “rock star pretty boy look” down, but I recall that Cris Krixer used to work at Noxell Corporation in Hunt Valley and would always bring make-up and Noxzema skin care accessories to the Marble Bar to give as gifts to the young ladies, which made him extremely popular with the X Chromosome Set. (C’mon, what woman can resist getting swag bags of Cover Girl, Max Factor, and Olay products?) Cris used to wear a shiny red leather jacket just like the kind The Romantics wore on their first album. And I remember that when you called the Krixer brothers’ phone number, the answering machine message said something to the effect of “Sorry to miss your call, but Kraig and Cris are out on another mission…”
By the way, a number of Kraig Krixer’s bands (Orange Wedge, Razor, Trixy & The Testones, OHO) get mentioned in Joe Vaccarino’s book Baltimore Sounds: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Baltimore Area Pop Musicians, Bands & Recordings 1950-1980 (MJAM Press, 2004).
“2 Men Found Dead In Perry Hall Home” (Suzanne Collins, WJZ News)
“Court Records Show Criminal History of Two Men Found Dead” (Perry Hall Patch)
The Accused (MySpace)
Trixy & The Testones 45 (Hive45)
Collector Scum (collectorscum.com) – lists Accused, Trixy, Dark Side, other Balto bands
Baltimore Sounds by Joe Vaccarino
Best of Baltimore’s Buried LP (Discogs)