Gary Paxton was a two dab man.
Actually, more than that. While he may be best known for two novelty hits, "Alley Oop" and "Monster Mash," he dabbled in music for over 40 years as a producer, writer and singer, amassing dozens and dozens of credits.
Gary (Larry Wayne Stevens, May 18, 1939 – July 16, 2016) was one of those somewhat obscure guys in the music business. Some seemed to love him, and others were wary. I guess it depended on whether you knew him as a jovial writer-singer or as a producer-business man.
Almost a cliche of the guy smiling on the outside, but hurting on the inside, Paxton dived into the world of "novelty" music, escaping the confusion and misery of real life:
"My mother was 14 and my dad was 15. I was nine pounds when I was born, and when I was one, I was seven pounds, because they didn't have anything apart from ketchup and water to feed me with...Then this old couple who had lost two children heard I was available, so they adopted me. We lived on a farm in Coffeyville, Kansas. We had no electricity, no water, no heating..."
Adopted and name-changed, he grew up in a bleak environment, molested at seven by a neighbor, and suffering from spinal meningitis at eleven. Things improved when, at fourteen, the family moved to Arizona and he began to lose himself in garage bands, mostly playing country music. His past caught up to him when a woman in Arizona looked at him and declared "I am your mother! I've been looking for you for a long time and if you don't believe me, go call your parents." He then learned the truth, that he was adopted by Christians, and his real parents were a mix of Native American, Jewish and Irish blood.
Another surprise was when a demo he recorded with his pal Clyde Battin was released on the tiny Brent label. The label called them "Skip & Flip." Paxton had no idea until he happened to hear the tune on the radio. The song, "It Was I," became a surprise million-seller novelty. They followed it with "Cherry Pie." He ambitiously moved to California and started to produce records, even releasing songs on his own obscure labels. He acquired a "mad genius" reputation, thanks to more novelty classics. "Alley Oop," written by Dallas Frazier, became a hit from "The Hollywood Argyles," with Paxton offering up the narrative opening. Paxton produced his own "answer" to it, "Alley Oop is a Two Dab Man."
In 1962, Paxton had his graveyard smash, "Monster Mash," which was initially released on his own Garpax label. Once again, his skills as a producer made the industry take notice. His production on that single was admirable, from the sound effects to the back-up singers. He also played piano on the session. The tune made an instant star out of Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and Paxton instantly began cranking out sequels, including "Monster Motion" and "Monster Holiday." He also recorded "The Scavenger" as a solo project for his Garpax label, as well as "Two Hump, Dual Bump Camel Named Robert E. Lee," which he co-wrote.
His eccentricity at the time included parading an elephant through the streets, protesting radio stations that had refused to play "Elephant Game," by Renfro & Jackson.
As a producer and engineer, he eventually sought new types of sound, and he left pure comedy behind, guiding "Sweet Pea" (Tommy Roe) and both "Along Comes Mary" and "Cherish" (The Association) up the charts. Simultaneously, Gary was hoping for solo success, releasing a variety of singles including "Sweet Senorita Sante Fe" (1964 on Felsted) and "It's My Way of Loving You" and "Goin' Thru the Motions" (Capitol, 1965 and 1966).
He returned to his country roots, writing the hit "Woman, Sensuous Woman" for Don Gibson, "L.O.V.E." for the Blackwood Brothers and "No Shortage" for The Imperials.
By the time I was part of the music business, and hoping to perhaps meet him, or to crack open a fresh novelty single he'd produced, he was in the arms of the Lord. Meaning, he was a Born Again Christian, producing and writing for the new wave of Christian records now on the market. I wrote an article on this phenomenon, which included in addition to the former "Alley Oop" and "Monster Mash" man, a newly optimistic Barry McGuire, a Jesus-freaked B.J. Thomas, and the emphatically NOEL Paul Stookey, putting out overtly Christian music as a sidelight to his work with Peter and Mary.
I didn't get to interview the elusive Paxton, but I did marvel at the album cover that showed a Quaker-esque guy with a big beard and oversized hat. He issued several such records for his "NEWPAX" label, and seemed to have achieved a balance between reverent songs ("He Was There All The Time") and slightly lighter material ("Jesus Is My Lawyer In Heaven"). His songs confronted abortion (against it), cigarettes (against it) and death (unavoidable: "When The Meat Wagon Comes For You"). His label also released material by the infamous Tammy Faye Bakker, and some gossips insisted Gary had an affair with her, which he denied.
He seemed to be headed toward, as Lord Buckley might phrase it "the groovy sands of serenity."
BUT...it seems that Producer Paxton had run afoul of Vern Gosdin who was lethally pissed off at him and wanted out of his contract. Paxton had worked with Gosdin in 1967, and it was Gary who coaxed the irascible thrice-married curmudeon out of retirement for the 1976 album "Till The End." A few years later, and Gosdin wished the end on Paxton.
A few days after his Lord's Birthday, December 29th 1980, Gary was lured outside his home by Darrell Bailey and Darryl Langley. The two Darrels claimed to have car trouble. They attacked him, beat him, and in the scuffle shot him twice in the back. Hitmen couldn't kill the hit man. In a show of Christian charity, he even "forgave" the hired men. Apparently nobody could pin anything on Gosdin himself. Gosdin refused any interviewer when it came to questions about Paxton.
Some insist that the two hitmen were hired by a jealous Jim Bakker. Just why the two Darrels would dare implicate Gosdin, when it would've been easy to simply claim they were hired by an anonymous man they never met face to face, is unclear. What's beyond dispute is that the prosecutor in the case did not pursue a case against either Gosdin or Bakker.
Some armchair detectives wonder if the end of Gary and Tammy's association times well with the attack, and if Paxton, Mr. Christian, would never, ever want to admit to stepping in on another man's wife. Others figure cranky Vern Gosdin wouldn't be beyond asking a few guys to put a beating on somebody, perhaps a fatal one.
Adding insult to injury, Paxton's partner embezzled a half million from him while he recuperated from his near-death experience.
Over the past 30 years, Paxton's "look" changed from Jolly Quaker to mover-and-shaker, to God's Little Acher, to orange-haired faker. Let's say it reflected his varied musical interests and directions, which kept shifting.
Paxton started the 21st Century in Branson, Missouri, the haven for older country and gospel performers. He became friendly with Bill Medley, Andy Williams and others who were able to bring in the tourists. Despite Hepatitis C, he performed sometimes as "Grandpa Rock," wearing a mask, and continued to write and produce songs. For his newest record label, LUPAX (with Jim Lusk) he offered "Vote 'Em Out Boogie" in 2011 and the "AARP Blues" in 2014. Yeah, he still had some kind of sense of humor, despite the death threats, childhood molestation, ups and downs of novelty songs, the Jesus albums, and four marriages. Not totally forgotten, the U.K. re-issue label ACE has discovered a lot of early Paxton productions for their CD compilation "Hollywood Maverick: The Gary S. Paxton Story."
GARY PAXTON ALLEY OOP IS A TWO DAB MAN