The more observant amongst you might have noticed that over the past couple of years Ace Records has had the good fortune to license the catalogue of one of rock’n’roll’s greatest – and strangest - people. Gary Sanford Paxton has no idea of his remarkable position within the pantheon of 1960s Hollywood record men. While the Spectors, Melchers and Ushers of the time receive regular kudos, Paxton remains a shadowier, almost enigmatic figure. But when considering the amazing discography of this multi-faceted producer, one must remember that he very likely either wrote, arranged, performed upon, sang upon, engineered, A&R’d or published any item that has his name on. In most cases it was a combination of several or all of these elements. There was no-one else in the American record industry like him. There still isn’t.
Best known for directing the novelty smashes Alley-Oop and Monster Mash, Paxton was already a veteran of the charts as half of the duo Skip & Flip. He set up in Hollywood in 1960 and, over the next five or so years, generated a remarkable catalogue that straddled not just novelty but R&B, doo wop, surf, hot rod, girl groups, jazz, garage rock, country and gospel – all bearing his idiosyncratic touch. HOLLYWOOD MAVERICK documents the oddball genius of Paxton’s glory years from 1958-1965, as he confounded a sceptical record industry by scoring major hits in the most unusual manner. It’s the yin to the yang of Ace’s recent anthology of Paxton’s one-time partner, Kim Fowley.
A large quota of tracks appear on CD for the first time, having previously only been available on tiny labels that the workaholic Paxton seemed to form every other week. Many, such the vocal group gems The Clock and Never Again, are heavy-duty rarities, while others are unknown classics waiting to be discovered. Rock’n’roll, R&B, instrumentals, crazy dance tunes and the plain bizarre all factor into the equation. We also hear his earliest recordings a an artist - from the rockabilly Pledges via Skip & Flip and the Hollywood Argyles, to some singles he cut under his own name for Liberty and others. Also featured are early and/or obscure recordings by Paxton-associates including Leon Russell, David Gates, Sky Saxon, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Dorothy Berry, Ron Holden and a host of others. Not to mention the original recording of future hippie anthem Jesus Is Just Alright, rather more tastefully rendered by the Art Reynolds Singers, featuring a then-unknown Thelma Houston.
Gary Paxton’s odyssey is an incredible one that easily has the makings of a sensational “Aviator”-style biopic – and we’re only talking his first twenty-five years. Abuse, adultery, drugs, booze, and duplicity, in both business and personal relationships, pepper the tale, much of which is detailed in an admittedly lengthy sleeve note (so long in fact, that the normally liberal Ace editorial department recoiled in horror and demanded an edit – though should the masochists amongst you wish to experience the full unexpurgated version, click on the website.) My conversations with many of Paxton’s associates from the Hollywood days provided a wealth of insider information, and though a few grumbled lightly about perceived lack of credit – the producer was as bad a businessman as he was great as a creative force – they all, to a man, waxed lyrical about Gary S Paxton, frequently describing him either as the most talented man they had ever encountered in the music business or, more simply, a ‘genius’.
Though there is more to come on Ace – Paxton’s R&B and garage/psych masters are due for reissue next - Hollywood Maverick marks the culmination of several years of intensive research. I hope that this anthology goes at least some way to explaining the man’s genius – and giving Gary S Paxton some long over-due recognition into the bargain.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY ON SELECTED TRACKS:
Doug & Freddy - ‘Need Your Love’
A haunting Bobby Freeman cover, which was the debut release on the first of Paxton and Fowley’s shared labels, K&G.
Doug Salma: “I always felt that was one of our better records - the feeling was real, more in the vein of what we were about.”
Kim Fowley: “I remember the first thing I produced while I was with Gary was Doug & Freddy, on K&G. So it was a Kim and Gary record, but it was a Kim record. ‘Need Your Love’ was my idea, because Bruce Johnston worshipped Bobby Freeman and he used to sing that song at the Rainbow Roller Rink. I took the concept and got Doug & Freddy to do it like Robert & Johnny and they did. We did that at S&L in San Gabriel.”
Gary Paxton: “That was a little studio in a garage, with an old engineer, Harold Shock. He didn’t have any monitor speakers, just an old Firestone radio speaker up in the right corner. I’d come over and say I wanted some more bass, and he told me, ‘you’ll have to talk to me in my left ear because I’m deaf in the right ear’ - where the speaker was!”
Kim Fowley: “Oh my god, Harold Shock, he was seventy years old and when he would edit tape, he would bleed all over it - you just couldn’t sit there and watch him with the razor blade!”’
Joe Lover & the Gaylads - ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’
Reputedly a car wash employee from Bakersfield, Joe Lover was brought to Paxton and Fowley by Chris Christensen, who released the remarkable ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’ first on the Prudential label.
Gary Paxton: “That’s me and Doug on backing vocals.”
Kim Fowley: “I would say that, in the history of rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll, ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’ is the eeriest, strangest record ever made, and that includes ‘I Put A Spell On You’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It makes anything by the Doors seem like the Monkees. Gosh, of all the stuff I did with Gary, if Jesus on Judgement Day told me to play him one great record that would get me into heaven, that Gary and I did, I would bring that single, and Jesus would say, ‘you get to sit next to me at the dinner table!’ What a great record, tremendous.”
The Hi-Tensions - ‘The Clock’
Another K&G release, and nowadays a sought after item amongst vocal group R&B aficionados.
Gary Paxton: “The Hi–Tensions were obviously black, an El Monte or San Gabriel outfit.”
Kim Fowley: “‘The Clock’, we acquired it from Madelon Baker at Audio Arts [the song first came out on the Audio label]. I found the master but I don’t remember anything about it. Gaynel Hodge was involved.”
Doug Salma: “I never met the Hi-Tensions, but I made ‘The Clock’ my pick of the week on the Huggy show [Salma befriended legendary deejay Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, and often sat in for him on KALI]. I played the heck out of it, ‘cos it reminded me of the Debonaires’ ‘Every Once In A While.”
Paul Revere & the Raiders - ‘Midnight Ride’
An underappreciated item from the Raiders’ obscure Paxton/Fowley-supervised phase on Gardena, which with its sound effects, loping piano rhythm and Lindsay’s jive-talk delivery, displays a clear Paxton influence. After Revere got drafted, Mark Lindsay did solo recordings with Gary and added his sax to oddities like the Marksmen’s ‘Coffee House, Part Two’, before getting busted for burglary.
Kim Fowley: “I was co-producer. Mark and Paul Revere had a Mick and Keith kinda collaboration. Everybody always changed in the band, except for those two, they were the constant [other members on this recording are Jerry Labrum on drums and Richard and Robert White on guitars]. They played every night of the week and were great live. Revere was a businessman and Lindsay was a character. He was my chauffeur for a while, he slept on my floor and drove me around in his car. He was a professional wide-eyed kid.”
PF Flyers – ‘The Turtle & The Hare’
Once again, this is classic 1960-61 Paxton, on a Dallas Frazier tune released via Morey Bernstein’s Reveille label. Contrary to rumour, the fictitious group name is not a reference to Paxton and Fowley, as the latter was gone by the time of its June 1961 release.
Doug Salma: “A PF Flyer was a brand of tennis shoe. That’s me and Fred (Johnny MacRae) and Gary – we cut that at S&L. I think Gary was the one who came up with that way of speaking [a la ‘Alley-Oop’ – see sidebar]. I got good at it and used that voice on ‘Big Bad Ho Dad’ and other stuff I did – as did Kim.”
Darling, I Swear That It’s True – Ritchie Marsh
The Seeds’ frontman Sky Saxon in a previous incarnation, with a Paxton produced record, released on Shepherd in 1962, that is typical of the mawkish teen schlock the Salt Lake City native cut in the days before ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’.
Gary Paxton: “I used to produce Richie, and he and I wrote some songs together. He was freaked out then, and stunk - never bathed!”
Don Wyatt – ‘I’ve Got Love’
A highlight of Paxton’s late 1962 trip to Nashville was this recording, engineered by Papa Don Schroeder and cut with the cream of Nashville’s then session mafia. Wyatt made singles for Bob Ross’ Rosco Records and other labels, and went on to be the bass singer in a latter-day Ink Spots.
Gary Paxton: “On the Don Wyatt in Nashville I used a tuba instead of the bass. Don was a football player, and was kinda like a cross between Roy Hamilton and Arthur Prysock. Boy, I loved [Prysock], I went to see him in person once and he knocked me out. I was always mentally drawn to real talent. Don was a great singer, great performer too. Real smooth, a Sam Cooke type. In 1962 there was not one company that had a black country singer - Charlie Pride was a lot later. Jerry Kennedy, Charlie McCoy, Bob Moore, and Ray Stevens are all playing on the Don Wyatt Nashville session, I had all of them. Ray was the conductor, and instead of using a real bass, I used a bass tuba!”
Renfro & Jackson – ‘Elephant Game (Part One)’
For a novelty record, this controversial July 1963 release rocks pretty hard.
Gary Paxton: “Jesse Sailes was my drummer, and Chuck Hamilton my bass player – both of them were about 6 foot 5, and weighed about 280. And the way they talked, they were both really funny, like Wolfman Jack. So I decided to record them. We went in and cut the track; it never changed key, it was like a Bo Diddley song. Paul Nuckles wrote it. He was a stunt man for many big stars, a stand-in for people like Paul Newman. He lived at the Hudson mansion, and that guy would come almost every day with a broken arm, a broken rib, or something smashed! We named the artist Renfro and Jackson, and it was a pretty weird record. I took it up to KFWB, and they told me, ‘that’s too black, we don’t play black records’ - the blackest they would play was something like ’Shop Around’. So we went and got a Volkswagen convertible, rented an elephant, got about fifteen pom-pom girls, and did a parade down Hollywood Boulevard, starting up by La Brea. We had the elephant pulling the VW and all these pom-pom girls dancing in front and the sides. And we had signs on the elephant, “KFWB Unfair To Elephants”, “KFWB Unfair To Renfro & Jackson”, etc. We’re going down Hollywood, we had crowds gathering in front of the radio station, but then the elephant got nervous and started crapping in the street. They called a SWAT team, who arrested us and later made us go and clean up all the crap from the elephant. They actually took us to jail, for a record promotion.”
Mickey Rooney Jr – ‘I Can Read Between The Lines’
While he may not have had constant chart placements, by the mid-1960s Paxton did have a steady steam of income from his publishing interests, the one area where he had actually displayed some business savvy. He landed one copyright (‘Butterball’) on the Tijuana Brass’ multi-million selling album “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”, and another earner was this Kenny Johnson tune, tucked away on the B-side of Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ seventh Top 10 hit ‘Green Grass’ – ironically produced by Gary’s nemesis at Liberty, Snuff Garrett. This is the original version of the song, recorded by actor Mickey Rooney’s eldest son in late 1965 (who had releases on Liberty too), but never issued.
Gary Paxton: “Barney Kessel, who had married Mickey Rooney’s ex-wife Carol, brought Mickey Jr into me. We did this and then Gary Lewis covered it. I remember when ‘Alley Oop’ was #1, Gary Lewis was going to turn 16 and he told his father [comedian Jerry Lewis] that he wanted the Hollywood Argyles to play for his birthday party. So Jerry Lewis’ office called me up and I think they paid us several thousand dollars. It was like a gig, at their mansion in Bel Air. We played a while, and then all the kids jumped in the swimming pool and they were raising cain, so Jerry said, ‘c’mon in the kitchen’, and he was really nice to us – he didn’t have to be.”
Kenny Johnson: “When I first started writing for Gary, it was right after ‘Monster Mash’, and if you weren’t impressed by ‘Monster Mash’, you weren’t impressed. I was writing songs for Doris Webb, Beverly Williams and the Rev-Lons, and after that, I got the Gary Lewis & the Playboys record. I got a cheque for $1800, but they took half of my writing mechanical to get the deal. But I thought, ‘this is it, I gotta go down to Hollywood, I’m not going to be able to do it from here [Bakersfield], I have be down there in the middle of it!’”
The Art Reynolds Singers – ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’
From 1966’s “Tellin’ It Like It Is”, the first of two strong albums that Gary Paxton produced on this gospel quintet for Capitol, and quite possibly modern soul diva Thelma Houston’s debut on vinyl. This pop re-arrangement of a traditional gospel item caught the ear of Gene Parsons, then a cohort of Gib Guilbeau and a frequent habitué of Paxton’s recording sessions. Parsons later suggested the tune as a cover when he joined the Byrds in 1968, that group’s ensuing treatment appearing on the album “Ballad Of Easy Rider”, from which it was co-opted by the Doobie Brothers, resulting in the execrable version familiar from classic rock radio today. Somehow in the process, Paxton also unwittingly - and regretfully - lost his publishing interest in the song. The Singers came to Gary via a shrewd associate of Dale Davis, Bob McCarty, who discovered them in Long Beach, and also was involved in the Paxton-helmed solo releases by Thelma once she left the group in 1967.
Bob McCarty: “This girl in Long Beach asked me, ‘are you in the record business?’ I knew Dale and Gary, so I told her, ‘kinda’, and she gave me a tape. It was a bad recording but, Jesus, such talent was there. So I played it to Gary and he was like, [rubbing hands] ‘when do we get them?’ And then we took the group right over to Capitol, to Bill Miller, and he said, [rubbing hands] ‘when do we get them?’ Art was the leader, he just played piano on the recordings but he was in charge of everything. Thelma wasn’t really a featured vocalist, and anyway, they were all good. Alfreda James was awful young, as a matter of fact we had to get her mother to sign the contract. Thelma was divorced, she had a couple of kids, and Glenna Sessions was married, and Alexis Donnadell was still in high school as I recall, and we had to get her parents to sign too. Lillie Mae Brown was the other singer. We always took them to Capitol to record, because they were big sessions, with organs, and strings and horns, and Gary’s place was just inadequate. Gary could choose songs from the ones that Art presented, because we figured that they were familiar with those songs already. We didn’t think about which market to aim them at, but we got a pick hit in Billboard, and started getting all kinds of calls from promoters around the country.”
Gary Paxton: “After the first album Thelma couldn’t take Art any more and she wanted to go solo. She was a good person and a great singer. Thelma was the main singer in the group, Alfreda and Glenna Sessions were the others. Alfreda was the lead singer on the single I did with them as the Soul Aggregation.”
Bob McCarty: “Thelma’s ‘Woman Behind Her Man’ [produced by Paxton and McCarty] did well, especially back east, and Capitol actually spent money to fly her back there, and did a first class package on her. Then Jimmy Webb took her under his wing and produced her on a few things, and then she got involved with a black piano player who had his own group and he tried, and then she finally got picked up by Motown.”