Old-School Ghoul

By Skylaire Alfvegren

LA Weekly: Wednesday, October 27, 1999 - 12:00 am

FOR ALMOST FOUR DECADES, ONE SONG has returned from the realm of the undead every Halloween, lurking on every spooky-sounds compilation, the soundtrack of every mad monster party. "Monster Mash," the swingin' tale of a dance party hosted by Dr. Frankenstein, is the only song in history to hit the Top 100 on three separate occasions. Covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to the Bonzo Dog Band, the original single commands upward of $80 on the collector's market. "I never thought it would pay the rent for 38 years," says Bobby "Boris" Pickett, the affable author of the most popular novelty song ever.

The story began when Pickett, who moved to Hollywood in 1960 after an Army stint in Korea, bumped into two brothers, the Capizzis, from his childhood haunt of Somerville, Massachusetts. In need of a bass-baritone for their new singing group, the Cordials, they enlisted Pickett, whose father managed a movie palace in Boston. "I watched the classics over and over -- Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman -- and doing their voices became second nature," says Pickett.

Lenny Capizzi got the idea for the single. "I'd do Boris Karloff as the mad scientist, making his creation get up and do the latest dance craze, which I thought was the Twist," says Pickett. Lenny, "the greaser hep cat," corrected the clean-cut, cardiganed lad. "The Monster Mashed Potato," written in an hour and recorded two weeks later, was brought to Gary Paxton, a 19-year-old wunderkind who'd formed the Hollywood Argyles with Kim Fowley and produced their smash "Alley Oop." "Every major label in town said it was stupid," Pickett says of "Monster Mash," so Paxton pressed 500 on his own Garpax label.

"He drove up the coast, dropping copies off at record stations, and by the time he was back in town, it was on the radio all over California." New York­ based London Records immediately took over distribution, and before you could say, "I vant to drink your blood," it had reached No. 1 and sold a million copies. It was 1962, in the days before SoundScan and corporate radio, when "you could record something danceable in your garage, hand it to a DJ and he'd put it on the air."

Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers were rushed into the studio to complete an album of 13 more finger-snappin' graveyard tunes, populated with ghoulies, ghosties, mummies and wolfmen. By then, Philadelphia's John Zacherly, a cadaverously painted DJ turned horror host, had released his own version of "Monster Mash," which Pickett says "stole a little of our thunder."

Soon after, Pickett wrote a play with Sheldon Allman, a like-minded ghoul who had had a minor hit with "Sing Along With Drac." Performed by schools and community-theater groups worldwide, I'm Sorry, the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have To Spend the Night was transformed in 1995 into Monster Mash: The Movie by Toy Story co-writer Joel Cohen. Featuring Pickett as the diabolical Dr. Frankenstein, Mink Stole as a werewolf's mother and Jimmy "J.J." Walker as a pimpish music promoter, the flick is "suitable for children and snotty adults" and can be ordered, along with Monster Mash the CD, on Pickett's Web site, themonstermash.com.

"I LOVE THIS TIME OF YEAR," SAYS Pickett, who performs each Halloween on the East Coast. The singer, who will be 62 in February, has recorded a number of other novelty songs, including the Dr. Demento favorite "Star Drek" and "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette," a Texas-style whooper from the '40s that Pickett gave an anti-nicotine spin. With a repertoire of more than 100 celebrity voices, he would love to crack the competitive voice-over market, but as Pickett himself says, "I'm not one of these guys that wakes up every morning and has to accomplish something. I wait for the inspiration, and that can take years!"

The League of Western Fortean Intermediatists

Follow me on twitter

Follow me on Facebook

Web Skylaire.com