Born Larry Wayne Stevens, 18 May 1939, Coffeyville, Kansas
Gary Paxton is best known for his involvement with two number ones : “Alley-Oop” (as singer / co-producer) and “Monster Mash” (as arranger / producer), but he was already a veteran of the charts as part of the duo Skip and Flip. The multi-talented singer-songwriter-producer set up shop in Hollywood in 1960, and over the next five years or so generated a remarkable catalogue that straddled not just novelty, but R&B, doowop, surf, hotrod, girl groups, jazz, garage rock, country and gospel - all bearing his idiosyncratic touch.
Paxton was the child of an unwed teenage couple, who were too poor to take proper care of him. At the age of three he was adopted by an older couple who changed his name from Larry Wayne Stevens to Gary Sanford Paxton. He endured a troubled childhood. At the age of seven he was sexually abused by a neighbour. When he was eleven, he was misdiagnosed as having polio, until it was discovered that he had spinal meningitis. For about three years Gary was crippled and very withdrawn, which caused him to turn to music and songwriting. His family moved from Coffeyville, Kansas, to Tucson, Arizona when he was twelve. Paxton started his first band in 1954, influenced by Elvis Presley. Two years later he met Clyde Battin, a country singer/guitarist (later a member of the Byrds), with whom he formed the five-piece outfit The Pledges. This group had one single released on a small label in Phoenix called Rev Records in mid-1958. “Betty Jean” was coupled with “Her Bermuda Shorts”, both sides written by Gary.
About eight months after Paxton and Battin had split up, they received a package from the people at Rev, containing a new record by a duo called Skip and Flip. The accompanying letter told them that two unreleased Rev recordings by the Pledges had been sold to Brent Records in New York City, where they had been renamed Skip and Flip. The A-side, “It Was I”, reached # 11 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1959. Clyde (Skip) and Gary (Flip) reunited and went on the road. The next two Brent singles, “Fancy Nancy” (# 71) and “Cherry Pie” (# 11), were also successful, but the pair broke up in 1960, due to personal differences and Paxton moved to Los Angeles. One of the first people he met there was singer/songwriter Dallas Frazier, who wrote a novelty song for him called “Alley-Oop”. Thinking that he was still under contract to Brent, Gary recorded the song under the name The Hollywood Argyles. Released on the Lute label, the record was a huge hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for one week in July 1960. It was only later that Paxton found out that he was no longer contracted to Brent. Had he known that, he would have recorded “Alley-Oop” under his own name.
The Hollywood Argyles didn’t last long, but Paxton continued to co-operate with Kim Fowley, with whom he had co-produced “Alley-Oop”. The biggest successes to come out of this partnership were “Honest I Do” by the Innocents (# 28) and the instrumental single “Like, Long Hair” by Paul Revere and the Raiders, which peaked at # 38 in April 1961. Three months later Paxton and Fowley parted ways. In 1962 Gary started his own Hollywood-based label, Garpax Records, soon followed by a second label, G.S.P Records. The first release on Garpax was an immediate smash. “Monster Mash” by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett (arranged and produced by Paxton) went all the way to the top of the charts in October 1962, staying there for two weeks. It has remained a perennial Halloween favourite, which charted again in 1970 and 1973. Two other Pickett singles also made the charts in 1962-63. After some twenty singles releases (three under his own name) and one LP (by Pickett, naturally), Paxton discontinued the label in 1965, though he would briefly revive it in the late 1970s.
Between 1963 and 1967 Paxton produced many surf and drag recordings, as well as a large number of records by female artists (collected on the Ace CD “Boy Trouble”). His greatest success from this period is “Sweet Pea” by Tommy Roe (# 8, 1966). Paxton also claims to have produced the # 1 hit “Cherish” by the Association (1966), but virtually all other sources mention Curt Boettcher as the producer.
In 1967 Gary moved to Bakersfield, trying his hand at country songwriting and founding another label, Bakersfield International. The Gosdin Brothers scored a minor country hit on this imprint with “Hangin’ On” (# 37, 1967). After ten years in California, he relocated to Nashville in 1970. The rock and roll producer with his long hair and eccentric clothes did not exactly fit in with the conservative Nashville community. His behaviour was often erratic and he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless, he had some success with his songs in the early 1970s, especially with “Woman (Sensuous Woman)”, a # 1 country hit for Don Gibson in 1972. The song was nominated for a Grammy.
After the death of his songwriting partner Thomas Wayne (of “Tragedy” fame) in 1971, Paxton became a born-again Christian, quitting booze and pills. He began to write and sing gospel songs and has worked in gospel ever since (while maintaining an interest in country), enjoying major success in that field. In 1977 he won a Grammy for a gospel album and he was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
On December 29, 1980, Paxton was shot three times by hitmen hired by a country singer he was producing, putting him out of the music world for eight years and nearly ending his life. Paxton left Nashville in 1999 and lived in Branson, Missouri with his fourth wife, Vicki Sue Roberts, until the end of his life. Gary Paxton died at his home in Branson on July 17, 2016, from compli- cations of heart surgery and liver disease. He was 77.
(Much) more info : http://tinyurl.com/bjw5s5f
CD : Various artists, Hollywood Maverick : The Gary S. Paxton Story (Ace CDCHD 1073). 32 tracks from 1958-1965. Released 2006.
Acknowledgements : Tony Cummings, Rob Finnis, Wikipedia.
Dik, September 2017
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