BOBBY "BORIS" PICKETT
Born Robert George Pickett, 11 February 1938, Somerville, Massachusetts
Bobby Pickett does not have an entry in Wayne Jancik's Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders (because he had one other Top 40 hit). Yet there is one song with which he will be forever associated, the perennial Halloween favourite "Monster Mash", which charted on four different occasions : in 1962, 1970, 1973 and 2008. Bobby has been dubbed as "The Guy Lombardo Of Halloween".
Pickett's father managed a local movie theater in Massachusetts, so Bobby got to see as many movies as he wanted, including all of the films of Boris Karloff, the British horror movie star. After serving three years in Korea, Bobby moved to Hollywood in 1961, hoping to become an actor. He learned to impersonate different voices and Karloff's came easily. At that time, the thought of becoming a singer never crossed his mind, but he enjoyed singing for kicks and joined an amateur group called the Cordials.
One of the songs they performed on stage was the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'," and in the middle of it Bobby recited a monologue in a Karloff voice. Leonard Capizzi, one of the Cordials, told Bobby that he should make a novelty record with that voice and offered to co-write a song with him. At first Bobby wasn't interested, but putting aside his acting ambitions temporarily, Capizzi and he got together and wrote "Monster Mash" in May 1962. The song managed to combine the horror movie craze with the latest dance fad, the "mash" (or mashed potatoes), to appeal to both dance fans and movie fans.
Pickett and Cappizzi knew only one person in the music business, Gary Paxton, the man behind the # 1 hit "Alley-Oop" (Hollywood Argyles, 1960) and ex-member of the singing duo Skip and Flip. Paxton liked "Monster Mash" and agreed to produce it. He started his own label, Garpax Records, signed Pickett as a singer and made "Monster Mash" the first release on his label (in spite of the catalogue number 44167). The label credit went to "Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers". According to Joel Whitburn, the Crypt-Kickers were Leon Russell, Johnny MacRae (later of Ronny and the Daytonas), Ricki Page and Gary Paxton. Pickett thought it was just a clever novelty song, never dreaming that it would sell more than a million copies, but it did, and "Monster Mash" hit the # 1 spot on October 20, 1962 (for two weeks). Coast-to-coast personal appearances and network television shows, including Dick Clark's, followed in quick succession.
A 15-track LP, "The Original Monster Mash", full of vampire stories and spooky dances ("Skully Gully", "Transsylvania Twist", "Sinister Stomp"), was rushed out and sold well, peaking at # 19 on the album charts. The follow-up single was "Monster's Holiday", a Christmas novelty from the pen of Charles Underwood, of "Ubangi Stomp" fame. It peaked at # 30 on the Billboard charts and was followed by one other chart entry, "Graduation Day" (# 88) in 1963. This was sung in his normal voice and without the middle name of 'Boris', which Bobby only used in connection with "Monster Mash". But it would remain his only "serious" record. "Blood Bank Blues", the next single (taken from the LP), flopped and was his last 45 on Garpax. Next he recorded unsuccessfully for RCA ("The Monster Swim", "Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette" and others).
In 1964 Los Angeles radio station KRLA hired Bobby to host a "monster" show on Saturday nights, from 9 p.m. to midnight. He played a number of characters in the show including Dracula, Karloff, Igor and Zombie the Surfer. His acting career started to take off and during the 1964-72 period he played in many TV series and a few feature films (as Bob Pickett). In 1970, "Monster Mash" was reissued on the Parrot label in the US and London (HLU 10320) in the UK. After a modest # 91 showing in Billboard in September 1970, it lay dormant for three years before it was a hit all over again : # 10 in the US and # 3 in the UK, where in 1962 the BBC had banned the song from the airwaves on the grounds of being "too morbid". For the second time, the record sold over one million copies.
In 1975 Pickett recorded a novelty spoof on Star Trek called "Star Drek" with Peter Ferrara, followed in 1976 by another duet with Ferrara, "King Kong (Your Song)", spoofing the King Kong movie remake of that year. "The Monster Rap" from 1985 was a sort of sequel to "Monster Mash". It describes the scientist's frustration at being unable to teach the monster how to talk. The problem is solved when he teaches the creature to rap. A movie musical based on "Monster Mash", starring Pickett in the role of Dr. Frankenstein, was released in 1995.
Bobby Pickett continued to perform until his death of leukemia in 2007 (aged 69). "Monster Mash" proved to have longevity beyond his passing, re-entering the UK charts in November 2008 at # 60.
Obituary : http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2007/may/01/guardianobituaries.usa
- Interviews with Pickett :
CD: "The Original Monster Mash" LP from 1962 was reissued on CD in 1991, with "Monster's Holiday" as a bonus track (Deram 844 147-2), but is now out of print. However, it became available as an mp3 download in 2009 (also on Spotify).
Acknowledgements : Fred Bronson, David McKee, Wikipedia and the anonymous liner notes for the Deram CD.
Dik, August 2012
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