Re-introducing the legendary Gary S. Paxton

gary & vicki

In the course of producing this very ambitious documentary on the world’s most misunderstood garage rock song, I’ve met some exceptional human beings that I’m very proud to call my friends. Sometimes, I’m able to help these friends find one another.

After Richard Berry left Flip Records, where he recorded LOUIE LOUIE back in 1957, he linked up with record producer Gary S. Paxton to create some wonderful music that was released by Warner Brothers, Garpax, and Paxley record companies. Up until recently, you’d have to spend some serious time scouting for these semi-obscure recordings, which usually sold for top dollar in the Goldmine or eBay collector circles. In the course of my LOUIE travels and research, I’m fortunate to have found a solid ally with Gary, who’s opened his doors to my project, sharing stories and music from a period that has been mostly ignored.

Introducing Gary to my friends at Ace Records has been a wonderful experience for all involved. Richard’s old singles have been re-mastered from the original tapes, and released as part of the “HAVE LOUIE WILL TRAVEL” collection, and Gary’s massive tape archives have digitized with loving care by someone that truly recognizes the value of this massive collection. My friend Alec Palao has become the perfect collaborator for documenting Gary’s legacy, releasing all sorts of delicious nuggets from the Paxton library with the dedication it desperately needed. In the past few years, Alec has overseen some magnificent Ace reissues of Paxton-produced music from Clarence White (Byrds), the Gosdin Brothers, Guilbeau & Parsons, and various other compilations.

Right now, Ace Records is getting ready to release “Hollywood Maverick,” a compilation that focuses solely on the career of Gary S. Paxton. Here’s the official press release for the collection, courtesy of the man who’s assembled this production, Mr. Alec Palao:

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 – personages. Humble to a fault, the quixotic individual known as Gary Sanford Paxton has no idea of his remarkable position within the pantheon of 1960s Hollywood record men. While the Phil Spectors 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 a signal fact – he very likely either wrote, arranged, performed upon, sang upon, engineered, A&R’d or published any item that has his name on in. In most cases it was a combination of several or all of these elements. There was absolutely no-one else in the American record industry like him. There still isn’t.

Paxton is best known for directing the novelty smashes ‘Alley-Oop’ and ‘Monster Mash’, but he was already a veteran of the charts as half of the duo Skip & Flip. He set up shop 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. Ace has released various volumes dedicated to those areas, as well as the superb country-rock recordings Gary later made in Bakersfield, but Paxton’s career has never been brought into true perspective until now. The brand new, definitive anthology Hollywood Maverick documents the oddball genius of Paxton’s glory years from 1958 to 1965, as he confounded a skeptical record industry by scoring major hits in the most unusual manner.

Along with the well-known items, a large quota of tracks on Hollywood Maverick 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 the earliest recordings of Gary S Paxton himself from the rockabilly Pledges via Skip & Flip and the Hollywood Argyles, to some of the rare singles he cut under his own name for Liberty and other labels. Also featured are early and/or obscure recordings by Paxton associates like Leon Russell, David Gates, Sky Saxon, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Dorothy Berry, Ron Holden and a host of other future luminaries. 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.

However, as notable as the music is, Hollywood Maverick is as much about how it came to be, at least for me. 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. 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 of 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, including many hours spent copying tapes at Gary and his lovely wife Vicki Sue’s palatial digs overlooking the lake in the cultural hotspot that is Branson, Missouri. What most other people might have regarded as a chore, has been in fact one of the highlights of my archiving career, especially with the great man himself assisting and providing a running commentary on the music into the bargain. 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.

Flip Hits

Right as I was typing up this entry, I noticed that Ace Records has just released a new collection of tracks that feature Richard Berry and other artists from the Flip Records label. “12 FLIP HITS,” a very rare album that usually goes for hundreds of dollars has now been re-configured as a CD entitled “FLIP HITS!… PLUS FLIP MISSES!.” This sounds like an excellent introduction to great music! Would you believe it even includes previously unreleased music, and liner notes by noted historian (and friend) Jim Dawson? Believe it!

Just to bring it all full circle, my thanks go out to Steve Propes, who along with Jim Dawson, wrote a fantastic book entitled “What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record.” Steve was the man that provided me with information on how to track down Gary. It’s a small world indeed!

For those of you that would like to buy this CD, the upcoming Gary S. Paxton CD, or any other music CDs via the internet, I’d to remind you that the links to Amazon and CD Universe will provide this website with a token sales commission.

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P.S. Gary S. Paxton also produced the very first album by Paul Revere & the Raiders before they were part of the Columbia/CBS empire. Having heard the original masters, I can assure you they sound much better than scratchy old vinyl copies of the original Gardena album. If you’d like to see this album reissued, I’d like to encourage you to drop a line to both Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay. From what I’ve been told, Sundazed is ready to release the CD, but has been waiting for the proper go-ahead…

15 comments to Re-introducing the legendary Gary S. Paxton

  • Gary Myers

    How do I move the search stuff that covers the writing on the left hand side of the page? I can’t read the Paxton story.

  • EP

    Thank you for mentioning this. Sometimes, what looks good on one web browser looks terrible on another. What I tried to do was wrap the text around the photo, which apparently doesn’t look that good for those with Windows 98, MS IE browsers. I’m still hoping I’ll be able to do this, but it’s a trial by experiment, as I’ve never taken any HTML courses. In the meantime, I’m looking for an alternative to my usual text wrap command. (/ align=”LEFT”/)

  • Terry Phillips

    Hopefully someone will put this kind of love and dedication into Gary’s gospel music work as well. He is truly the master of many fields.

  • Mike Stanley

    Gary S. Paxton is truly an incredible human being. I have been fortunate enough to sing with him on occasion and just spoke in person with him yesterday. What a lift in my day! Very humble man and this commentary only begins to do justice to his life as a writer and producer. Thanks Gary S. Paxton for all you do. God Bless!

  • Sandi

    Gary Paxton was married to my mother in the very early 70s and stole everything we owned and moved to Tennesse, never to hear from him again.

  • dan betzer

    I have had the joy of knowing Gary for nearly 30 years. He produced an album for me a quarter-century ago, still the best album I ever made as a gospel singer. He has been in our home many times. Recently I spoke at the seminary in Springfield, Missouri, and was stunned to see my old friend walk through the door just to say “hello.” Thanks for your great article on him.
    Dan Betzer / Senior Pastor / First Assembly Ministries / Fort Myers, Fl

  • Joan Hutchinson

    Flip & Skip are the only band I can find that did a song with “Cherry Pie” in the lyrics for 1960ish…. But I am looking for the lady backup singers for said band, any ideas???

  • Al Crandall

    I used to help Gary and Clyde load and unload equipment for dances they played in Sierra Vista, AZ when they were the Pledges. I always remember them as the best live music I had ever seen. They good people too.

  • Charlie Davis

    Hi Gary;
    I don’t know if you will remember me but I was in your group in Tucson. I went to Amphi Hi with you in the fifty’s. If you remember me please respond to this email. I have often wondered what you were doing, so I looked you up on the net.

    Best Regards

    Charlie Davis
    [email protected]
    609 Torrey Pines Rd.
    Banning, Ca. 92220

  • frank

    Not to take away too much from Paxton but he kind of goes out his way not to mention that the guy who actually sang Alley Oop was named Norm Davis. Norm was paid only 25 dollars for his work on the single. He’s currently working at Writers and Books in Rochester, New York.

  • rob cullivan

    Let’s set the record straight. Norm Davis has never personally contended he sang lead on “Alley Oop.” He merely stated it was a possibility because he recalled the session as one that involved everyone taking turns on the lead. As he has said to me with his inimitable chuckle, “I did a few ‘oops’ on there.” So Paxton partisans can relax, no one has tried to steal his thunder, it’s just a story that’s gotten exaggerated over the years, as stories tend to do.

  • Frank

    Listen to the sound of Norm speaking sometime. If he didn’t sing lead, who did? Whose voice is more like the lead on that record than Norm’s?

  • petepittman

    As the song title goes by SKIP & FLIP, Brent-7002, “It Was I,” who provided Steve Propes, with the know how to reach Gary S.Paxton, back when I interviewed Gary for DISCoveries magazine. Gary told me, in so many words, “it’d be cooler to use “PETER,” instead of Pete. So I did, lol. So in the DISCoveries article and Wayne Janick’s book it’s Peter Pittman. I conducted said, interview, if my memory serves me correct in summer 1992. So in Eileen Sisk’s Buck Owen’s biography, that’s me in acknowledgement, Pete(r)Pittman. The piece in the Owens’ tome on Paxton had never been published. AND, I STILL have parts of that interview that’s never seen the light of day. You read Sisk’s book I’m refering to Bakersfield days. Thereks probably a hundred or so pages that have never been printed. AND I will give props to Propes who gave some titles I didn’t have on Gary S, as I have an extensive discography that I did for his book, that the late Kate Landers Paxton worked so hard on! So now you know.

  • petepittman

    Oh, sorry, Wayne Janick’s book is entitled, ONE HIT WONDERS.

  • Larry L. Wagner

    Gary S. Paxton was such an inspiration to us as our family was all young and growing up During the 60’s&70’s. We played the LP’s over and over…so uplifting and happy we were all worshiping The Lord. I haved learned Gary is having a lot of health problems and Vickie has her hands full with everything going on.
    If Gary’s music has touched your heart over the years this is the time for us to step up and all pray Gary and Vickie Sue. Please do and God will also bless You!

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