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.
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 LouieLouie.net links to Amazon and CD Universe will provide this website with a token sales commission.
* * * * * * *
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…