Wednesday, December 24, 2008

INTERVIEW: Bobby Pickett (of Monster Mash fame)

The Original Monster MashThe Original Monster Mash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Halloween's "Monster Mash" - It's Bobby Pickett Time by El Jay Alexander

This interview was part of a series done as a sideline to a family trip. At that time, I had no idea I had come upon a bevvy of oldies music performers in a tiny town on the Mississippi River. I quickly took advantage of it and I secured multiple interviews.

The scene was Trempealeau, Wisconsin, late evening. Outside the great Mississippi River flowed, unmindful of the chaos going on along its banks.

Inside the historic Trempeleau Hotel, I sat at a table and watched the mass confusion. All around me people pushed and shoved, trying to get a glimpse of, and, if they were really lucky, a word and an autograph from their favorite oldies star. As a reporter, I'd been there awhile and had already met a good many of them, so I just waited for the fervor to die down to get into some more interviews.

In the midst of it all, Bobby Pickett walked by, leaving the autograph tables set up at the end of the room. He was tall, big, and grayish blond. We exchanged some innocuous comments and I asked if he would talk with me.

The only place that wasn't lined with people and noise was the performers' travel bus, so we went there. Once inside, it was a different world. I had seen these buses on TV, say, when a newscaster interviewed a performer who wouldn't fly . . . but I'd never seen one up-close-and-personal, and certainly not from the inside. It was, literally, a moving air-conditioned mini-hotel.

I had met Bobby earlier in the evening, in the same bus, while interviewing Tiny Tim. At that time, Bobby sat quietly in the corner listening and grinning at some of the wild things Tiny Tim said. Because of their many travels together, Bobby wasn't surprised at Tiny Tim's habit of putting "Miss" in front of my first name.

So as Bobby offered me a seat now, he teasingly called me "Miss Linda." Here was a man who'd had one major hit in his life, MONSTER MASH, yet as long as there was a Halloween, it was a certainty that Bobby Pickett would live on. Some folks knew his name, fewer knew his face, but when he opened his mouth and began to sing that song, he was instantly recognized. This fact appealed to me. It was grand-scale notoriety without excess hassles.

I asked about his background.

"Gosh," he answered, "I started doing impressions, a five-minute sketch on monster movies, in the fifties. On my way back from Korea on a troop transport ship, I sang with a group. There was a guy who did this thing to horror movies. He did Boris Karloff, and I thought I did Boris Karloff so much better, so I," he shrugged, "picked his brain. I asked where he got it and he said he ripped it off from Jack Carter. I told him then that I'd feel free to rip it off from him!"

He laughed heartily. "So I did. I left the Army and did these talent contests and always won. I went to Hollywood because I wanted to be an actor. Ironically, I ran into four guys from my hometown in Massachusetts. They were forming a singing group and I said I had experience. I started singing with them and one of the tunes we did was LITTLE DARLIN.' In the middle of that is a monolougue, so I asked the leader if I could do it as Boris Karloff. Every time, the audience cracked up.

"One night after a gig, he said we should do a novelty record with my Karloff voice, something like PURPLE PEOPLE EATERS. I said I wasn't interested; I was leaving the group to pursue my acting career, ya da ya da."

Bobby made a face. "A year went by and nothing happened in terms of that, so I called him and said I wanted to write that song. In May of 1962 we won't MONSTER MASH, in about three hours. We only knew one person in the music business, Gary Paxton, and we took it to him. He wanted to produce it and later in May we did it. In less than two hours, tracks were down. In two days, it was done."

At this point, his expression was of remembered disbelief. "I didn't think it would go anywhere. I said I wanted a few copies because I had friend who loved Boris Karloff, then I left. I had no idea it would catch on. I just thought it was something to do." The amazement became more evident in his friendly eyes. "But within eight weeks it was Number One."

I added that it had never been forgotten since.

"It was a shock!" he agreed.

Did it amaze him still, to this day, to be somewhere around Halloween, and hear it played?

"Not anymore. My dad says I've become the Guy Lombardo of Halloween. MONSTER MASH is the National Anthem of Halloween." He grinned, pure mischief in his features." So now I kind of expect it and get upset if I DON'T hear it."

We talked for a good deal of time in that trailer, sitting on the banks of the Mississippi. We discussed his life when his hit song isn't providing his bread and butter, and he informed me that, finally, he has been able to work at his first true love, acting. In the sixties, he did a lot of episodic TV. Now he lives in Boston, is single, and acts regularly with Nick's Stage One Theatre.

Bobby Pickett was such a pleasant man. The perfect gentleman. Of all the interviews I did that evening, he was undoubtedly the most enjoyable. After all the years of hearing the MONSTER MASH, it was a joy to learn that the person behind that voice seemed as down-to-earth as Mom, Apple Pie, AND Chevrolet.

My hat's off to you, Bobby Pickett! It's time again to do THE MONSTER MASH. Every year at this time, Miss Linda will remember our interview.

El Jay Alexander - AUTHOR'S NOTE, 2008: Bobby Pickett died on April 25 of 2007. The man behind the Monster Mash has been silenced in life . . . but he lives on every October! I still think of you, Bobby, when I hear your infamous song!

El Jay Alexander, enjoyed the entertainment scene of the 'seventies. After doing the hustle, watching the Mod Squad, and listening to the Monkees and the Herman's Hermits on her Duster's car radio, El Jay grew up to interview and write about the people who engaged her imagination . . . those entertainers. These days, she sometimes does the entertaining herself through her own writing. El Jay appreciates all the reprints, as long as this bio box is included.

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