[Warning: Graphic Holocaust imagery ahead. Which really has nothing to do with this week’s artist, but…well, you’ll see.]
This week’s weird act was suggested by reader jlrake, who wrote in with all sorts of worthy weirdo contenders. We’re going with Gary S. Paxton because he’s responsible for one of the most
popular overplayed Halloween songs of all time and a catchy little tune called “Vote Em Out Boogie,” both of which seemed pretty apropos for this week. If only he’d written a song about hurricanes, we’d be hitting the timeliness trifecta.
Throughout his 40-plus year career, Paxton has been a master of the novelty song. His very first hit, “Alley Oop,” was a Coasters-style R&B goof about a caveman from a popular comic strip, recorded with fellow nutjob Kim Fowley and a thrown-together group called The Hollywood Argyles. He followed that up with the revered/reviled Halloween party staple, “Monster Mash,” which he produced with singer Bobby “Boris” Pickett in 1962. But surprisingly, his music really took a turn for the weird after he converted to Christianity in 1970. His early Jesus stuff was fairly conventional, easy-listening ’70s gospel—like his most successful Christian song, the oft-covered “He Was There All the Time.” But his Amish-on-steroids facial hair was a clue that the dude behind “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” was, well, there all the time.
That dude—the Paxton who would eventually start wearing, y’know, gold boots and masks with his initials on them—really busted out on his second gospel album, More From the Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable Gary S. Paxton (a sequel, obviously, to The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable, Different World of Gary S. Paxton). Alongside more conventional Bible-belt fodder like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were such immortal Paxton originals as “Jesus Is My Lawyer in Heaven,” “When the Meat Wagon Comes for You” and my personal favorite, “There Goes a Cigar Smoking a Man.” If Bible Camp had been more like this, I might have gone for more than one weekend.
Paxton’s next album, Terminally Weird/But Godly Right, further cemented his status as sort of a Christian cross (Jesus pun!) between Randy Newman and Wavy Gravy: a lovable but irascible old hippie writing catchy little songs that were easy to dismiss as silly but full of sly social satire to anyone who was paying attention. You can listen to excerpts of the whole thing on The Pax’s website. We recommend starting with “Fat, Fat Christians.”
A bizarre and tragic event nearly ended Paxton’s life in 1980. He was living in Nashville at the time and producing a lot of country artists. Depending on which version of the story you believe (Paxton’s, or that of his current wife, Vicki Sue Roberts), Paxton was shot three or five times by two hitmen hired to kill him over a contract dispute with a country singer he was working with. He survived, only to run into troubles with the IRS and develop a near-fatal case of hepatitis C. Oh, and he might have also had an affair with Tammy Faye Bakker. So the ’80s were a particularly odd time for The Paxman.
Since 1999, Paxton has lived in Branson, Missouri with Roberts, where he by all accounts (well, his and Vicki’s) keeps a fairly low profile. He can’t perform any more because of his health problems, but that hasn’t stopped him from churning out a steady stream of increasingly bizarre novelty songs, including “When I Die Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart” and “Frankenclone” (The Pax does house music!). He also does the occasional conservative wingnut screed, but he’s old and white and lives in Missouri, so we’ll let that slide.
So Happy Halloween and Happy Almost-Election Day, My Gary S. “Monster Mash/Obamascare” Paxton! We hope you’re still keeping it weird in Branson, even if we also hope “Vote ‘Em Out Boogie” only applies to the Tea Party and not our boy Barack. He’s not perfect, but Romney and Ryan scare the shit out of us.
Most of Paxton’s weirdest stuff sadly is unavailable on YouTube, but we did rather enjoy the zany lyrics (though not, it must be noted, the gratuitous use of gruesome Holocaust imagery—sorry about that part) of this little pro-gun ditty. You’re totally right, Gary, no handgun ever drove itself to a schoolyard. All inanimate objects are inherently harmless! C4 and hand grenades for everyone! And anyone who disagrees is Hitler.
- Gary S. Paxton official site
- Lu-Pax Entertainment (label run by Paxton and Jim Lusk, home to “Obamascare” and “Vote ‘Em Out Boogie”)