The Monster Mash
"They did the Mash." ("They did the Monster Mash!") "The Monster Mash." ("It was a graveyard smash!") "They did the Mash." ("It caught on in a flash").
Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church star in Alexander Payne's "Sideways."
(Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures)
It's been 42 years since The Monster Mash was first released.
Friend and record producer Gary Paxton gave Robert George Pickett the Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the CryptKickers moniker in deference to Boris Karloff, whose horror movies a young Bobby used to go see at the movie theater his father managed in Somerville, Mass.
After his discharge from the Army in 1961 Paxton became a member of a vocal group called The Cordials and tried his hand at show business. He would do impersonations between songs, often imitating the voice of Boris Karloff. Bandmate Lenny Capizzi suggested the pair take advantage of the novelty song craze that was prevalent in the early sixties so they wrote a song around Pickett's imitation of the horror movie star. And they recorded it.
On Oct. 30, 1962, the novelty song became the number one hit record in the U.S., just in time for Halloween. Over the years the record has been released three times, earning three gold records and selling an estimated four million copies.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett, "the Guy Lombardo of Halloween," emerged from the Golden Oldies crypt to be online Friday, Oct. 29, at 3 p.m. ET to conjure up the ghosts and goblins of Allhallows Eve. So drop by the graveyard and talk to the monster man himself.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Bobby, thanks for being with us today on washingtonpost.com. It's Halloween eve time and "The Monster Mash" is being played all over the country. Did you ever think doing Boris Karloff impersonations would bring you this much fame? That your novelty record would have this much of a life?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: In a word, no. I thought it would be a fun thing to do one Saturday afternoon in 1962. So it wrote itself in about half an hour.
Do you still perform the song on stage?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I do indeed. This weekend I perform in Santa Clarita, Calif., at Molar Manor whereupon I shall be presented with the Stake to the City by the mayor.
San Diego, Calif.:
Was Lenny Capizzi the bass player
in the band? I've often felt that bass players think too much, but what a great idea Lenny had! What's his Halloween nickname? Did he help with the lyrics at all? THANKS!!YOU RULE!
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Lenny Capizzi did not play bass. He was a singer and songwriter. He did not sing on Monster Mash, he was only the co-writer along with me. Lenny liked to call himself The Raven.
I just had to join this chat to say that the "Monster Mash" was the first record I ever bought. I just wore out the grooves on it.
But a question: The intro to this chat says your backup group was named the CryptKickers. I seem to recall that they were originally billed as the CryptKicker 5. Which is right??
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Both. Within the lyric of the song they're referred to as the CryptKicker 5. On the record label they were called the CryptKickers. It was on Garpax Records, distributed by London Records. It was originally rejected by four major labels including London. What happened after that was Gary Paxton dropped off the record at different radio stations in central California while I sent one back to WCOP in Boston to my friend deejay Tom Evans. The response was immediate and in great magnitude. The phones lit up and from that point everybody in the music business knew the record was going to be, pun intended, a "monster."
The response was so great that London realized they'd made a mistake by turning it down so they came back to Gary Paxton (producer/arranger and one of the CryptKickers and piano on the cut because Leon Russell showed up late for the session). Then London make Gary an offer he could not refuse.
I've received a few e-mails from friends about this new "Monster Slash" flash presentation, which I thought was pretty funny. How were you involved with this?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I did the voice. I sang it or rapped, whatever you want to call it. I am in accord with the philosophy of saving the forests in America.
I can't help but think you've played
a few bizarre shows over the years. What are
some of the most memorable shows you've done
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: One was at Universal Studios in the early '90s. It was a huge production number with lots of dancing monsters behind me.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Aren't you more like the Doctor 'Dre of
Halloween? I don't think of your material
as being in the fashion of Guy Lombardo. In fact, The MONSTER MASH is extremely urbane and cool, with little to do with the big band era.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: That's a nickname that my dear departed dad gave me because he grew up in an era when Guy Lombardo represented New Year's and the analogy was that I was representing Halloween. But I'm flattered to be compared with Dr. Dre., because Monster Mash, after all, is one of the grandparents of rap music.
Mr. Pickett, what's your take on today's popular music; Rap, Hip-Hop, C/W, and who are your all-time favorite male and female vocalists?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I'm not really that familiar with popular music today. I prefer classical and jazz.
I like Sting, Bill Withers and for females I like Diana Krall, Norah Jones.
One thing I always liked about "Monster Mash" was, besides its novelty lyrics, is it's great melody. Too many novelty songs seem to just forget about making the song good. "Monster Mash" on its own is a great song. How long did it take to create and record this song?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: The song wrote itself in a half hour and it took less than a half hour to record it.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Did you ever play on the same bill
with the Bobby Fuller Four? Anything worth
mentioning about that band? From the period,
which bands from the early sixties do you consider the best?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I don't believe I did. My favorite band was the Beatles.
Hi Bobby: thanks for creating an enduring classic song.
I heard the following story many years ago. Around Halloween of 1972 (or thereabouts), you were working as a cab driver when someone walked up to you and said, "Hey, I just heard your song on the radio." -- A complete shock to you.
Truth or fiction?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Fiction. I got a phone call in the middle of the night from Kim Fowley (longtime music businessman) and he read the Bill Gavin Report which said the record was rising rapidly on the charts and I had no idea it had been rereleased. So I stopped driving the cab, called London Records and the head of the company took me to lunch at the Scotch and Sirloin (restaurant in N.Y.) and told me how happy he was to have been able to call me and tell me that the record was doing well. I kept my mouth shut. I let him believe that this was actually the truth when it never happened. Fowley was the one to call me.
There was a disk jockey named Danny Dark in Indiana or somewhere in the midwest and he played the record and the phones kept lighting up and he told the London Records promotion man that the company should rerelease the record. Simultaneously it started getting play across the country but that's where it began. And when it made enough noise, the company rereleased the record.
Las Vegas, Nev.:
How old were you when you recorded Monster Mash?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: 24.
Bobby, when you first recorded "Monster Mash", did you have any idea that your record would still be played on the radio 42 years later? What were your expectations then?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I had no expectations and I didn't expect it to be anything but a laugh for friends and family. I never expected it to be played on the radio.
Love your song.
I also love a song called "Dinner with Drac" by John Zacherle. I always thought it came out around the same time as "Monster Mash."
Do you know John Zacherle, and do you like and remember "Dinner with Drac"?
Thanks, Frank in Fairfax
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I met John Zacherle once in the lobby of a movie theater in New York City. I used to love his TV show and I enjoyed his recording.
Long Beach, Calif.:
Who were the backup vocalists on "MONSTER MASH"? Their voices are evocative of the vocals on "Mr.Sandman".
Is that coincidence? They were so good on
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Their names were Gary Paxton, Johnny McRae and Ricki Paige. Two tenors and a girl.
Are you the same Bobby Pickett who worked with Carolyn Trojanowski, an L.A. singing teacher? She started the Musical Productions Theater and we put on a couple of potpourris of musicals at the Pilgrimage Theater in the 60s. Richard Chamberlain, Brenda Thomson and Keith Andes were also involved in the productions. So was I. If you are that Bobby Pickett, I'd enjoy hearing from you.
Barbara Fussmann, formerly Barbara Gordon.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I remember you very well. Tall, brunette with a wonderful voice. Danke Schoen.
You're from Somerville? I lived on North Street for six years, near Powderhouse Blvd., and went to Somerville theater a lot (and Steve's Ice Cream). I had the 45 rpm of the Mash as a kid.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: And what was the question?
Long Beach/San Pedro, Calif. :
As a life-long fan of Monster
Mash, I'd like to point out that a hilarious
"roots of rap" geneology tree has "Monster
Mash" as a full branch on the tree, equal
to Walter Brennan to Leonard Nimoy, and
You rule Boris, and
were a full generation ahead of the curve.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I'm honored and privileged.
Have you done other novelty records since?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Many. Star Drek, King Kong Your Song, Godfather's Respect, Monster Rap, Monster Twist, the Transylvania Twist and many more. Check out my Web site, www.themonstermash.com.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Have you ever met Dr. Demento? What do you think of him?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Dr. Demento is a very good friend. I did his 20th anniversary show for Comedy Central. He's been a friend and a supporter for many years.
I think of MM as a sort of prelude to what Weird Al has done & is doing - what do you think of his stuff & do you see the similarities?- Jimbob
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I'm a big fan and friend of Al's. I love his stuff and he told me that I was an inspiration to him in his youth.
Heard you on Don and Mike a couple days ago. I really thought "Monster Slash" was great. Are you planning any other remakes of Monster Mash?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: In a word, no.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Although I'm very proud of a song I did entitled It's Alive, produced and arranged by Frank Heller. It is on my Buried Treasures CD, available off of my Web site.
New York, N.Y.:
Were you ever invited to perform "Monster Mash" at The White House? and if not, would you like to have President Karry invite you sometime and proclaim "Monster Mash" to be the official "National Anthem of Halloween"?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: No. Almost got to the Clinton White House but not quite. And "absolutely" to the second part of your question.
Did you ever meet Boris Karloff? If so, what was his reaction when he was introduced to you? Had he ever heard of Monster Mash?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Although we had the same theatrical agent I never met the great man but I am in touch with his daughter Sarah and she told me that he loved the record but didn't think it sounded a bit like him.
What happened to the CryptKickers? Are they still performing anywhere?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Gary Paxton is living in Branson, Mo., writing, producing. I don't know about Johnny and Ricki.
Is Gary Paxton any relation to the folk singer Tom Paxton?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: No.
Just saw the original "Mummy" on Turner the other day. Made me realize just how good your impression of Karloff was!
So here's my question: if you grew up in Somerville, Mass., you undoubtedly are a Red sox fan. Did you ever think this day would come? Just interested in the opinion of an entertainer who grew up in the stronghold of The Nation.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I've been waiting since I was ten years old -- since 1948 which was thirty years after the won the World Series in 1918. I only wish my dear departed parents were alive to celebrate. They were big fans.
Bobby: you did Star Drek? Planet Schwartz!
You are indeed a god.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: You're too kind.
You've fooled me for YEARS! I always thought it was Boris Karloff himself who sang, "The Monster Mash!" You are GOOD!
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Thank you.
Have you ever been to a "One Hit Wonder" party? That is, parties where the music they play is by bands that only had one song that made it.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Since I had two hits and a hit album, I exclude myself from that club. (Monsters' Holiday and the album was called The Original Monster Mash)
What an absolutely wonderful record. I loved it as a teen when it first came out, and I played it on the radio as a DJ in its subsequent rereleases.
One of my favorite radio bits was to drop the vocal track out of the song, then have people call in to the station and record a verse at a time. We'd splice 'em all together over the track and... PRESTO!.. . home grown mash!!!
The resultant recording of six or seven people all trying to "out-Boris" one another was hilarious!!
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: That sounds like a fun idea to me.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Re: Universal Studios, I recall an excellent show with singing monsters. Were you one of the regular performers, or was that a one time or limited shows performance?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: No. It was one-time thing.
Santa Cruz, Calif.:
I have a copy of Star Drek, but didn't know it was done by you. That's a really funny 45. How did that come about?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Peter Ferrara and I came up with the idea and did it.
If you never worked another day in your life, would the royalties from Monster mash be enough to support you? Are we talking big bucks here? Six figures a year perhaps?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Let's just say that it has paid the rent for 43 years.
Were you surprised by the song's popularity? Why do you think it still appeals to fans today?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: The monster theme is eternal. It will be always be with us. The combination of myself, Lenny and Gary was a magical one -- not to mention the wonderful musicians that played on the record.
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: My book will be published in the spring. It's called "Monster Mash: Half Alive in Hollywood." It's my memoir, my autobiography.
Thank you for the questions and I want all of you little monsters out there to have a safe and Happy Halloween.