If someone had told the late Bob Pickett in early 1962 that his impersonation of Boris Karloff would be paying his rent 33 years later, he wouldn't have believed them. That it would hit the international charts more than once, and become a revered classic, most likely never occurred to Bob and his partner, Lenny Capizzi, on the afternoon that their gem "Monster Mash" practically wrote itself. That he would soon be gigging at record hops and on American Bandstand, and have his classic recorded by the "Cool Ghoul" John Zacherle, was too much to imagine. Not to mention guest appearances on the Steve Allen Show, Beat The Odds, and The Dating Game.

Little did this theatre manager's son from Somerville, Massachusetts (who was raised on a diet of classic horror films), realize that 33 years later, he would still be doing "Dear Boris" and playing his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, in Frankenstein Sings.

Frankenstein Sings (Monster Mash - the Movie) could qualify as one of the few monster musicals. (Ray Dennis Steckler's Incredible Strange Creatures becomg the first im 1963.) Based on a 1967 stage play Sorry The Bridge Is Out, You'll Have To Stay The Night, written by Pickett and Sheldon Allman, it pre-dates The Rocky Horror Show by six years. Frankenstein Sings is a delightful seven-song romp (which includes "Monster Mash"), released by Prism Home Video.

The story is a well familiar one, with a cast of classic monsters that will please young and old alike. Two teenagers just happen to have car trouble near Castle Frankenstein on All Hallows Eve! They are greeted by a reluctant Igor, and Pickett as a superb musically-minded Dr. Frankenstein, who, of course, is after the ever elusive brain. Bobby sings and dances with all the characters from his records in the slightly sexy, family-suitable musical monster revue.

This has been a big rental at Halloween, and a sure seller year round.

In May of 1995 Speeding Bullet (Cult Movies Number 14) was debuted at "The Son of Famous Monsters Con" at the Universal Sheraton Hotel in Studio City. This was a huge monster shindig with actors, artists, vendors, and panel discussions spread over four days. One day I was strolling through the dealers room, and sitting at a table adorned with stills, buttons, and CDs was Bobby Pickett. My mind flashed to summer of 1962 in the High Sierras at summer camp, where "Monster Mash" was truly the hit of the land. Late nights spent with a crackling transistor radio waiting for the DJ to spin our favorite platter, and now I was standing in front of Bobby "Boris" himself.

I introduced myself, picked out a photo for him to sign, and mustered up the courage to mention that a band I was in had done a cover version of "Monster Mash,: and the booker at The Central (now the Viper Room) had booked us because he liked our version. Much to my surprise, he responded positively, and this gave me the confidence to ask him for an interview, to which he agreed - with only one proviso, that the interview be done by phone at the crack of dawn. This seemed reasonable, for most of the monsters I knew returned to their crypts by dawn.

Armed with my trusty wireless pone, pad and paper, cassette recorder, and a 16 oz cup of joe, on a foggy June morning Bob Pickett reminisced about his life and career.

PICKETT: When I was in the Army in Korea in 1957, I was on my way back from a year and a half tour. On the ship we came back on, they were putting together a show. There were these three or four black guys who were singing doo-wop and a cappella stuff, and they needed a bass/baritone, so I became a member of that group. That's when I started singing. After I got out of the Army I was doing stand-up comedy and impressions that included Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It was a four minute segment in the middle of my stand-up where I would do these impressions. My father was a theatre manager in Sommerville, Massachusetts, so I got to see all the classic horror films, all the Frankensteins, Draculas, and the Mummys, plus gems like The Black Cat and The Raven. It was only natural that I worked Karloff and Lugosi into my stand-up act.

I was gigging in Hollywood in 1961 when I ran into these four Italian guys I grew up with in Sommerville. They were forming an a cappella doo-wop group called The Cordials. We used to sing around L.A. for our suppers. We'd sing in a place called Alvolturno's on Pico Boulevard on Friday nights. We sang in the parking lot of Ben Frank's - wherever we could get a paying gig. One weekend we were singing on the beach and this girl came by and said, "My old man produces records, he did "Alley Oop." He would love you guys! He'll get you a record contract." She gave us a card, and Lenny Capizzi, who was the leader of The Cordials called him, and we auditioned for him. He signed us to a contract, and we recorded as The Cordials.

It was pretty unprofessional and slipshod from my point of view. Rehearsals were always screwed up; no one would be on time. Lenny was a musical genius, but he was completely unreliable and did not take care of details. He couldn't keep it together with the things you need to do to succeed in the music business. Later on, he got into drugs, and about five years ago he O.D.'d. The good news is his widow and child are getting all of his royalties. It's amazing the record company was reputable and honest all the way.

The strange thing was, that "Monster Mash" was lost in the archives, after London was absorbed by Polygram. They didn't realize they had it.

JAH: What musical instruments do you play?

PICKETT: I play jazz flute today as a hobby, and I used to play guitar. In those days I was not a musician. I came out to California to be an actor. I got into The Cordials because there was nothing going on for me in acting.

The whole monster angle originates from me seeing these monster movies over and over again. That's how I really got brainwashed with the whole monster craze; that's why I gravitated toward acting.

JAH: That's a good way of putting it!

PICKETT: All the kids love those films! Any time a monster movie was coming around, it would generate excitement for weeks before the play dates! Those Realart reissues of the classic monster movies, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy, in the late 40's, early 50's, were the high points. I also loved those William Castle road show extravaganzas, with things like Emergo in House On Haunted Hill, and the buzzing seats in things like The Tingler.

JAH: How was "Monster Mash" written?

PICKETT: An interesting question. I was talking with David Somerville of The Diamonds the other day, and this is the second time I've told this story. The Cordials used to do "Little Darlin'" by The Diamonds. In the monologue in the middle of the song, he says "Darlin' I need you, to hold in mine your little hand." So I said to Lenny, the leader of The Cordials, "Let me do this rap as Boris Karloff!" He said, "Great idea!" So we sing the song, and I do Boris Karloff, and the audience would split up. One night after a set, Lenny said, "You know, novelty records sell big time. We ought to do a novelty record with that voice." I didn't think much of the idea of writing songs at the time, but after a year of attempting to get acting jobs, I threw caution to the wind, and tried songwriting with Lenny. I couldn't get an agent, because I hadn't done anything. So I said to Lenny, "Let's go ahead and write that novelty song, just as a side project, because there's nothing going on." So he said, "Yeah, come over Saturday." I go over at the designated time, and of course he's asleep. I have to wake him up.

After he was acceptably awake, he sat at the piano and started playing this four chord progression. He said, "What do you think of this riff?" I said, "I don't know, but maybe we should base something on the monster getting up and doing the latest dance." We were just kind of getting into the groove. We just started off with that. At that time, I thought the Twist was the latest dance, but Lenny said, "No, it's the Mashed Potato." So I said, "That's even better - we can call it the Monster Mashed Potato. We shortened it to "Monster Mash." The song literally wrote itself, and we presented it to Gary Paxton, who proclaimed it a hit, on just a piano with my voice, on an old mono tape recorder.

It was an amazing time to be cutting records. The day we cut "Monster Mash," Herb Alpert was in the same studio cutting "Brave Bull," and Jimmy Rogers was recording his hit, "Honeycomb," at the studio, too. My attitude toward this project was, "Yeah, sure it's a hit - just give me a check and some copies for my friends and family, and I'll be happy."

Gary Paxton did all the audio effects, like the straw in a glass of water to get that bubbling lab sound. Gary pulled the rusty nail out of a board to get the coffin creaking sound; he dragged chains across the linoleum floor to get the chain effects. My part of the record was done in a half hour. The basic track was bass, drums and piano, and I did my vocals in thirty minutes. In the recent movie Halloween 3 they did a punk rock version of it.

The flip side of "Monster Mash" featured Leon Russell playing piano. He was not on "Monster Mash," just the flip side. He had shown up to the session late, and we had already finished "Monster Mash." The B side of "Monster Mash" was "Monster Mash Party."

JAH: So where were you when you first heard "Monster Mash" on the radio?

PICKETT: After "Monster Mash" was mixed, Gary Paxton took the tracks around to all the major labels, and they all turned it down. So he pressed up 500 records on his own label, GARPAX. He drove northward from Los Angeles, stopping in Ventura, Bakersfield, and Fresno counties, handing out copies of "Monster Mash" to D.J.'s. The response was overwhelming. By the time Gary got back to Southern California, his phone had been lighting up like a Christmas tree.

London Records, which was one of the outfits that had turned him down, called and said they had changed their mind, of course. The records were being ordered on a massive level.

The first time I heard it was in Los Angeles on radio station KFWB. This was the Top Ten station in L.A. at the time. I had been told it was breaking in Northern California. I had sent a copy of "Monster Mash" to a D.J. friend of mine in Boston, who worked at WCOP, a guy named Tom Evans. He was playing it on the East Coast and getting the same results, so it kind of broke simultaneously on both coasts. KFWB, they never played anything that they didn't think was going to be a hit.

JAH: Well, that was Top Ten radio in those days.

PICKETT: Contrary to popular belief, we did not rush right back into the studio to produce the follow-up single. Gary, like Lenny, was not a terribly professional individual. So, there would always be delays in the areas of promotion and recording dates. By the time we had finished "Monsters Holiday" and "Monster Motion" (the second single), John Zacherle on Cameo Parkway records had sold 40,000 units of an album called Monster Mash. I blamed Gary and I blamed London Records for not getting an L.P. out to follow up the two singles. Getting Gary and me into the studio was a laborious process. Once we got there, it was done in a rush, and it was slipshod. It was amazing that anything got done at all.

The problem was, as soon as "Monster Mash" hit Number 1, London Records wanted an album. John Zacherle and Cameo Parkway beat us to the punch with their Monster Mash album.

JAH: This obviously pressured you and Lenny Capizzi into dreaming up nine or ten tracks to fill out an album featuring the "Monster Mash."

PICKETT: We worked intensively to come up with an album in two or three days. It was a real struggle. We had the two singles to base the album on. We brought our album out two or three weeks after Zacherle's, and entitled it, The Original Monster Mash.Even though we had been beaten to the punch, our Monster Mash album got into the Top 100. Eventually, it did better than the Cameo Parkway Zacherle release.

JAH: Were you sent on tour by the record company?

PICKETT: Gary Paxton sent us out on the road. He started booking me at record hops, and little mini concert things. I started up in northern Maine, I did New Jersey, and Boston, New York. I always used the house band, wherever it was. Much like Chuck Barry. I'd hit town, teach the band the chord changes and my entire act, and we'd go on stage and do it! At that time my repertoire was a medley of my songs and one other number. The one other number would be something like "Hang On Sloopy." This was like a fifteen minute set, where I just did a medley of my hits. I didn't tour extensively. These things didn't require it. A few days here and there.

One of the London Records promotion men, a guy named George Sherlock, ran into Boris Karloff at Wallach's Music City as he was buying a copy of the Monster Mash album. Karloff told him he loved the record. Karloff later did his version of the "Monster Mash" on Shindig for their Halloween show of 1965. George Sherlock was the guy that the Rolling Stones wrote about on the B side of their single, "Satisfaction." The song was called "The Underassistant West Coast Promo Man."

JAH: Did you ever get the 'Screaming Girls' syndrome, like Beatlemania?

PICKETT: Yeah, to a degree. People who heard it regarded it as a novelty record. Yet I appeared twice on American Bandstand when the single was hot. Then 11 years later I appeared on American Bandstand again when London Records reissued the album and the single. It became a world hit.

JAH: What did you do after the '73 success of "Monster Mash?"

PICKETT: It seemed to me that the record company sort of let the ball drop, and to be fair, so did I. At that point, I was really trying to distance myself from the whole monster thing. I sort of thought I could go into pop music, and do records sort of ala' Frankie Avalon - just straight up kind of hits - good pop songs, with hooks and beautiful melodies.

JAH: Could you get hired doing that kind of thing?

PICKETT: I recorded a thing called "Graduation Day," which is really an embarassment. London released it, backed with a novelty song, "Humpty Dumpty." The next thing I did was "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette." It was an old Tex Williams song. I did that record as Boris Karloff, and nobody would play it. The media was just touting the fact, back in 1963 or 64, that smoking was going to give you lung cancer, heart disease, and anything you didn't have until that time. Obviously, the single died. The D.J.'s were afraid to play this thing.

JAH: What about the seldom heard single, "Werewolf Watusi" and the "Monster Swim?"

PICKETT: Those two were done prior to "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke." Gary Paxton and David Gates (of the mega-hit selling band, Bread), collaborated on that RCA single. Gary Paxton and David Gates at that point in time wrote and produced together, and Gary did the arrangements on "Werewolf Watusi" and "Monster Swim." I think David Gates worked under a pseudonym on those songs. The sessions were produced by Al Schmitt.

After that single was released, I did a slew of television commercials - things ranging from Lipton Tea to Schlitz beer, and all the cigarette commercials (which hadn't been banned yet). I did very well in the mid to late '60's in commercials. These weren't merely voice-overs, this was all on-camera stuff. On a limited basis, I finally got to act - the money was great, I kept doing it, and I started being offered roles in these obscure, low-budget movies, and I'd get a T.V. show here and there. I probably did about a half dozen low budget monster pictures.

JAH: How did "Monster Mash" become a hit again in the 1970's?

PICKETT: There was a D.J. somewhere in the Midwest named Johnny Dark. Dark was playing "Monster Mash" on an Oldies station. Once again, the phones started ringing off the hook. The kids wanted him to play this 'new' record. Johnny did his best to explain that this record was an Oldie. So Johnnie ran into a London Records exec, and told him they should re-release this thing, because it would be a hit again. And lo and behold, they believed him. They re-released it in 1973, and it was even bigger.

It was also re-released in 1969 due to popular demand. Once again, it was a hit in the Southwest. The company provided no promotion, but it still got into the 70's in the Billboard charts. The record company just let it go; they wouldn't promote it, they wouldn't do anything with it.

In 1973, it went Top Ten again! It's one of three records that has been charted three times in three decades. It was on the charts for six months before anyone told me that it had been re-released, let alone charted. I called the head of London Records, Walt McGuire, and said, "Walt, I hear the record's doing well." He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I'm driving a cab here in New York City. I was wondering if I could turn my cab in and come and get a check." He said, "Oh, yeah!" Later at lunch, he confessed he was really glad he could call me up and tell me they had re-released the record and that it was doing well.

During the 80's I worked Off-Broadway as an actor.

Polygram has just recently released it on CD and cassette, after two years of being badgered to put it out. At one point they refused to reissue it on CD. I had a manager who was based in New York, who stayed on their butts for two years, and finally got them to release it on CD and cassette. It's done well for them, and of course now they act like it was a great idea to reissue it.

JAH: You recut "Monster Mash" especially for Rhino Records.

PICKETT: Yes, we cut that in Culver City, California. It's turned up on Dr. Demento compilations, as well as Elvira compilations. Peter Ferrara and I did a Star Trek spoof called "Star Drek" exclusively for Dr. Demento in 1975. It appeared on his compilations as well as on his radio show. On that particular version of "Monster Mash," I get 50% of the action, which is great. It does very well in films and TV shows, but when Polygram licenses it, I get nothing.

You see, in the 1960's there was nothing to protect the artist in a record contract. There was nothing saying that the record company could not keep all the money for licensing to television and films. This was very much like the television residual deal for actors.

I cut my own version in Yonkers, a couple years ago. I just licensed that for the movie that's coming out in November, Frankenstein Sings, in which I play Dr. Frankenstein. The song plays three times, at the beginning, in the middle, and the grand finale of the picture. It's a straight-to-video release, which we filmed last year. They used this new version, so I got 100% of that.

I've worked more in the last five years than I have in 15 or 20 years. For the last two years, and this year coming up, I work the entire month of October for an outfit called Spooky World. Spooky World is America's horror theme park. The original one is in Berlin, Massachusetts. They do a land office business for one month. The guy who owns it makes a million dollars in that one month, and then he goes home! There's a haunted hayride; he has a scaryoke stage, where I perform a medley of my hits a couple of times a night.

Tiny Tim and I have shared the bill for the last couple of years. Tiny Tim is an amazing guy. He'll do two hours of songs from the 20's and 30's, and of course he does his hit, "Tiptoe Through The Tulips." He's a walking musical encyclopedia of American music. He's still a novelty act because he dresses funny and looks funny, and he's a virtuoso on the ukele. He just gets up there and sings these weird songs, and the kids love him! He's also interested in UFO's, and believes that Elvis is alive; he is delightfully looney and wouldn't hurt a fly.

JAH: It would seem you never tire of "Monster Mash."

PICKETT: No. "Monster Mash" has paid my rent for the last 33 years. I have no complaints!


It was a dream come true, meeting and interviewing Bobby Pickett thirteen years ago. At that time, I sent him a copy of my band's version of his his, "Monster Mash." He liked our version, and gave it his blessing.

Bobby continued making personal appearances, most notably "Chiller Con" with John Zacherle, and was consistently a fan favorite wherever he appeared. Sadly, Bobby passed away on April 25, 2007, after a battle with leukemia.

For this writer, it was a dream come true to have met and interviewed Bobby. He will live on in popular culture through his music, his acting, and will be remembered fondly by all whose lives he touched.

"Monster Mash" forever!

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