Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 25: Bobby "Boris" Pickett - "Monster Mash" - died on this date in 2007...

... he was 69 years old when he passed away.

Robert George Pickett was born in Somerville, Massachusetts. His father was a theater manager, and as a 9-year-old he watched many horror films. He would later incorporate impressions of them in his Hollywood, California nightclub act in 1959.

Pickett co-wrote "Monster Mash" with Leonard Capizzi in May 1962. The song was a spoof on the dance crazes popular at the time, including the Twist and the Mashed Potato, which inspired the title.

The song featured Pickett's impersonations of veteran horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (the latter with the line "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?") It was passed on by every major record label, but after hearing the song, Gary S. Paxton agreed to produce and engineer it.

Among the musicians who played on it was pianist Leon Russell.

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Horror Hits

Issued on Paxton's Garpax Records, the single became a million seller, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks before Halloween in 1962. It was styled as being by "Bobby 'Boris' Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers."

The record hit the U.S. charts twice, in August 1970, and again in May 1973, when it reached the #10 spot. In Britain it took until October 1973 for the tune to become popular, peaking at #3 in the UK Singles Chart. For the second time, the record sold over one million copies.

The tune remains a Halloween perennial on radio and on iTunes. A Christmas-themed follow-up, "Monster's Holiday," was also released in 1962 and reached #30 in December that year. This was followed by further monster-themed recordings such as the album The Original Monster Mash and such singles as "Werewolf Watusi" and "The Monster Swim". Another of Pickett's songs, "Graduation Day", made #80 in June 1963.

In 1975 Pickett recorded a novelty spoof on Star Trek called "Star Drek" with Peter Ferrara, again performing some of the various voices, which was played on Dr. Demento's radio show for many years. He also performed a duet with Ferrara in 1976 titled "King Kong (Your Song)" spoofing the movie by the same name that was released that year.

In the early 1980's a musical "sequel" to "The Monster Mash" called "The Monster Rap," which featured Bobby teaching the creature to speak through "rapping." Though not nearly as popular as the original "Monster Mash" it once again found a reasonable following with the Dr. Demento fanbase.

In 1993 Pickett wrote and performed "It's Alive," another sequel of sorts to the original "Mash" song, but did not chart, but was played occasionally on the Demento show.

In October 2005, Pickett protested inaction on the United States government's part towards global warming by releasing "Climate Mash," a new version of his hit single.
In December 2006, Pickett covered the hit song by Yukmouth (featuring Messy Marv) titled "Fuckin' Wit Grapes," but the recording tapes of those sessions were subsequently 'lost.'

In 1967, Pickett and television author Sheldon Allman wrote the musical I'm Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night. It has been produced by local theatres around the USA. They followed it up later with another musical, Frankenstein Unbound.

In 1995 the co-writers of Disney's Toy Story, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolov, produced a movie of it, originally entitled Frankenstein Sings, but later released in the US under Monster Mash the Movie. In 2005 Pickett published his autobiography through Trafford Publishing. It was called Monster Mash: Half Dead in Hollywood.

Pickett died at the age of 69 on April 25, 2007 in Los Angeles, California, due to complications from leukemia.


Monday, April 5, 2010

April 5: Kurt Cobain died on this date in 1994 ...

... he was 27 years-old.

Kurt Donald Cobain was born in Aberdeen, Washington. He came from a musical family. His mother's brother,  Chuck Fradenburg, starred in a band called The Beachcombers and his Aunt Mari Earle played guitar and performed in bands throughout Grays Harbor County. Also, his great-uncle Delbert had a career as an Irish tenor; making an appearance in the 1930 film King of Jazz.

Kurt Cobain in 2nd Grade
Kurt's talent as an artist was evident from an early age. His bedroom was described as having taken on the appearance of an art studio, where he would accurately draw his favorite characters from films and cartoons such as Aquaman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Disney characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Pluto. This enthusiasm was encouraged by his grandmother Iris Cobain, who was a professional artist herself.

Cobain began developing an interest in music early in his life. At age four, Cobain started playing the piano and singing, writing a song about their trip to a local park. He listened to artists like the Ramones and would sing songs like Arlo Guthrie's "Motorcycle Song," The Beatles' "Hey Jude," Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" and the theme song to The Monkees television show at a young age.

The Beatles were an early and lasting influence on Cobain. He expressed a particular fondness for John Lennon, whom he called his "idol" in his posthumously-released journals, and he admitted that he wrote the song "About a Girl," from Nirvana 1989 debut album Bleach, after spending three hours listening to Meet the Beatles.

Cobain was also a fan of classic rock bands from the 1970s, including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Queen, and Kiss. Nirvana occasionally played cover songs by these bands, including Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," "Dazed and Confused" and "Heartbreaker," Black Sabbath's "Hand of Doom," and Kiss' "Do You Love Me?," and wrote the Incesticide song "Aero Zeppelin" as a tribute to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.

As a teenager living in Montesano - and suffering from his parent's divorce and ridicule at school- Cobain found escape through the thriving Pacific Northwest punk scene, going to punk rock shows in Seattle. Cobain soon began frequenting the practice space of fellow Montesano musicians the Melvins.

Cobain began learning guitar with a few covers, including "Louie Louie" and The Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl," and soon began working on his own songs. While hanging out at the Melvins' practice space, he met Krist Novoselic, a fellow devotee of punk rock. Cobain and Novoselic would occasionally practice in the upstairs room of Novoselic's mother's hair salon.

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MTV Unplugged in New York

A few years later, Cobain tried to convince Novoselic to form a band with him by lending him a copy of a home demo recorded by Cobain's earlier band, Fecal Matter. Novoselic finally agreed to join Cobain, forming the beginnings of Nirvana in 1985, establishing it as part of the Seattle music scene. Its debut album Bleach was released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989.

After signing with major label DGC Records, the band found breakthrough success in 1991 with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album Nevermind.

The band name Nirvana was taken from the Buddhist concept, which Cobain described as "freedom from pain, suffering and the external world," which paralleled with the punk rock ethic and ideology.

Cobain considered himself both a Buddhist and a Jain during different points of his life, educating himself about the philosophies through various sources, including through watching late night television documentaries on both subjects.

Following the success of Nevermind, Nirvana was labeled "the flagship band" of Generation X, and Cobain hailed as "the spokesman of a generation." Cobain however was often uncomfortable and frustrated, believing his message and artistic vision to have been misinterpreted by the public, with his personal issues often subject to media attention. In 1992, he challenged Nirvana's audience with its final studio album In Utero.

Since their debut, Nirvana, with Cobain as a songwriter, sold over twenty-five million albums in the US alone, and over fifty million worldwide.

Cobain was already aware of Courtney Love through her role in the 1987 film Straight to Hell. According to journalist Everett True, the pair were formally introduced at an L7 and Butthole Surfers concert in Los Angeles in May 1991. In the weeks that followed, after learning from Dave Grohl that Cobain shared mutual interests with her, Love began pursuing Cobain. In late 1991 the two were often together and bonded through drug use.

Around the time of Nirvana's 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, Love discovered that she was pregnant with Cobain's child. On February 24, 1992, a few days after the conclusion of Nirvana's Pacific Rim tour, Cobain and Love were married on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Love wore a satin and lace dress once owned by the actress Frances Farmer, and Cobain wore green pajamas, because he had been "too lazy to put on a tux."

During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction, his fame and public image, as well as the professional and lifelong personal pressures surrounding himself and his wife. He also struggled with illness and depression for most of his life.

On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.