Gary S. Paxton, Songwriter, Grammy-Winning Gospel Performer, Dies At 77
July 26, 2016 at 11:53 AM (PT)
GARY S. PAXTON, who began his career as a teenager in the singing duo SKIP & FLIP, produced the hit pop singles “Alley-Oop” and “Monster Mash,” and became a GRAMMY-winning gospel musician, died on JULY 17th in BRANSON, MO at 77 from heart surgery and liver disease, according to his wife, VICKI SUE PAXTON, wrote the NEW YORK TIMES.
PAXTON was a songwriter, record producer and performer whose career spanned rock ’n’ roll to contemporary CHRISTIAN music, with a colorful, sometimes violent history.
“I was molested when I was seven,” he wrote on his ministry’s website. “I started writing songs when I was 10. I had spinal meningitis at 11. We moved to ARIZONA when I was 12 years of age. I had my own rock ’n’ roll band by the time I was 14. When I was 16 years old, I wrote my first million-seller, recording it at age 17.”
PAXTON careened between instant stardom and grinding poverty. He spent time in mental institutions because of drug and alcohol abuse. He was accused of driving a wedge between the television evangelist JIM BAKKER and his wife, TAMMY FAYE, with a series of scandalous extramarital affairs. He was shot three times by hit men reportedly sent after him by a disgruntled singer. After his business partner died, he was baptized, turned to gospel music and went on to win a GRAMMY AWARD for best inspirational performance.
PAXTON, a teenage high school dropout, wrote “It Was I” and recorded it as a demo with a guitarist and singer, CLYDE "SKIP" BATTIN (who later joined THE BYRDS). It wound up with the producer BOB SHAD, who dubbed the duo SKIP & FLIP after his wife's poodles. PAXTON learned the song was a hit only when he heard it on the radio while working as a cherry picker in WASHINGTON state. The duo toured with the disc jockey ALAN FREED and, after recording one more blockbuster, “Cherry Pie,” split up.
PAXTON moved to HOLLYWOOD in 1960, where he produced "Alley Oop" with the late KIM FOWLEY. singing the song with the short-lived the HOLLYWOOD ARGYLES. Inspired by the popular comic strip about a cave man, reaching #1 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100.
He also produced “Monster Mash” for the singer BOBBY "BORIS" PICKETT, the "graveyard smash" reached #1 just before HALLOWEEN 1962, hitting the Top 10 again a decade later.
In L.A. and BAKERSFIELD, PAXTON recruited talent, opened studios, produced records for his own labels and promoted them.
In 1970, he relocated to NASHVILLE, where he wrote “Woman (Sensuous Woman),” a #1 country hit for DON GIBSON. It was also where, he recalled “walking into a church — stoned on drugs — and got saved.”
PAXTON joined the hippie JESUS movement, fusing Southern gospel with Christian rock in songs that denounced drugs, drink and tobacco. Among them were “JESUS Keeps Takin’ Me Higher and Higher” and “You Ain’t Smokin’ Them Cigarettes (Baby, They’re Smokin’ You).”
His gospel album “The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable, Different World of GARY S. PAXON,” won a GRAMMY in 1977.
He was linked to TAMMY FAYE BAKKER in 1987, when it was reported that she had developed a crush on PAXTON around the time that her husband, JIM BAKKER, had a sexual encounter with JESSICA HAHN, a secretary at his evangelical church.
GARY SANFORD PAXTON was born LARRY WAYNE STEVENS in COFFEYVILLE, KS, on MAY 18th,1939, to an unwed teenage couple. He was adopted by a poor couple by the name of PAXTON, who had a farm without electricity or running water.
His survivors include his wife, the former VICKI SUE ROBERTS; his sons GARY DEAN, STEPHEN and GARY SANFORD III; his daughters DEBRA LYNN PAXTON and MELODY PAXTON WAGAS; and nine grandchildren.
By his own count PAXTON wrote some 2,000 songs; among the latest was “When I Die, Just Bury Me at WAL-MART (So My Wife Will Come Visit Me).” He was inducted into the COUNTRY GOSPEL MUSIC ASSOCIATION HALL OF FAME in 1998.
After recovering from a bout of hepatitis C, PAXTON resumed his career, performing in a mask and cape as GRANDPA ROCK (described as “sort of a hillbilly OZZY OSBORNE") and composing devotional songs like “You Can Begin Again.”