I think I might have mentioned before in this space that the 1960s was a wonderful time in which to grow up. Along with every other aspect, the music flowing over the airwaves was objectively far superior to its modern-day counterpart. University studies have actually proven this. I kid thee not. No, seriously. You could look it up.
One of the more popular American musical acts of the mid-decade was one Domingo Samudio, born February 28, 1937. With and without his backup group, the Pharaohs, he became famous as Sam the Sham and had two huge hits, Wooly Bully and the somewhat genre-peripheral, Little Red Riding Hood. Both songs peaked at Number 2 on the American charts, a not-inconsiderable achievement in the midst of the British Invasion.
In 1964, he covered the 1958 Johnny Fuller hit, Haunted House. The song tells the tale of a gentleman who buys a house only to find he has an unwanted roommate, a being with ‘one big eye and two big feet ‘. The ghost tries every trick it can think of to drive the new owner out, but as Lydia Deetz said of her father in Beetlejuice, he is not one to walk away from equity. There’s no real resolution of the conflict by the fade-out, but that might be said of many such antagonistic arrangements in life. I like to think they’re both living there still, cohabiting with a minimum of friction. Nah, I don’t believe it either.
Fuller’s version was more rockabilly than R&B, which was unusual for an African-American artist of his time. He toured in the late 1950s with white acts like Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon, which distanced him from his previous black audience. He died of cancer in 1985 at the age of fifty-six.
Sam’s cover was a bluesy affair, as was the style by 1964. That same year, “Jumpin’” Gene Simmons issued a smoother, less edgy version. Of the three, I prefer Sam’s, probably because I associate it with the attendant joys of childhood. I do like the others, though.
A decade later, a bassist named Chaim Witz liked the last version so much, or at least the singer, that he changed his name to Gene Simmons and joined some rock ‘n’ roll band you might have heard of. I think they were called Kiss, or something like that. The name sounds vaguely familiar, anyhow.
The original Simmons began his career in 1956 as an opening act for Elvis Presley, even appearing in a bit part in one of The King’s movies, 1963’s Fun in Acapulco. His version reached Number 11 in the Top 100 on August 29, 1964. Exactly forty-two years later, he passed away at the age of seventy-three.
Haunted House was later covered by rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, and country singer John Anderson, among others. Come around my house in the weeks leading up to Halloween, and you’re apt to hear one version or another of it.
Sam the Sham has mostly retired from music, but still makes the occasional concert appearance. I have no information on whether or not he still performs Haunted House on those rare occasions when he puts the turban back on. I’d like to think he does.
This edition’s first lagniappe is a rather sad one, I’m afraid. As you might have noticed, I am no longer producing my Russian-novel length “In Memoriam” columns, but there have been a few recent passings that I felt ought to be noted.
Any post I make on the history of comic books, comic strips, or pulp magazines is likely to have been informed, at least in part, by the work of author and popular culture historian Ron Goulart. He passed away on January 14, 2022, one day after his eighty-ninth birthday.
French actress Yvette Mimieux, 75, star of the 1960 George Pal classic, The Time Machine, expired January 18th.
Czech-Canadian film director Ivan Reitman, 75, who gave us GhostBusters in 1984, departed this life on February 12th.
And British actress Veronica Carlson, 77, who starred in three Hammer films (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), and The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), shuffled off this mortal coil on February 27th.
On a happier note, here is some surf-guitar/spaghetti-western/zombie-apocalypse goodness courtesy of The Metrolites, “Gunfight at the Zombie Mineshaft”. Enjoy!
Be here in two weeks for an exploration of the wonders found in one of the great pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, along with a preview of a future post regarding its most influential illustrator. I hope the populace will find the offering pleasing to the palate.
Until then, watchers in wariness…
Be afraid. Be very afraid.