Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ghoul House Rock: FRANKIE STEIN AND HIS GHOULS



The music of Frankie Stein and his Ghouls is cooler than it has any right to be. Between 1964 and 1965, the “band” cranked out no fewer than five full-length albums. By all rights these records should have been little more than white noise, the kind of generic elevator music that blared from teenage radios in movies and television whenever the producers didn't feel like ponying up the dough for a legitimate song.

But there's something special about the Frankie Stein series. Something surprisingly focused, haunting and aggressive. Which has led fans to sometimes speculate about the identities of the anonymous musicians that made of the ersatz band. If Frankie Stein was a real person, he’s been suspiciously quiet in the years since his band’s albums were hastily released. And there might be a good reason for it, if even a fraction of the rumors about the musicians involved with this project are true.

The “Frankie Stein” albums were released by Power Records, a subsidiary of the children’s specialty label Peter Pan Records. Power would later strike a chord with its young audience during the ‘70s when it licensed movie, television and comic book properties for its famous “book and record” sets. Years earlier, though, it was still struggling to find an identity, which lead the company to create some … unusual products.


For example: the 1966 album “Batman and Robin” by The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale. It’s since been established that there were no “Dan & Dale,” and that the band was actually made up of the legendary Sun Ra and members of the Blues Project. It was a quickie album meant to capitalize on the first wave of Bat-mania. The music had little to do with the Caped Crusaders, but it’s likely the young fans buying the album didn’t care.

“Batman and Robin” was produced another music legend: Tom Wilson. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his list of credits absolutely will. During the 1960s, he produced such acts as Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention. He’d been working with Sun Ra since the 1950s, which is probably why he was able to persuade the man to pick up a quick paycheck on a silly Batman knockoff.

The album was the product of Synthetic Plastics Co., a toy company located in Newark, N.J. Coincidentally, Synthetic Plastics Co. also produced the “Frankie Stein” albums. Which is where the rumors about the album’s creation get interesting. While nobody has ever taken credit for their work on them, rumor has it that Wilson produced these albums (all of which might have been recorded during the same session) with a roster of musicians that might have included Duane Eddy and Max Greger, members of the Blues Project and, possibly, Sun Ra, himself.

Or maybe it didn't include any of them. Who knows?

Here’s how Frankie Stein  was credited on jacket of the band’s album “Monster Sounds and Dance Music”:
The monster maestro (Frankie Stein) is a graduate of the mausoleum of music at the University of Paris Green … He plays guitar with three hands and conducts with the other two. He is DEAD serious about his music. Many critics have hailed him as “hideous” … “ghastly” …“horrormonius”… etc. etc. etc.

As far as mysteries go, the real identity of “Frankie Stein” isn’t in any danger of displacing D.B. Cooper as America's Favorite Mystery Man. The albums were popular novelty records, but novelties, nonetheless. Many — if not all — of the participants might have had good reason to keep their identities a secret at the time. Cutting records like the “Frankie Stein” series was the musical equivalent of pornography for many musicians, though I suspect nobody has fessed up in recent years simply because they haven’t been asked.

As with many of the album from the era, vinyl editions of the Frankie Stein and his Ghouls are hard to find — and a little pricey, to boot. While the music has since been released on compact disc, the collections are a little frustrating. “Ghoul Music” and “Shock! Terror! Fear!” were released as a double-album set, while an anthology titled “Monster Melodies” collects an additional 30 tracks. I haven't added up the track lists to compare them to the original releases, but wouldn't be shocked it a few tracks slipped through the cracks during the conversion process.



WALLACE McBRIDE is an award-winning South Carolina journalist, and creator/editor of THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY website. He was once used as a human shield by Michelle Phillips, owns a complete run of HOWARD THE DUCK comics, and talks too much about DARK SHADOWS.

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