There is only one artist in this history of country music whose singing is so revered, referred to simply as "The Voice". But Vern Gosdin's career can also hold one of the darkest mysteries in country music history. Did Vern Gosdin really hire two men to murder his producer Gary S. Paxton?
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• A full transcript of the episode as well as sources for the story can be found below.
Other Country History X episodes:
Episode # 11: The Lost Bloodline of Hank Williams and the Finding of Hank IV
Episode # 10: Marty Robbins saves the life of Richard Childress of NASCAR
Episode # 9: Country Music's Most Important Artifact
Episode # 8: Randy Travis vs. Lib Hatcher
Episode # 7: Johnny Cash, Joseph Stalin and the Morse Code Crack
If this isn't one of the craziest stories in country music history, it is sure to be one of the most unexpected, overlooked, and rarest stories.
Think of all the incredible voices that have enriched country music over the decades: the inherent pain found in George Jones' singing, the eerie pentameter of John Anderson, the caramel tone of Dwight Yoakam or Johnny Cash, who sounded like God himself. And of course we can't forget the angelic sounds of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Dolly.
But there is only one artist and one artist in the history of country music who is undeniably simply referred to as "The Voice". This is how his singing talent is revered. We're talking about Vern Gosdin, who, despite his 19 top 10 hits and multiple # 1s and a consensus behind the conclusion from fans and fellow artists that he is one of the best singers in country music history, is one of them Characters who seem to be constantly overlooked in the country's history. Still from the outside, if you look at his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Gosdin's legacy deserves consideration and review.
However, whatever you feel about Vern Gosdin's country contributions and legacy, it might very well hide one of the most scandalous moments in country music history. While there has never been any concrete confirmation, let alone conviction, the likelihood is that Vern Gosdin could have pledged to kill, or at least attack, his producer, who was formerly a rock & # 39; n roller, later a gospel singer and songwriter for the massive novelty hit "The Monster Mash", one by Gary S. Paxton.
That's the story.
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You can almost bury the lead of any story simply by bringing up the topic of the life and career of Gary S. Paxton. It's a pretty inexplicable story in itself. And even if you don't know the name, this guy has been a performer, songwriter, producer, and label owner in rock, pop, country, and gospel all over the music industry for decades.
Gary S. Paxton was born Larry Wayne Stevens on May 18, 1939 in Coffeyville, Kansas during the Depression to an unmarried 14-year-old mother and a 15-year-old father. Although he weighed nine pounds when he was born, he weighed only 7 pounds on his one year old birthday as his parents could only feed him ketchup and water. When he was very young, he was adopted by an elderly couple who had lost two children of their own. It was a strictly Christian home that Gary S. Paxton grew up in and they lived in an old schoolhouse with no electricity, no water or no heat source.
When Gary S. Paxton was 12, his family moved to Arizona, and by the age of 14 he played in early rock & # 39; n & # 39; roll bands. The way he first came to fortune and fame was a fluke and quite insane. After failing high school and flying around on various music projects, he met a country artist named Clyde Battin at the age of 16. They formed a group called The Pledges that went nowhere, but one day they did a demo of a song called "It Was I" that they wanted to propose to a bigger band like The Bell Tones.
The "It Was I" recording sat on a shelf for about a year until a producer named Bob Shad of Time Records caught it and loved it so much that he decided to release it as a single. He had no idea who was actually singing the song at the beginning, so he formed a whole-stuff duo called "Skip and Flip", named after his wife's poodle of all things, and released the song to the public.
Gary S. Paxton now lives in the Pacific Northwest, collects fruit for a living and tries to stop by. At one point he actually played in the band of Bakersfield legend Buck Owens, who performed in clubs and dancehalls in the Tacoma, Washington area. One day Paxton was in the fields, collecting with his car right in front of the field and the radio boomed when he heard himself sing the "It Was I" demo on the radio that he had cut a year earlier. So he went to the radio, found out about Skip and Flip, called the label and was told that the song was a huge success and that Dick Clark wanted to book the duo for numerous TV shows.
Skip and Flip had another big hit with the song “Cherry Pie”, but the duo didn't last long. Even so, Gary S. Paxton made it known, and he moved to Hollywood, where he began writing songs and producing bands, working with groups like The Association and Paul Revere and the Raiders, opening record labels left and right, and eventually owned up to five studios.
Gary S. Paxton got kind of a mystery and madman in town, super productive but also very weird. The Beach Boys legendary Brian Wilson is said to have admired Gary S. Paxton while producer Phil Spector feared him. Paxton was quirky and had success with novel songs like "Monster Mash," which shouldn't have worked as big pop singles, but because of their catchy and quirky nature, they did.
Gary S. Paxton even once organized a "protest parade," attended by 15 cheerleaders and a live elephant driving a Volkswagen down Hollywood Blvd. pulled down just because a local radio station was quoting a song called "Elephant Game (Part 1") "too black". Gary S. Paxton was certifiable and, by the way, always insisted that his name was Gary S. Paxton and that the "S" was always included in his full name.
In 1967 Gary S. Paxton had completely moved to Bakersfield and immersed himself in the Bakersfield Sound, which acted as a counterbalance to the genteel and over-produced Nashville sound that was conquering country music at the time. Then in 1970, when his wild life and bad investments in the music business caught up with him, Paxton made the big move to Nashville at the behest of songwriter Dallas Frazier and others. After making many connections in Nashville through his career in the music business over the years, Paxton came to Music Row with a variety of connections.
But Nashville wasn't ready for Gary S. Paxton, and neither was he ready for Nashville. With long blond hair to extremes, a flag as a cloak and his songs in a paper bag while he feverishly consumed drugs and alcohol, he was often arrested for petty crime and somehow got out of hand. He tried unsuccessfully to form a duo with performer Thomas Wayne to be sort of a second version of Skip and Flip, but when they released a single that flopped Thomas Wayne eventually committed suicide, which drove Paxton even higher .
So there was Gary S. Paxton, practically penniless, walking up and down Music Row in Nashville, desperate and contemplating his own death after the death of Thomas Wayne. And then, perhaps in a moment of divine intervention, he walks into the little Church of Christ and bookstore that are on Music Row at the time, and inside it happens to be contemporary Christian superstar Michael W. Smith and teenage Amy Grant. At that moment, Gary S. Paxton reconnects with his strong religious upbringing, becomes and remains sober for the rest of his life, and begins writing and performing gospel songs and later country songs, and doing it very, very successfully.
Gary S. Paxton wrote the # 1 song "Woman, Sensuous Woman" for Don Gibson. He wrote the top 5 hit "Honeymoon Feelin & # 39;" for Roy Clark, "Travelin 'Light" by George Hamilton IV, and a host of other well-known songs. At the same time, Paxton recorded and released both country and gospel songs under the pseudonym Rusty Dean. "Woman, Sensuous Woman" was nominated for Country Song of the Year at the 1972 Grammy Awards. In 1977 Gary S. Paxton won a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance for his album, "More, From The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable Gary S. Paxton". Revoke quote. He has never lost his sense of the atypical.
In addition to his gospel success in the mid and late 70s, Gary S. Paxton also wrote numerous songs for you guessed it, "The Voice", Mr. Vern Gosdin, including the tracks "It Started All Over Again" and "We Make Beautiful" . Music Together ”from Vern's 1977 debut solo album Till The End and the song“ I Sure Can Love You ”from 1978 album Never My Love.
Compared to the wild road Gary S. Paxton took to Nashville, Vern Gosdin's one seems relatively tame. Gosdin was born the sixth child of nine siblings in Woodland, Alabama. After living in Chicago for a while, Vern moved to Los Angeles and became a player in the West Coast country movement.
At one point, Vern Gosdin was a member of The Hillmen with Chris Hillman of The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. He also formed his own group called The Gosdin Brothers with his brother Rex, and they were working on an album with Gene Clark also from The Byrds. Many often overlook this era of Vern Gosdin's career, but he was right in the thick of it when the California country came alive.
Even during this time, Vern rubbed his elbows with the Bakersfield crowd. The Gosdin Brothers were signed to a label called Bakersfield International and had a little hit called "Hangin 'On". Who Owned the Bakersfield International Label? None other than Gary S. Paxton. This is where the two probably met for the first time. That was around 1967.
Unsure if he was fit for the ups and downs and wild characters of the music business, Vern retired to Georgia sometime in the late 1960s and ran a glass company of all things. But he was lured back by a deal with Elektra Records and made his way to Nashville in 1977, where his solo career was to begin in earnest. He re-released the song "Hangin 'On," previously released in Bakersfield as a duet with Emmylou Harris, and Vern went to the races. His first official album, the aforementioned Till The End from 1977, not only contained numerous songs by Gary S. Paxton. Gary S. Paxton also became Vern Gosdin's producer.
The combination of Vern Gosdin and Gary S. Paxton should result in three albums in the late 1970s. It was Paxton who convinced Vern to cover The Association's "Never My Love" as the title track of his second album, and it became a top 10 hit. But the collaboration did not produce any top 5 songs, let alone a No. 1 and the personality differences between the rather strict Vern Gosdin and the wild Gary S. Paxton began to lead to friction.
Here, ladies and gentlemen, the story takes a very, very dark turn. On December 29, 1980, Gary S. Paxton was at his Nashville home when two men came to his door claiming they had problems with the car and asked Gary if he could drive them to their car and help them start. Keep in mind that Paxton's Christian faith is his guiding light in life at this time, and this apparently led him to help two total strangers who arrived at his door claiming to be having car problems. But Gary also says quote: "A very strong feeling from the Lord told me that something was wrong." Before leaving with the two men, he took off his jewelry and put a .38 pistol in his left coat pocket. Then the three men loaded into Gary's van, presumably to fetch the broken vehicle. But of course the story was all a ruse.
Arriving in the van parked at Paxton, Darrell W. Bailey, 24, of Jonesboro, Georgia, and Darryl C. Langley, 20, of Hampton, Georgia, attacked, possibly attempting to murder the then-41-year-old Gary S. Paxton. Yes, the two attackers were both named Darrell. One of the men hammered Paxton and told the other Darrell to shoot the singer-songwriter. A scuffle broke out and Gary had both his collarbone and shoulder broken in the fight and a cut near his right eye that blew blood in and blinded him.
Paxton was unable to find the .38 pistol in his coat pocket as he was being held by the attackers. Then 20-year-old Darryl C. Langley drew his own pistol and pulled the trigger, but Paxton was able to put his hand in front of the gun at the last second and was shot in the hand instead of in a more important place. According to reports, Gary S. Paxton also yelled throughout the hand-to-hand combat, quote: "In the name of Jesus, you cannot kill me!"
As the scuffle continued, Paxton was able to snatch the gun from Darryl Langley and eventually shoot him when Gary escaped from the van. But seriously injured, Paxton collapsed to the ground and he was shot twice in the back and left to die before uninjured attacker Darrell W. Bailey escaped from the scene. Neighbors, hearing the gunfire and brawl, called the police. First responders arrived, and Gary S. Paxton was eventually hospitalized at Vanderbilt University. Paxton confesses that in the ambulance and before he passed out, he forgave his two attackers, and this is one of the things that helped him stay alive.
Paxton underwent emergency surgery claiming, “I died twice in the operating room. But God sent me back. I'm here because Jesus forgives, so I've forgiven. ”Remove quote. Would-be assassin Darryl Langley was also admitted to Nashville General Hospital for treatment and was kept under police surveillance. The other attacker, Darrell W. Bailey, was found in Georgia where he had fled, arrested and extradited back to Tennessee.
Homicide investigator Michael McDerman told the press at the time: “The motive is murder. We are sure of that. But we still have no idea why the suspects wanted to kill him. ”Cancel quote. Speculation as to who hired the two men to kill Gary S. Paxton and why soon grew rampant in Nashville and into country music, with one prevailing theory emerging, though it wasn't the only one.
During Gary's gospel revival, he also worked as a producer for Tammy Faye Bakker – yes, the heavily made-up wife of tele-evangelist Jim Bakker. Tammy Faye released 16 albums between 1970 and 1996 and is said to have been close friends with Gary S. Paxton for a while. When Jim Bakker fell from grace after the reveal, he paid church secretary Jessica Hahn hush money for an alleged rape – and later found to have embezzled church funds – allegations emerged in the Washington Post that Tammy Faye Bakker and Gary S. Paxton had been involved in an adulterous relationship.
Both Gary S. Paxton and Tammy Faye flatly denied the allegations, with Gary saying, “It was all lies. I didn't have any relationship. I was her boyfriend. She was dependent on me because a lot of things that happened at PTL were breaking down. I encouraged them. I never touched her, nor did I have anything to do with her. ”Cancel quote.
But the rumors cast some doubts as to whether Jim Bakker – who likes to throw money around to solve his problems – might have hired the two Darrells as hitmen. But the timing of this theory seems wrong, as much of what happened to Jim, Tammy, and the PTL came out later than the December 1980 affair as opposed to something plausible after the attack on Gary S. Paxton.
But the prevailing theory, and really the only one that somehow seemed to make sense and which later developments seemed to confirm, was that Gary S. Paxton's would-be killers were hired by none other than "The Voice," ”Vern Gosdin. What we do know for certain is that Darrell W. Bailey and Darryl C. Langley were specifically hired by someone to attack or kill Gary S. Paxton for confessing to it and for having no motive of their own.
Then, in January 1982, the two Derrells were tried by jury in Nashville. During that trial, Darryl C. Langley alleged under oath that the two were actually hired by Vern Gosdin in Georgia. He is said to have paid the couple only $ 200 to go to Nashville and attack Gary S. Paxton. Recall that between his time in California and his return to the music business, Vern Gosdin lived in Nashville, Georgia and ran a glass company. Here he is said to have met the two attackers. But why would Vern Gosdin do such a thing? What was his motive?
When Vern Gosdin started working with Gary S. Paxton, it was said that he would have to lure Paxton – at least as a producer – out of retirement in order to take over the position. Remember, Paxton was always a trader and trader who founded and brought together record labels, production companies, studios, publishers, and the like. Apparently, when Vern Gosdin and Gary S. Paxton's working relationship began to falter, there were provisions in a contract that Vern signed with Gary that did not allow Gosdin to continue without Paxton. So the theory was that Vern Gosdin hired the two Darrells to either stir up Paxton, to convince him to let Vern Gosdin go, or to kill Paxton so Vern could continue his career freely and clearly.
But the strange thing is that since at least one of the attackers directly admitted that it was Vern Gosdin who hired her, and Gosdin apparently had a different motive than the two attackers themselves, why was Vern Gosdin never also arrested and of a crime accused? Vern Gosdin was never formally charged with anything related to the attempted murder of Gary S. Paxton.
But Vern Gosdin never really did anything to clear his name. Gary never addressed or denied the allegations, at least in public, and always refused to answer any questions on the matter. I reached out to some people in Vern Gosdin 's camp to get more insight into the matter and no one really had anything to add.
Dr. Gerald Murray was Vern Gosdin's manager and agent who started shortly after the incident and wrote a book called True Life Stories About "The Voice" Vern Gosdin but had no insight either. He told me a quote: “I led him pretty much from 1980 until his death. He never elaborated on the Paxton affair and was mostly just silent for me. ”Cancel quote.
It cannot be conclusively stated that Vern Gosdin hired two men to kill Gary S. Paxton. That can only be said. But there doesn't seem to be anyone capable of committing such a crime. To make matters worse, we just don't have a good look at Vern Gosdin's personality as he was mostly a private individual. Was he really vengeful enough to be involved in a contract killing? In the meantime, we know that Gary S. Paxton was incredibly eccentric and prone to exaggeration, so how should that factor be in our view of the situation?
The other thing to consider is that maybe the two men were just supposed to intimidate Paxton to get him to release Vern Gosdin from his contractual obligations and things got a lot rougher than intended. After all, $ 200 isn't a common price for a murder in 1980 either. The fact that Gary S. Paxton was shot three times along with other injuries is the reason the incident has always been labeled an attempted murder against an attempt to intimidate the maker. In fact, the two men attempted to assassinate Gary S. Paxton, but that may not have been Vern Gosdin's original intent, it was just the result.
Anyway, Darrell W. Bailey and Darryl C. Langley were both convicted of the crimes and sentenced to 10 years in prison while Vern Gosdin got away scot-free. There was also apparently a civil lawsuit by Gary S. Paxton against both Darrels and Vern Gosdin for $ 2 million, but the outcome was never publicly announced.
Gary S. Paxton later alleged that after the incident, while he was disabled, a partner in his recording studio embezzled $ 500,000 from him, essentially leaving him penniless. Paxton claims he lived for two years in an old house he owned through a publisher called Raise Your Name with no electricity, no heating, and no lights. He slept in a sleeping bag on a concrete floor, similar to the poor situation he grew up in.
What is certain is that Gary S. Paxton practically disappeared from the music business for about eight years in the ensuing period, but in 1989 he married his future fourth wife and moved to Branson, Missouri, where he resumed his musical career. Gary S. Paxton died on July 17, 2016 in Branson at the age of 77 from complications from heart surgery and liver disease.
Meanwhile, Vern Gosdin has continued his career with the rumors and suspicions of the Gary S. Paxton attack always somehow hanging over his head. He continued to do well, with the song "Dream of Me" rising to number 7 on the charts in 1981 and then enjoying a top 10 hit with a song he co-wrote "Today My World Slipped Away" and the George Strait would have made a hit about 15 years later. In 1984 Vern Gosdin also had his first # 1 hit with "I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You're Gonna Love Me Tonight)".
But it really wasn't until the end of 1987 when Vern Gosdin signed with Columbia Records that he found his prime. The album Chiseled in Stone would feature several of the singer-songwriter's signature songs, including the Ernest Tubb tribute song "Set & # 39; Em Up Joe". Chiseled in Stone became Gosdin's first certified gold record, and the title track won CMA Song of the Year in 1989. Any controversy over the Gary S. Paxton incident seemed entirely in the back view.
But despite a big CMA song of the year, multiple Grammy nominations, multiple top 10 singles, and four nos to introduce him. It could be that Vern just didn't care much about promoting himself. It could also have something to do with the rumors circulating about the incident involving Gary S. Paxton, which lasted until Gosdin's death from a stroke on April 28, 2009 at the age of 74.
On the other hand, Vern Gosdin wouldn't be the first country star with something shady in his past, and he certainly won't be the last. What he brought with him was unique, a voice that contained enough soul to arouse emotions like no other, and a voice that has stood the test of time. And that's what country fans remember most about Vern Gosdin.
Cross Rhythms UK: "Tony Cummings tells the life and times of one of the most multifaceted characters in American music, GARY S PAXTON" (September 2, 2011)
UPI: "Gary Paxton, a songwriter and producer who was beaten …" (January 1, 1981)
poster: "Inside Track" (January 16, 1982)
sick people: "Gary Paxton Dead: Monster Mash, Alley Oop"
Dr. Gerald Murray, Author of True Life Stories About "The Voice" Vern Gosdin (January 1, 2007)