Saturday, October 29, 2011


In honor of Halloween, here's one of the GORIEST records ever made (well, considering Alice Cooper, GG Allin, etc., one of the goriest records ever made in 1958, at least....) by the coolest of all the ghouls, John Zacherle.

Don't know this one? Well, there may be a reason for that.....and that reason is Dick Clark.

John Zacherle (born September 26, 1918 in Philadelphia) grew up perfectly normal, the son of a bank clerk. After graduation from high school and Pennsylvania University, and a stint in the Army, Zacherle returned to Philly and began doing local theatre with a repertory company. He soon began getting roles on local TV station WCAU, mainly in westerns. Oddly enough, he usually played the town undertaker.

In 1957, Universal Pictures decided to allow their unparalleled horror movie catalog to be shown on TV. Stations from all over the country bid on the film packages, and in Philly, WCAU-TV was the lucky station allowed to show Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy as well as such "classics" as The Black Cat, The Mad Daughter Of Market Street and Weird Woman. The films were to be run late at night, under the name of "Shock Theatre". But WCAU needed a host for the show, and Zacherle was asked to do it. He grabbed his undertaker's coat that he used in all those westerns, put on a little make-up, and Roland (pronounced Ro-LAND), Zacherle's character for Shock Theatre, was born.

Zacherle (and Roland) were an immediate sensation in Philadelphia. Kids went crazy over Zacherle's wild antics, like carrying around a severed head dripping with blood (actually chocolate syrup), talking to his wife, known as "my dear", who lived in a coffin (and would occasionally receive a wooden stake through the heart, courtesy of Roland), and interacting with his son Gasport (who was a blob in a burlap sack who hung on the wall and moaned occasionally). He even had an assistant, named Igor, who would do Roland's dirty work.

Eventually Zacherle came to the attention of two very powerful men in Philadelphia - American Bandstand's Dick Clark and Bernie Lowe, senior partner of Cameo Records (Kal Mann was the junior partner, and reputedly Dick Clark was a silent partner - as he was with many, many Philly labels. Clark was dirtier than a sewer pipe), who decided that Zacherle should cut a record. Backed up by Cameo's great house band, Dave Appell and The Applejacks, Zacherle cut two songs - "Dinner With Drac" and "Igor", which were basically the same tune with different sets of lyrics. "Igor" was picked to be the A-side, and "Igor" backed with "Dinner With Drac" was released in January, 1958. Bernie Lowe sent a copy to his buddy Dick Clark, who took one listen to "Igor" and refused to play it. Tight-ass that he was, Clark thought the lyrics of "Igor" were too gory for the record-buying public, and made it clear that he wouldn't be playing it on his show. The flip side, "Dinner With Drac", had much milder lyrics and it was the same tune anyway, so Bernie asked Dick to lean on that side of the record. Clark agreed, but was still so upset by "Igor" that he insisted Zacherle go back into the studio and cut yet another version of "Dinner With Drac" with even milder lyrics (in case "Dinner With Drac" set people - meaning Clark's sponsors - off the wrong way) and repress the single as "Dinner With Drac - Part 1" backed with "Dinner With Drac - Part 2". This new coupling was released in February, and the rest is history, with "Igor" becoming a lost track.

Today, the lyrics of "Igor" sound rather tame, but Zacherle (not to mention Appell's nasty-sounding sax) sounds positively evil, especially on this limerick:

A werewolf once tore his own hide
To find out just what was inside
He BIT and he TORE
Till his hands RAN with GORE
But before he found out, he DIED!


NOTE: the record does NOT skip toward the end - it was just a very poor edit (due to Zacherle losing the tempo). 

John Zacherle - Igor (Cameo 130) - 1958

1 comment:

  1. Oooooh . . . scary! Great fun though and a very interesting back story.