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Remains of 1960s pop star to be used for ‘ultimate fan collectible’

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Remains of 1960s pop star to be used for ‘ultimate fan collectible’ (photo courtesy Hugh Garvin)

LIEPER’S FORK, Tenn. - In what is believed to be an industry first, the remains of a 1960s pop star whose mysterious death inspires conspiracy theorists more than 50 years later have been exhumed for the express purpose of being incorporated into what’s been promoted as “the ultimate fan collectible.”

Mink Domino, whose birth name was Harley Garvin, was responsible for writing and recording the 1962 smash dance-inspired hit “Monkey Walk” for Red Bird Records. Based on ‘The Monkey’ dance craze of the era, the song’s unusual time signature and monkey screeching sound effects heard in its chorus contributed to the song’s success.

When Domino performed “Monkey Walk” on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in April 1962, he was accompanied by two chimpanzees who each tapped a tambourine while the velvet-suited singer mimed his hit for the camera.

Released at a time when dance crazes like the twist and the watusi inspired hit companion songs, Domino’s tune spent six weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Dee Dee Sharp’s chart-topping novelty dance hit “Mashed Potato Time” kept Domino’s song from reaching the coveted top spot, a fact that some have suggested led to the singer’s eventual unraveling and mysterious death.

Domino cut a total of 29 songs for the Red Bird label but only “Monkey Walk” managed to hit the charts.

His attempts to follow up his hit with songs like “Return of the Monkey Walk,” “The Monkey’s Uncle” and “Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkey Walk” (inspired by the instant success of the “The Monkees” TV show and related music beginning in 1966) failed to impact the chart or generate much airplay outside of Domino’s hometown of Lieper’s Fork, Tennessee.

In 1967, Domino attempted to cash in on the burgeoning hippie and anti-war movements by incorporating the sound of an electric sitar in one song (“Peace and Love Monkey”) and artillery sound effects in another (“War Monkey”). These too were largely ignored by the public and Domino was subsequently dropped by his label.

According to Hugh Garvin, Domino’s brother and only surviving relative, the singer went missing for a three-month period beginning in July 1968.

“We thought he had been kidnapped,” Garvin told The Lieper’s Fork Gazette. “He didn’t have contact with anybody and even his bank said there was no activity with his account.”

Garvin believes that his brother retreated to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee - specifically Thunderhead Mountain, where he lived in a small cabin he had built with his father in the mid-1950s.

“The shack is long gone but we found a journal containing what looked like song ideas, mixed with letters and bills,” the singer’s brother said to the Gazette.

Also discovered amid the lyrics, letters and invoices was a single-page handwritten notice addressed to Domino which appeared to be a de facto death threat. The unsigned typewritten letter demanded “25 Gs or else,” Garvin reported to authorities at the time of its discovery.

“Mink Domino was killed, no two ways about it,” Garvin reported. “He probably borrowed money that he couldn’t repay. But who loaned it to him? That’s the question.”

Domino’s body was positively identified in October 1968, after being discovered by hikers in an uncovered three-foot grave approximately 150 yards from the small cabin he had built with his father. According to news reports from the period, Domino was discovered lying face-up with his arms crossed against his chest. He was 27 years old.

Adding fuel to latter-day conspiracies about Domino’s death is the report issued by the Chattahoochee Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Reginald Tremont.

“Inconclusive. Foul play not suspected,” the report stated. Domino’s brother disagrees.

“They thought he was some bum singer who killed himself. They didn’t do a full autopsy,” Hugh Garvin alleged.

“My brother would never take his own life,” he continued. “The last time I saw him alive, he told me he was going to reinvent himself as a country singer and he was excited about it. His music is still popular overseas and if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to see that he makes the ultimate comeback, almost 50 years after he left us.”

As part of an unprecedented and extraordinary licensing deal, Mink Domino’s skeletal remains were exhumed late last summer and shipped to German-based reissue label Wolf Family. The label is known for richly-detailed and exhaustively-curated retrospective releases by 1950s and 1960s American singers and bands.

According to a press release issued by Wolf Family, all 29 of Domino’s songs (and their corresponding outtakes and false starts) recorded for the Red Bird label will be reissued on a three-record set with each volume speckled by dust from the singer’s skeleton.

The resulting collection - titled “Mink Domino – Inconclusive” - will be limited to 5,000 individually numbered copies pressed in red, white and blue vinyl (in honor of Domino’s 1965 song “Patriot Monkey”), with Domino’s remains incorporated during the vinyl manufacturing process.

Being promoted as the “ultimate Mink Domino fan collectible,” the set will be the last word on Mink Domino, according to his brother.

“Unless someone can finally solve the mystery of what happened to him, this is it,” Garvin said. “My brother always said he gave everything he had to his fans. I think he would love this. He’s in the news again and his song (“Monkey Walk”) can be heard in a commercial for Huggies diapers. He’s almost as popular today as he was in 1962. Now fans can not only own every song, they can literally own a piece of Mink.”

(Note: The author would like to thank Katy England’s web journalism class at New England School of Communications for their valuable assistance in compiling details for this story. Also, please note that this is the annual April Fool’s edition of The Maine Edge. As such, most – if not all – of the story is completely and utterly made up.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 15:42

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