An Interview with The Pixies Three
Finger snapping, perky girl-next-door bubblegum girl pop
Aficionados of the girl group sound often cite The Pixies Three to reflect the "quintessential" girl group sound of the era: finger snapping, foot stomping, perky girl-next-door, bubblegum feel-good music.
In 1963, three high school friends (Midge Bollinger, Debby Swisher and Kaye McCool) from Hanover, Pennsylvania, signed a recording contract with Mercury Records. This was quite an accomplishment for the girls, whose previous experience as "The Pixies" consisted of talent shows, service clubs, and carnivals. John Madara and David White, producers with Mercury Records, found the trio at a Philadelphia club on "talent night" where walk-on talent was not only welcomed, but frequently discovered. Madara and White signed the girls to a recording contract and suggested the name be changed to "The Pixies Three," as a Baltimore group had previously made a record (although not successful) under the name "The Pixies."
Under the guidance of Madara and White, The Pixies Three recorded six singles and an album titled, Party With The Pixies Three. The success of their 1963 single "Birthday Party" and its follow-up, "Cold Cold Winter" allowed the Pixies Three to tour with the likes of Dionne Warwick, The Four Seasons, The Dave Clark Five, and The Rolling Stones.
It has been almost 40 years since The Pixies Three decided to call it quits after their last two singles failed to chart. But in 1991, when Midge, Kaye, and Debby were asked to reform for their 25th high school anniversary, they experienced their second (!) taste of success and have been performing as a group ever since.
CCC: How did the Pixies Three get together?
Kaye: Debby and I started singing for neighbors and friends in 1957. I was 11, Debby was nine. We used to put on shows in Debby's carport and charge a couple of pennies to get in. At one show, by playing ukuleles and singing "Bye Bye Love," we got a rousing applause. That inspired us to enter a local amateur show where we won first prize ($10). We named ourselves the KayDeDids (for Kaye and Debbie, natch) and looked for more shows! About three or four months later, the song "Lollipop" by The Chordettes came out and we wanted to sing it. So we decided to recruit another girl, Midge Bollinger. We then became the KayDeMids. Within a few months we were actually getting asked to sing for money at rotary meetings, carnivals, etc. So we decided we needed costumes and a more professional name. We came up with The Pixies, a popular haircut that Debby and Midge were wearing at the time. We continued to be The Pixies until we signed with Mercury Records. They searched the name and discovered another group from Baltimore that had released one record under the same name, so we became The Pixies Three.
CCC: Tell us about your live performances. Did you tour with any famous bands or singers of that time?
Kaye: In the sixties, most shows were multiple act shows unlike the single act shows (or major star with opening act) of today. They were typically a dozen or more performers on any big show. The order of your show was dictated by your standing in the Top 40 list (in that area) that current week. We performed with most of the greats of that period. Most memorable was probably the Rolling Stones because they later became so famous and are a name my kids even recognize today. It was their first American tour and we were in Pittsburgh. When they ran out the side door where a bunch of fans were waiting, I was stunned to see that one of the girl's had a hank of Mick Jagger's hair in her hands. I thought maybe being that famous wasn't so desirable! Of course I also remember shows where we were the headliner! One of the greatest thrills was performing last in Boston ("Birthday Party" was the number one song that week in Boston) after the Four Seasons, Dionne Warwick, The Temptations, and The Tymes. I also have a vivid memory of the Dave Clark Five because this was just after the Stones..... and the Dave Clark Five were so nice and down to earth in contrast to the Stones. Actually, we probably got better bookings than we deserved (based on our popularity). This was due to the fact that most groups of that time were guys, and there were very few white girl group acts. We were often booked to balance the show and provide variety. We were very young- I was 16-17 and the other two were 14-15 when we were touring. Debby's mother, our manager, always traveled with us and generally kept us out of trouble. But for three teenage girls from a small town, it was a real eye opener.
CCC: How did you hook up with Mercury Records and your songwriters, John Madara and David White?
Kaye: For several years we had been going to Atlantic City to sing at Tony Grant's Stars Of Tomorrow show at the Steel Pier. We met two guys there who told us about a talent night at the Venus Lounge in Philly. According to Joe and Hutch, two Everly Brothers sound-a-likes, "important record producers frequently showed up there." We were under age so we had to sneak in and out the back door. The bottom line is that Madara and White were there, and they were working for Mercury Records at the time.
CCC: What is your favorite Pixies Three song?
Kaye: Mine is probably "Orphan Boy."