Seems like every time I go grocery shopping, classic rock tunes segue down the aisles from above. Everything from Elvis to Nirvana as well as last week’s Lady Gaga. Songs we shoppers are way too familiar with. There I was perusing the locally grown organic broccoli when “Wooly Bully” lit up the vegetable department and my cart started a rock’n and rollin’.
Written and performed by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully” was a worldwide smash in 1965. Recorded by Sun Studios founder, Sam Phillips in Memphis, the song spent 14 weeks on the US top 40 charts despite overall domination by what was then called the “British music invasion”.”Wooly Bully” was named “Single of the Year” by Billboard Magazine and was the title of the Pharaoh’s first full-length record and the opening track. So… what about the rest of it album? Listen to my audio piece at the top of this article and find out.
Sam the Sham is Memphis R&B singer Domingo Samudio. He was one of the first musicians to incorporate pop rock with Tex-Mex rhythms. Samudio also had a penchant for humorous novelty tunes that gave him
What a Sham!
Samudio supposedly came up with the name “Sam the Sham” after somebody joked he couldn’t sing. Sham had a hipster beard and always sported a turban and a shiny dinner jacket and played organ. He dressed his band in Middle Eastern outfits and, if the tour warranted it, employed a trio of backup singers dressed like Aladdin princesses. The singer also owned a 1950’s hearse and used it to lug his organ and the band’s equipment to gigs. Despite the shtick and novelty hits, this Wooly Bully version of Sham and the originals Pharaohs were a solid Tex-Mex R&B band that mixed Memphis blues with soul punctuated by Butch Gibson’s wailing saxophone. By second album, the Pharaohs were gone, Sam the Sham having replaced them all.
Learn to Dance
What the heck is a “Wooly Bully” anyway? As Hattie tells Mattie in the lyrics, it’s the latest dance craze. Word had it that Samudio wanted to knock off the then popular “Hully Gully” twist dance with a dance of his own and just needed something to call it. He’s always claimed it was the name of his cat. Whatever a “Wooly Bully” is, those two words are a permanent part of classic rock lexicon. Just ask Ry Cooder. - Eric Berg