Here’s some music destined to make you smile!
I vividly recall this song being played during my childhood at the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J. There was an amusement park swing-ride that spun the intrepid, screaming passengers out OVER the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean to be specific.
Even now, I can feel a bit queasy, just remembering the vision and hearing that music — the song of that summer — the theme for that hairy trip out over the briny deep:
“Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.
Sam was, and is, as of this date, Domingo “Sam” Samudio, born in Dallas, Texas in 1937. Quite a handsome man of unusual talents, Sam was the front man for the Pharaohs, the rock and roll group that hit it big in 1965 with this incomparable composition.
A singer since childhood, Domingo also learned guitar, but service in the U.S. Navy preceded an off-the-wall professional musical career. While serving in the military in Panama, he earned the nickname, Big Sam, perhaps for his imposing nature as much as for his height. He then studied classical music and voice at college, by day, and played rock ’n roll by night. This bifurcated approach to an auditory art ended when Domingo dropped out of college and became a carney.
It was, therefore, only fitting that his biggest hit became a soundtrack to at least one summer at the Jersey shore.
Domingo was clearly following his heart to a tune that was not new; but, when performed with his inimitable style, that driving beat and vocalized humor was musical magic of a rip-roaring, devil-may-care exuberance that delights to this very day.
This phenomenally re-written version of a song started its musical life as “Hully Gully Now”. Domingo swapped out “Hully Gully” with “Wooly Bully”; revised a few other lyrics, or word choices; kept the “watch it watch it now” watchwords, created a Tex-Mex saxophone salsa dance recipe from a standard 12-bar blues progression and —
SMASH ROCK AND ROLL HIT!
“Wooly Bully” is the name of the cat of this remarkably innovative singer/musician/songwriter. In late 1964, this song was recorded by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in Memphis at an obscure label named LX (the remnant of Sun Records). MGM picked up the vinyl and promoted it in the States.
The band had done three takes, each one different, during this original recording session in the old Sam Philips studio. The first take was the one with the improvisation by “Sam”. He was just goofing around, having fun, feeling no pressure to perform, and feeling no pain while creating an epic ditty. Domingo has stated that first take “just blew everybody away.” He’d wanted it taken off the record.
That initial exploit of a spontaneous eruption of frivolity and musical fusion was the single released on 12 March 1965 by MGM!
Being able to have fun with your art is essential for attaining that state of zen of being a true professional . If you can’t smile and laugh while singing a cheerful tune, you’re acting the part, not being it. You’re putting on a phoney pretender show and ripping off the audience. You really are A Sham.
Have we not had enough of the fraudulency for the fast bucks?
The sounds of genuine humor and a guy enjoying a lark with lyrics and organ riffs — that record reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 on 5 June 1965.
“Wooly Bully” sold 3 million copies. It never reached that coveted No. 1 spot, instead rocking and rolling and tenor-saxophoning for 18 weeks on the Hot 100. Within that calendar year of 1965, this jaunty, jiving song held the record position for any single, with 14 weeks on the Top 40. “Wooly Bully” attained the astonishing fame of becoming the first Billboard “Number One Record of the Year” — without becoming No. 1 of the Weekly Hot 100 — of any week.
This song is No. 1 in my memory for being one of the most rollicking, fun, playful, campy compositions ever recorded, performed, and played in these United States. The name “Sam the Sham” was chosen by Domingo due to a joke about his lack of talent and ability as a vocalist. I find his singing, however, to be naturally manly, gifted, and smooooth!
One factoid that is most fascinating is the rather last-minute replacement/addition to the band of tenor saxophonist Butch Gibson, a young dude, who joined the equally green drummer, bassist and rhythm guitarist. That unpolished combo was it: 4 musicians, along with Domingo on organ and voice, having the time of his life, mimicking Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh in the 1956 Hollywood epic, The Ten Commandments.
An additional antic for this comedic musical group was the 1954 Packard Hearse with maroon velvet curtains that hauled the band equipment. For those who do not know what such a funeral cart looks like, I can only attest to the evidence that this choice of conveyance for a traveling band was dark humor at its most overstated.
The parents of a childhood friend of mine used to rent out the Family Car, a Cadillac hearse, with white velvet curtains, for use by the local Funeral Home. For a few years, in grammar school, I was unable to look at that hulking black vehicle, whenever it came to pick up those more “affluent” school-children at curb-side, and not hear Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs playing this swinging number called Wooly Bully.
Below are the lyrics to a song that is so one-of-a-kind, no one can successfully cover it, regardless of the tempo and the turban. Domingo Samudio, a Texan of Basque and Mexican blood, is still going strong, and so is this golden oldie!
You can cue the music online, or on a CD of your classic audio collection.
If “Wooly Bully” doesn’t put a smile on your face, and make your feet, and your body, move in syncopated rhythm, then you’re L7.
In the immortal words of President Theodore Roosevelt:
One, two, tres, cuatro.
Aye, Wooly Bully
Watch it now watch it
Here he come, here he come
Watch it now, he get ya
Matty told Hatty
about a thing she saw
Had two big horns
and a wooly jaw
Hatty told Matty,
“Let’s don’t take no chance
Let’s not be L-7
Come and learn to dance.”
Watch it now, watch it,
watch it, watch it
Drive, drive, drive.
Matty told Hatty
“That’s the thing to do
Get you someone really
pull the wool with you.”
Watch it now,
Here he come
You got it,
You got it!