SAM THE SHAM (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born Domingo Samudio, 1940, near Dallas, Texas
'Uno, dos.one, two, tres, quatro..' was the now legendary opening to 'Wooly Bully', a top ten international hit that made the world aware of the music of Sam The Sham in 1965. The record with its pulsating Memphis beat was like a breath of fresh air to the then current sounds that assailed the ears of those bought up on a rock 'n' roll diet. (Similar was to happen a couple of years later with 'My Girl Josephine' by Jerry Jaye.) It is now rightly regarded as a classic and is often still performed on stage, for example it is a staple inclusion in the act of Sonny Burgess and The Pacers, and is frequently played on the radio.
Born Domingo Samudio in 1940 to Spanish speaking parents of Mexican descent in a town near Dallas, Texas, he made his singing debut whilst in the second grade of high school and went on to form a band, a member of which was Trini Lopez. After graduating, he joined the US navy and was based in Panama. Upon his discharge, Sam enrolled at the University of Texas in Arlington and took a course in music history, mainly classical, but took up playing rock 'n' roll at nights. This first line up of The Pharaohs was formed in 1961 and they developed into a must see act in the local clubs. This first line up included sixteen years old Vincent Lopez. Sam dropped out of this band and Vincent subsequently went on to join Andy & The Nighthawks, a band based in Louisiana led by Andy Anderson.
Three days after Sam had purchased an organ, he got a call to join Andy & The Nighthawks to replace a musician who had just left. He accepted and the band started to gig regularly and headed towards Memphis. Andy left a short while later and Sam took over the leadership of the band and thus Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs officially came into existence. There is a rumour that Andy & The Nighthawks cut a record but clear proof of this has yet to be confirmed. What is for sure is, that in 1963, the band pooled their earnings and entered the Fernwood studio to record 'Betty and Dupree' c/w 'Man Child' which was released on the small Memphis based Tupelo label (#2982). Almost around the same time, a version of 'Betty And Dupree' was recorded by drummer/vocalist Billy Adams (not the 'Rock Pretty Mama' guy) and released on Sun 389. Billy had been occasionally sitting in at Pharaohs gigs.
The next recording was to be Sam's rockin' update in 1964 of the Johnny Fuller song 'Haunted House' that, along with 'How Does A Cheating Woman Feel', was issued on Dingo 001, another small Memphis record company. History repeated itself as Jumpin' Gene Simmons recorded a similar version for Hi Records and this went on to become a national hit in the USA. I can recall Stan Kesler telling me that Sam was more than a little miffed at this turn of events. But all was to change. The group met up with Memphis music man Stan Kesler and was signed to his own XL Records in 1964. The first release was 'Juimonos (Let's Went)/The Signifying Monkey' (#905) but this was commercially still born. However all was to change with the next recordings when the group went in to lay down a hully gully type song. Goofing around in the studio, Sam came up with the legendary Tex Mex chant to kick off the opening to 'Wooly Bully', which just happened to be the name of his cat. Three versions, all different, were recorded but the first take, along with 'Ain't Gonna Move', was the one released as XL 906 and soon the disc started to make waves.
The master was acquired by MGM Records and in 1965 went top ten, becoming Billboard's Record Of The Year and apparently eventually selling over three million copies world wide. It made position #11 on the UK charts in June of that year. The Pharaohs at this time were Ray Stinnet on guitar, Butch Gibson on saxophone, Dave Martin on bass and Jerry Patterson on drums. They, along with Sam and the efforts of producer Stan Kesler, made an easy identifiable brand of quality happy rock 'n' roll music. Stan is a guy whom I have met on several occasions, a real gentleman and who is steeped in the music of Memphis. He was also responsible for the hits by Bobby Wood and whilst I believe has now retired, he could be found working in the nineties at the Sam Phillips Studio on Madison Avenue, that is when he was not touring as the bass player for the Sun Rhythm Section along with the likes of Sonny Burgess, D J Fontana, Jerry Lee Smoochy Smith and the late Paul Burlison.
Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs were on a roll and there was to be no shortage of released discs such as a searing version of 'Red Hot' along with 'Ju Ju Hand' and 'Ring Dang Doo'. These all made the lower reached of the charts but Sam came back to the USA top ten for the second, and last time, with 'Li'l Red Riding Hood'. This disc also made the UK hit parade. There was an answer version to the last mentioned titled '(Hey There) Big Bad Wolf' by the Sham-Ettes on MGM K13618 who were a femme trio and part of the Sam The Sham Revue. This hit sparked more top thirty placings with 'The Hair On My Chinny Chin Chin' and 'How Do You Catch a Girl'. I suppose that, for many, much of the recorded output of Sam and The Pharaohs can be regarded as novelty pieces but more often than not, there were solid rockin' performances contained in the wax. They were and remain fun music.
All in all, there were seventeen singles and six albums (actually seven if one includes a greatest hits compilation) from Sam The Sham on MGM, a substantial output. However the appeal to the record buying public gradually died away the days of the outfit turning up to show dates in their hearse Black Beauty became more infrequent. In 1970, Sam signed with Atlantic Records and issued the album 'Sam, Hard And Heavy' which featured Duane Allman on lead slide guitar. Seemingly there may have been a similar follow up album the next year issued under the name of Sam Samudio but it does not appear on Sam The Sham's web site.
Sam kept on working and in 1978 released two singles on the small Memphis based Fretone Records, 'Wookie Parts 1 & 11' (#FR 048) and 'Ain't No Lie/Baby, You Got It' (#FR049). In 1982, he participated with Ry Cooder on the soundtrack of the film 'The Border' which starred Jack Nicholson.
Eventually Sam became a non-denominational bible preacher and for a time this became his sole forte and, in 1993, he released his 'Wired, Fired and Inspired' album. Another memory that Stan Kesler told myself was that Sam was a man of high principles and refused a big money offer to re-record 'Wooly Bully' for a TV advertisement. Gradually Sam began to mix secular recordings with gospel inspired music and between 1995 and 2001 released a further four albums.
Today he plays selective dates and, for example in 2003, gave a red hot performance at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. Hopefully a promoter will sign him for some European dates, the man has got a rockin' soul.
- (UK) Spectrum 554 701 2 'The Best Of Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs' - 17 tracks (1998)
- (US) Rhino R2 75329 'Pharaohization - The Best Of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs' - 24 tracks (1998)
- (German) Golden Lion SAM 1001/2/3 'The Wooly Bully Years' - 93 tracks (states 1993 on liner but in actuality is 2004). This is a 3XCD set containing all six of the MGM albums plus the Tupelo, Dingo and two XL singles.
- Norton ED-234 'Turban Renewal'. A 28 track various artists compilation tribute to Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs (1994)
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