Hello there! This week our blog features a novelty rock song, Wooly Bully. We will first discuss the original by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. Next, we will review a cover of this song by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and we will finish with a cover by Los Pacaminos.
Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs and Wooly Bully:
Domingo “Sam” Samudio was born in January 1937 in Dallas, Texas. He began his singing career in school, where he formed a group with school mates who included Trini Lopez.
In 1961, Samudio formed a pop group called “The Pharoahs.” He was inspired by Yul Brynner’s “Pharoah” costume in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments.
Although the original “Pharoahs” disbanded after only one year, Samudio later formed a new group with the same name. Below is a publicity photo for Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. Sam Samudio is in front wearing a turban.Embed from Getty Images
Sam Samudio wrote the novelty tune Wooly Bully in 1964. Samudio based his song on a 12-bar blues tune called Hully Gully Now by Big Bo and the Arrows. The song Hully Gully Now was itself based on the song Feelin’ Good by Junior Parker.
In his version, Samudio simply replaced the words ‘Hully Gully’ with ‘Wooly Bully,’ which he claimed was the name of his pet cat. Sam retained the phrase “watch it now, watch it now” from the tune by Big Bo and the Arrows.
The song Wooly Bully recounts a discussion between ‘Mattie’ and ‘Hattie’ regarding a strange creature that Mattie had seen.
Uno, dos, one, two, tres, cuatro
Mattie told Hattie about a thing she saw
Had two big horns and a wooly jaw
[CHORUS] Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully
Hattie told Mattie, let’s don’t take no chance
Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance
So here is Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs in a live performance of Wooly Bully from 1965.
Wooly Bully features an insistent beat that propels the song forward. This is buttressed by Sam Samudio’s strong vocals, pulsating keyboards, and a rocking horn section.
The song shot up to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. It was beaten out for #1 first by the Beach Boys Help Me, Rhonda and then by Back In My Arms Again from The Supremes.
However, despite the fact that it never cracked #1, Wooly Bully was named Number One Record of 1965 by Billboard. This was primarily because the tune remained on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for an unusually long 18 weeks, by far the longest tenure on the charts for any song in 1965.
Note that Sam the Sham and his group are dressed up in Egyptian costumes (hence the name The Pharoahs). It was typical of early Hispanic rock groups to conceal their ethnic origins, out of concern that their popularity would suffer if it was known that they were Hispanic or Mexican.
However, Sam reveals his Hispanic roots when he counts out the beat at the beginning in Tex-Mex lingo – “uno, dos, one, two, tres, cuatro.”
The lyrics to Wooly Bully are somewhat obscure. Some people suspected that the song contained sly obscene references, and there are reports that the song was banned on some radio stations.
The warning, “Let’s not be L-7”, means “Let’s not be square”, from the shape formed by the fingers making an L on one hand and a 7 on the other.
By the way, Wooly Bully was initially released in 1964 on the obscure XL label from Memphis. The tune was subsequently given a national release by MGM in 1965, and it then shot up the charts. Wooly Bully was recorded in the Sam C. Phillips studios in Memphis, the successor to Phillips’ legendary Sun Records studios.
A couple of trivia notes. First, Wooly Bully was the biggest hit ever recorded in the Sam C. Phillips studios. Also, the song was the first American record to sell over a million copies during the period of the British Invasion.
Wooly Bully has appeared in a number of movies that reference youth culture in the 60s. For example, the song appears in the films The Rookie, Full Metal Jacket, Splash, Scrooged, Monsters vs. Aliens and Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Here is a clip of Wooly Bully appearing in the teen classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
This scene appeared at the end of the movie. At a high school dance, student Jeff Spicoli jumps onstage and joins the band in their vocals.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was directed by Amy Heckerling. The script was written by Cameron Crowe and is based on the book by Crowe (with the same title) after he went undercover impersonating a student at Clairemont High School in San Diego.
The film was a surprise hit, and was the breakout role for Sean Penn who played surfer slacker Jeff Spicoli. Spicoli spent the entire movie being hassled by sarcastic teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walton). The film also featured prominent roles by young actors Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates (appearing in a memorable topless scene), Nicolas Cage and Forest Whitaker.
Despite Roger Ebert’s dismissive review that termed it “a scuz-pit of a movie,” Fast Times At Ridgemont High has become a cult classic. It was rated #87 on the American Film Institute’s 2000 list “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Laughs.”
And now back to Sam The Sham. Following his success with Wooly Bully, Sam became somewhat typecast as a producer of novelty songs. He struck gold once more with Li’l Red Riding Hood in 1966, which made it to #2 on the Billboard pop charts. However, follow-up songs such as The Hair On My Chinny-Chin-Chin, I Couldn’t Spell !!*@! and Oh That’s Good, No That’s Bad all tanked.
In the 1980s, Sam Samudio collaborated with Ry Cooder and Freddy Fender on the soundtrack for the Jack Nicholson film The Border. Some time after that, Sam quit the music business. He was employed in Mexico as an interpreter, and also worked on fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nowadays Sam Samudio works as a motivational speaker. We are told that he also makes the occasional concert appearance even today. We salute Mr. Samudio, who had a couple of big novelty hits and “walked like an Egyptian.”
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Wooly Bully:
Joan Jett has been a female rock icon for a few decades now. She can rock out with the best of them, and has crafted a career that has spanned the eras of hard rock, glam rock, punk rock and now hip-hop.
Joan Marie Larkin was born in September, 1958 in a suburb of Philadelphia. As a child, she began taking guitar lessons, but quit when her instructors insisted on teaching her folk music. After her parents divorced, Joan adopted her mother’s maiden name Jett.
In 1975, Joan Jett was one of the founding members of the West Coast all-girl band The Runaways. They developed a strong regional following and opened on tour for bands such as Cheap Trick, Van Halen and The Ramones.
Although the Runaways became international favorites in Europe, Asia and South America, they never achieved much commercial success in the U.S. When the group disbanded in 1979, Joan Jett set out on a solo career.
While pursuing a number of potential projects, Joan met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna. The two teamed up and recorded a demo album in England, which they brought back to the States. After the album was rejected by 23 different record companies (!) Laguna took his daughter’s college savings, created Blackheart Records, and issued Jett’s record on his own label.
Laguna then formed The Blackhearts to serve as Joan’s backing band. Over the next couple of years, the group steadily built up a following, although they were sufficiently strapped for funds that they were reduced to selling albums out of the trunk of their car following concerts.
Below is a photo of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, circa 1989.Embed from Getty Images
However, this all changed in 1982 when I Love Rock and Roll, the title single from the group’s album of the same name, rocketed up to #1 on the Billboard singles chart.
That song became a youth anthem and a cult classic. It is currently rated #56 all time by Billboard magazine, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. The success of this song catapulted Joan Jett and her band to superstar status, and she has remained on top for the past few decades.
Here is Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in a live performance of Wooly Bully.
This took place in 1982 and was filmed on the German TV rock show Rockpop. Joan and the Blackhearts barrel through their cover of Wooly Bully. Lead guitarist Ricky Byrd provides an energetic guitar solo that matches Joan’s powerful vocals, to the delight of the German audience who are clapping and bopping throughout.
Well, Joan Jett has been described as “The Godmother of Punk” and “The Original Riot Grrrl.” Hard rock has not been a welcoming place for female artists, and women have to work overtime to be accepted into this male-dominated society. However, few would argue with Joan Jett’s credentials as a bona fide rocker.
You know that you have achieved fame when you become a household name in popular culture. Thus, Joan Jett knew she had truly made it when Mattel released a “Joan Jett Barbie doll” in 2009. Also, cartoonist Berke Breathed introduced a band called Tess Turbo and the Blackheads in his comic strip Bloom County.
MMA fighter Ronda Rousey used the Joan Jett song Bad Reputation as her walking-out music. And the Women’s NCAA basketball tournament chose a Joan Jett tune as the theme song for their Final Four Weekend.
Cementing her reputation as a genuine rocker, Joan Jett is ranked #87 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Ms. Jett has also appeared in a number of films to generally supportive reviews.
So, here’s to Joan Jett. She worked hard at her craft in a genre where very few women have made it to the top. And she succeeded on her own terms. We hope that she continues to enjoy her success.
Los Pacaminos and Wooly Bully:
Los Pacaminos are a really interesting group. They were formed by frontman Paul Young, a British singer who had several pop hits.
Paul Young was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England in January 1956. As a youth, he divided his time between semi-pro soccer and music. He joined a couple of bands as a bass player and vocalist, and they built up a following in England.
In 1980 Young was the lead singer with a group called the Q Tips. They specialized in covers of R&B songs, performing a “blue-eyed soul” routine similar to that of the great American duo Hall and Oates. But the Q Tips never quite managed to break through commercially, so in 1982 they disbanded and Young signed a solo contract with Columbia Records.
In 1983 Young’s cover of the Marvin Gaye song Wherever I Lay My Hat reached #1 on the UK pop charts. Young became a star in Britain and had considerable success in Europe.
Then in 1985, Young’s cover of the Hall & Oates tune Everytime You Go Away became a smash international hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. At this point Young’s career really took off.
Young was a headliner at the Live Aid charity concert, and he sang a cover of the Crowded House tune Don’t Dream It’s Over at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert. In 1992, Young performed the song Radio Ga Ga with the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
Given Young’s popularity as a singer of blue-eyed soul tunes and “adult contemporary” music, it seemed a great surprise when he formed the group Los Pacaminos in 1990.
Los Pacaminos are a Tex-Mex band. They were inspired by music from Ry Cooder and groups such as the Texas Tornados. Young assembled a group of musicians who were expert in this genre, and they began performing in small clubs before heading out on tour.
Below is a photo of Los Pacaminos performing at the Camp Bestival Festival in Dorset.Embed from Getty Images
Los Pacaminos has released a couple of albums and continues to tour. Here is Los Pacaminos in a live cover of Wooly Bully.
I enjoy this studio version of the classic from Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. The band really wails through this number, including a fine pedal steel guitar solo and that Tex-Mex staple, the accordion. The song was recorded in a single take at London’s Berry Street Studios in July 2010.
It would certainly be a treat to catch Los Pacaminos in concert. I wish Paul Young all the best. He continues to combine touring and performing his solo hits with the occasional performance by Los Pacaminos.