You might be surprised to learn that biggest-selling record to ever come of out of Sun Studio in Memphis was not recorded by Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash or any of their famous contemporaries. It was instead 1965’s “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. You might also find it a little strange that the group’s smash record just made it to #2 on the charts, but was named Billboard’s Number One Record of the Year. Maybe they realized that it was on its way to becoming a bar-band classic.
Domingo ‘Sam’ Samudio was a Dallas-born musician who kicked around for a while in the early 1960s before finally forming a combo with guitarist Ray Stinnet, bassist David Martin, saxophonist Butch Gibson, and drummer Jerry Patterson. Samudio called the group the Pharaohs — a name he’d used before — but this time around he also began billing himself as Sam the Sham, a sarcastic response to criticism of his singing abilities.
The group got a record made on a song called “Haunted House” and it sold well enough, but the guys didn’t really make much of a splash until they recorded a new song Samudio had written, one that combined his cat’s name with a tribute to the Hully Gully dance.The lyrics of “Wooly Bully” were pretty harmless but just nonsensical enough to worry some censors, and it definitely featured a Tex-Mex flavor, beginning with Samudio’s countdown in Spanish. (Which he later said was just him ‘goofing around’.)
The song struck a chord with the record-buying public, and even though it didn’t quite hit the top of the charts it was so popular for so long that it was chosen Song of the Year. It eventually became the most popular piece in every small combo’s songbook and has also appeared on the soundtracks of countless movies. As for Samudio and his guys, they followed up with another big hit on “Li’l Red Riding Hood” and made a number of good records but soon became typecast as a novelty act, much to their frustration. Within a couple of years the group broke up and everybody went their separate ways, although Samudio did reappear from time to time in various venues. Now in his late seventies, he appears to have performed as recently as 2012 but there doesn’t seem to be much happening with him since.
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – “Li’l Red Riding Hood”