John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Wooly Bully”

Few bands ever had a droller, happier sound than Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs.

By - Apr 30th, 2015 05:48 pm
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First we gotta watch the video:

Welcome back. Isn’t that youtube segment the greatest collection of non sequitirs you’ve ever seen? It had to have been taken right off of someone’s TV — how else do you explain the two seconds of the young couple strolling and smiling in the beginning? Or the quick cut to a promo for the TV show The Untouchables at the end? They frame one of the happiest moments in popular culture, one that resonates in my heart and represents a gold standard of sorts for me.

When I’m supposed to like something someone presents to me as a daring artistic achievement, I often think, “How does this stack up against Wooly Bully?” I ask myself which records I would want to take to the desert island critics often refer to, they only allow 10.

By any measure this, and a whole lot of other high-spirited songs by Domingo Samudio better known as

Wooly Bully. Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.

Wooly Bully. Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.

easily make the list. For instance, have you heard Oh That’s Good, No That’s Bad! It’s such a perfect track, an instant lift out of any April doldrums that might affect you.

A group like Sam The Sam and his competent band, The Pharaohs could only have existed before rock criticism. As soon as writers started examining the significance of gasbag groups like The Moody Blues (post Denny Laine, that is) some of the fun got sucked out of the scene. It also rang the death knell for whole genres like frat-rock and beach music that were never intended to be anything other than an excuse to dance with a beer in your hand. Let’s face it, Knights In White Satin is a terrible song to puke to.

Sometimes the arrival of the new necessitates the departure of something wholly worthy and, in some cases, superior. The impulse to entertain is a generous one, while making a case for your artistic bona fides can seem selfish and ego driven. And humorless. But let’s give my pop thesis a break for now and get back to Sam the Sham.

That this band arose in Memphis strikes me as another spectacularly out-of-whack element in this long string of non sequiturs. When you think of that town, you hardly think Mexican American wearing a turban. But that’s where this band hailed from and, fact is, frat rock was big everywhere and these guys fell into that category. How he got there is a longer tale which includes a stint in the navy, six years living in Panama and a short career as a carny. He also studied classical music, but as the old saying goes, not enough to hurt his playing.

With a shout out to my friend Wiki, who informed me this song is about his cat, here are the lyrics:

Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro
Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw.
Had two big horns and a wooly jaw
Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully

Hatty told Matty, “Let’s don’t take no chance
Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance”
Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully

Matty told Hatty, “That’s the thing to do
Get you someone really to pull the wool with you”
Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully

© D Samudio

First and foremost, how about that spanglish countdown? It does my heart good every time I hear it — it’s every bit as good as The Beatles counting in I Saw Her Standing There. Oh, but there’s more to appreciate! Since we now know it’s about his cat, you have to wonder, where did he find one with horns? I always thought this was a dance song based on some tricky goat-based move. The clincher though, is in the second verse, where he sings, “Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance.” One shining virtue of American song is its beautiful conversational tone. He who gets the latest slang right, wins. I’m obviously out of the loop with any modern slang, but L-seven in a song is one of the hippest things anyone ever said back then.

Garage rock, the one genre that seemed to sneak around all the praise given it by rock scholars, later gave birth to punk rock, the ultimate slap in the face to the fatuousness and over-produced. Sam The Sham could fit very neatly into punk, but since he had his hits in the decade before its rise, he slots into garage rock a little more neatly. Certainly it wasn’t him the tattered nose piecers were up in arms over. You couldn’t accuse Sam of slickness, in fact,the “Sham” moniker was adopted in joking reference to his just OK singing voice.

Back to the video and the whole vibe of this group. Don’t you love the fact that the girls on the set (They may be The Shamettes, who were added later) don’t move at all? At that time, if you were on TV and a band was playing, it was shimmy, monkey, frug, swim or get off the stage.

The capper in the Sam the Sham mythology is the fact that they hauled their gear around in a 1952 Packard Hearse with maroon velvet curtains. An unsubstantiated story I heard was that Sam slept in a coffin in the back and slid out one night as they travelled down the highway. The car behind them stopped to look and he popped out, unscathed and smiling. It might not pass a lie detector test, but why let the facts ruin a good story?

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