Sam the Sham And The Pharaohs

Domingo Samudio was born on March 6th, 1937 near Dallas, Texas to a Spanish speaking couple of Mexican decent. His mother passed away when he was around three and half years old and his father was left to raise three children. He made his singing debut while still in second grade, representing his school in a live radio broadcast. Later, he took up guitar and formed a high school group with some friends, one of whom was Trini Lopez, who would later have several hit records of his own. After graduation, Samudio joined the Navy and lived in Panama for six years until his discharge in 1962. It was in the service that he began to act as an M.C. at dances and learned to crack jokes and cut up on stage. Back in the States, Domingo enrolled at the University of Texas in Arlington and took courses in music history. He studied Classical music in the daytime and played Rock 'n' Roll at night with a band he called The Pharaohs. The other original members were Carl Medke, Russell Fowler, Omar Lopez, and Vincent Lopez. The original lineup only recorded one record which failed to sell. They broke up in late 1962 before Sam left the music business to work in a carnival.

The carnival life didn't last and Domingo returned to Rock 'n' Roll. Hocking everything he had, he bought an organ and three days later accepted a job with a band called Andy And The Nightriders in Louisiana. "We became a popular roadhouse band," said Domingo, "playing mostly gun and knife clubs." When leader Andy Anderson left the group a short time later, Domingo took control of the band and decided to re-name it. "By that time, everyone was calling me 'Sam', short for Samudio," said Domingo, "and what I was doing, fronting the band and cutting up was called 'shamming'. We got the rest of the name from the movie The Ten Commandments. Old Ramses, the King of Egypt, looked pretty cool, so we decided to become The Pharaohs." The band featured a lot of comedy in their act and wore turbans and Egyptian garb on stage. As vans had yet to become popular, they hauled their gear from show to show in a 1952 Packard hearse.

The band got the chance to record at Fernwood Studios in Memphis, but early efforts like "Betty And Dupree" and "Haunted House" failed. In the Summer of 1964, they went into the studio with a song that used the words "Hully Gully". When told by the record company that they couldn't use that phrase, Sam said, "Okay, let's kick it off and I'll make something up." A popular rumor has made the rounds on the internet for years that the song was about Sam's cat, a story that he has flatly denied. "People make up all kinds of stories when they don't have the right answers. There was a saying around here, when anybody did good it's like 'Wooly Bully for you,' like 'big deal.' So that was all nonsensical. The count down part of the song was also not planned. I was just goofing around and counted off in Tex-Mex. It just blew everybody away, and actually I wanted it taken off the record. We did three takes, all of them different, and they took the first take and released it. It became the first American record to sell a million copies during the onslaught of the all the British groups." The single was originally released on the tiny XL label and was later picked up for distribution by MGM. It went on to sell over three and half million copies in the United States alone and over the years has been used in over forty movies. The lyrics of "Wooly Bully" were hard to understand, and some radio stations banned it, fearing that the words were suggestive. They weren't of course, and the record soared to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was nominated for a Grammy award and was named Record of the Year by Billboard magazine in 1965.

The lyrics to Wooly Bully actually were: (reprinted for educational purposes only)

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.

Riding the success of "Wooly Bully", Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs toured the world as a supporting act for The Beach Boys, Peter And Gordon, James Brown, Sonny And Cher and many others. The Pharaohs would reach the Billboard Top 40 twice more in 1965 with "Ju Ju Hand" (#26) and "Ring Dang Doo" (#31). MGM also issued two albums, "On Tour" and "Their Second Album".

In late 1965, just months after "Wooly Bully" hit, David Martin, Jerry Patterson, Ray Stinnett and Butch Gibson left the band over musical and financial disagreements. Sam was forced to hire a whole new set of touring musicians. He recruited a group called Tony Gee & The Gypsies to be the new Pharaohs. The band consisted of multi- instrumentalist Frank Carabetta, bassist Tony Gerace, drummer Billy Bennett and guitarist Andrew Kuha. The following year, after a song called "Red Hot" stalled at #97, this line-up enjoyed another huge hit record with the novelty tune "Lil' Red Riding Hood", which peaked at #2 during an eleven week chart run in America. The million selling disc gave Sam his second Gold Record. MGM kept pressuring him to produce another formula hit single, which led to a period in which the group abandoned their hard rocking sound in favor of adaptations of nursery rhymes, cartoon characters and other juvenile topics. A song called "The Hair On My Chinny-Chin Chin" somehow reached #22 in the Fall of 1966.

Personnel changes continued, and as the Sam The Sham Revue, Louis Vilardo of the original Gypsies replaced Billy Bennett on drums, and Ronnie (Spiderman) Jacobsen played bass. The group was augmented with a trio of female backup singers, Fran Curcio, Loraine Genero, and Jane Anderson, known as The Shamettes. The Shamettes released a couple singles on their own, one being a novelty response to "Li'l Red Riding Hood" called "(Hey There) Big Bad Wolf". It flopped miserably. Sam reached the Billboard Top 40 one last time in January, 1967 with "How Do You Catch A Girl", which reached #27. A few more releases made brief but forgettable appearances on the Hot 100. "Oh That's Good, No That's Bad" stalled at #54 in April, "Black Sheep" peaked at #68 in July, "Banned In Boston" topped out at #117 in September and "(I'd of wrote you a letter but) I Couldn't Spell !!@?%*!" quit at #120. By then, protests over the Vietnam War were in full swing and the American music scene was rapidly changing. The sound of Sam The Sham was no longer selling and the group disbanded. In 1970, Sam went out on his own and issued an album called "Sam, Hard and Heavy", which featured slide guitarist Duane Allman and The Dixie Flyers. The effort won a Grammy award, not for any of its music, but for Best Album Liner Notes.

Sam formed a new band in 1974 and continued touring. The early '80s found him working with Ry Cooder on the soundtrack for the film The Border, starring Jack Nicholson. At one point he left the music business completely and went to work in the off-shore oil fields and later became a non-denominational bible teacher in English and Spanish in a Federal institution. He would still perform now and again, but only if he could mix some of his Gospel tunes with his old hits. Original bassist David Martin, who co-wrote "Wolly Bully", died of a heart attack on August 2nd, 1987 at the age of 50.

Sam continued to release albums into the 1990s including "Wired, Fired and Inspired" in 1993 and "Won't Be Long" in 1995. He gave a rare concert performance at an oldies show called The Legends of Rock and Roll at the Greek Theatre in Hollywood, California on October 5th, 1996, along with The Rivingtons, Dodie Stevens, The Orlons and Lou Christie.

As the new millennium rolled, around Sam continued to record new albums. "Ballads and Troubadors" came in 2000, "Rambler" was issued in 2001 and "The Complete Wooly Bully Years 1963-1968" was released in 2004. Three more collections were made available from Sam's website in 2011, "The Fredonia Collection", "The Blues Collection" and "Mirame (Look At Me)". Sam earned a living as a motivational speaker and poet, and continued to make occasional concert appearances. As of 2016, the now 79-year-old Sam no longer had an official website, although a Facebook page was available.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Domingo Samudio