Before he became Patti Smith’s bass player, Lenny Kaye compiled the 2 album set, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Released in 1972, the two-LP set covered American garage rock and psychedelia from the years 1965-1968 and was a major influence on punk rock. Rhino Records reissued an expanded version of the set in 1998, with 118 tracks in total. I’m profiling and rating each of these 118 tracks, working backwards.
Track 93: Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
Release Date: 1965 (recorded in 1964)
From: Sam the Sham was from Texas, the band was from Tennessee.
Aphoristical Rating: 9/10
Domingo Samudio was born in Texas and served the navy in Panama. He took the name Sam the Sham to reflect jokes about his limited singing ability. He renamed his band The Pharaohs, using costumes inspired by The Ten Commandments.
‘Wooly Bully’ is the third consecutive well-known Nugget in this series, along with ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘I Want Candy. It reached #2 on the chart, but it stuck around in the charts. Billboard awarded it the number one song of the year. It also has the distinction of being the only national hit recorded in Sam Phillips’ larger Memphis studio, which replaced Sun Studios in 1960.
‘Wooly Bully’ is an odd song on paper – it’s a twelve-bar-blues with Sam the Sham’s odd vocals half-shouting strange words over the top.
Matty told Hatty
About a thing she saw
Had two big horns
And a wooly jaw
But thanks to some strange alchemical property of rock and roll, it’s a classic. Bruce Springsteen later said that “Any bar band worth their salt has got to know this one.” Joe Strummer cites ‘Wooly Bully’ on the live version of The Clash’s ‘Capital Radio’.
Even though the rest of the band quit in late 1965, Sam the Sham enjoyed more novelty hits. ‘Lil’ Red Riding Hood’ also hit number two, and ‘The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin’ almost cracked the top 20. Sam went solo in the 1970s, but his biggest acclaim was winning the 1972 Grammy for Best Album Notes. He later became a motivational speaker.