Nuggets: Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

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.

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Aphoristical
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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51 Comments

  1. Classic? Well, if by that we mean a song they played a lot, you can hear in your head when someone mentions it and you cannot then get it back out of your head, sure. I see Springsteen’s point. But I could live a long time without hearing this one again.

  2. I was 10 years old when this came out (yes, I’m now ancient), and I loved it and eventually bought the 45 single. Even though the lyrics are non-sensical rubbish, it’s such a fun, catchy tune.

  3. I never understood the wide appeal of this song…but yes…we played it after hearing it requested over and over. It is fun though I give it that…it’s a party or a drunk in a bar song.
    But yea…it’s a classic. A tier or so below Louie Louie…I can enjoy it in small doses.

    • I’ve never heard it enough for it to bother me. It’s certainly an odd song to become the top-seller of the year, especially at the peak of Beatlemania.

  4. The thing I like best about this is the way the drums don’t match up. They must have done something wrong when they were recording the drums but I like it.

      • I really don’t know if the drummer played standing up . But I know they always dressed up like Arab sheiks or pharaohs. I kind of like the way of a lot of bands of that era wore costumes, like Paul Revere and the Raiders and stuff like that. Ha ha. And those bands that used to wear old-fashioned Edwardian suits and stuff. The Buckinghams. I think The Kinks did that too.

    • It’s never been over exposed for me – looks like there are commenters in both camps though, it’s a divisive songS

  5. There was a local band here that would tear the house down with this to close out the night. Man was that fun. ‘Wooly Bully. Watch it now”. CB is a sax guy so Im all in with this one.

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