Nuggets: Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

Before he became Patti Smith’s lead guitarist, 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.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever heard it out in the wild, so it still has some mystique for me.

  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.

          • One time I saw a clip of Arthur Brown singing Fire and I thought to myself, Alice Cooper stole his whole act.

    • 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.

    • Your mum is cooler than mine! Mine used to like The Seekers but finds them a bit too rocking now.

          • I’ve been thinking about Mighty Quinn lately – I like that song. Not so keen on Blinded by the Light.

        • That’s weird because Whiter Shade of Pale is my number one single of all time. I almost changed it a few days ago because it’s been at number one for years and I think I was going to change it to Layla or Nights in White Satin or something else in my top 10, but I didn’t after all. And Manfred Mann’s Do Wah Diddy is my number 20 or something like that.

          • No I never did hear it, but somebody told me that it was a completely different song. That it’s not the same song. Is it?

          • Same song – as you’ve discovered. Allegedly he broke a microphone recording it.

          • Two different ones. The captain beefheart was written by Willie Dixon, and the Manfred Mann is by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

          • I just listened to it and it’s completely different song.. it’s like a blues song. I like the Brill Building one better. Lol . I think blues songs are horrible and they’re all the same. I like all the different kinds of blues influenced music but straight up blues are just such boring songs. There’s like no variation and it’s like hearing the same one over and over. I guess that’s part of its appeal to people though. I guess they really like the blues structure and all that stuff. I actually think blues rock was a great improvement over straight up blues. Better songs.

          • I’m not huge on blues, but Beefheart has enough personality to make it work, I think.

          • It’s like the same way that I like folk rock but I don’t like straight up folk very much. It needs to have something else added to it to make it good.

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