Sam the Sham
Domingo "Sam" Samudio (born 6 March 1937, Dallas, Texas), better known by his stage name Sam the Sham, is a retired American rock and roll singer. Sam the Sham was known for his camp robe and turban and hauling his equipment in a 1952 Packard hearse with maroon velvet curtains. As the front man for the Pharaohs, he sang on several Top 40 hits in the mid-1960s, notably the Billboard Hot 100 runners up "Wooly Bully" and "Li'l Red Riding Hood".
Samudio, who is of Mexican American descent, made his singing debut in second grade, representing his school in a radio broadcast. Later, he took up guitar and formed a group with friends, one of whom was Trini Lopez. After graduating from high school, Samudio joined the Navy, where he was known as "Big Sam." He lived in Panama for six years, until his discharge.
Back in the States, Samudio enrolled in college, studying voice at Arlington State College, now the University of Texas at Arlington. "I was studying classical in the daytime and playing rock and roll at night", he recalled. "That lasted about two years, before I dropped out and became a carny."
In Dallas in 1961, Sam formed "The Pharaohs," the name inspired from the costumes in Yul Brynner's portrayal as pharaoh in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments. The other members of "The Pharaohs" were Carl Miedke, Russell Fowler, Omar "Big Man” Lopez and Vincent Lopez (no relation to Omar). In 1962 the group made a record that did not sell. The Pharaohs disbanded in 1962.
In May 1963, Vincent Lopez was playing for Andy and The Nightriders in Louisiana. When their organist quit, Sam joined. Andy and The Nightriders was Andy Anderson, David A. Martin, Vincent Lopez and Sam. The Nightriders became house band at The Congo Club near Leesville, Louisiana. It was here that Sam took the name Sam the Sham from a joke about his inability as a vocalist.
In June 1963, The Nightriders headed for Memphis, Tennessee and became the house band at The Diplomat. In late summer 1963, Andy Anderson and Vincent Lopez left to return to Texas. Sam and David A. Martin replaced them with Jerry Patterson and Ray Stinnett and changed the name to "Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs." Shortly thereafter, the band added saxophonist Butch Gibson.
The breakthrough hit
After paying to record and press records to sell at gigs, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs wound up with the XL label in Memphis. There, they recorded their first and biggest hit, "Wooly Bully", a song about Sam's cat in late 1964. Once MGM picked up the record,"Wooly Bully" ended up selling 3 million copies and reaching No. 2 on the Hot 100 on 5 June 1965 at a time when American pop music charts were dominated by the British Invasion. It was awarded a gold disc.
Although "Wooly Bully" never reached #1, it lingered on the Hot 100 for 18 weeks, the most weeks for any single within the calendar year 1965, 14 of which were in the Top 40. It became the first Billboard "Number One Record of the Year" not to have topped a weekly Hot 100 and remained the only one for 35 years until Faith Hill's "Breathe" and Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
The Pharaohs' next releases – "Ju Ju Hand" (#26 US) (#31 Can.) and "Ring Dang Doo"- were minor successes. In late 1965, 11 months after "Wooly Bully", David A. Martin, Jerry Patterson, Ray Stinnett, and Butch Gibson left over a financial dispute. Sam's manager, Leonard Stogel, discovered Tony Gee & The Gypsys at the Metropole Cafe in Times Square, New York City. The band were Tony "Butch" Gerace (bass guitar and vocals) Frankie Carabetta (keyboards, saxophone and vocals) Billy Bennett (drums and percussion) and Andy Kuha (guitar and vocals). This new set of Pharaohs recorded "Li'l Red Riding Hood". On the Hot 100, "Lil' Red Riding Hood" began its two-week peak at #2 the week of August 6, 1966, just as another fairy tale title, "The Pied Piper" by Crispian St. Peters, was ending its three-week peak at #4. The track did even better by Cash Box Magazine's reckoning, reaching #1 the same week. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It also reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Magazine charts August 22, 1966.
A series of mostly novelty tunes followed, all on the MGM label, keeping the group on the charts into 1967. Titles included "The Hair On My Chinny Chin Chin" (US #22, Canadian #13), "How Do You Catch A Girl" (US #27, Canadian #12), "I Couldn't Spell !!*@!", and the rather confusing lyrics of "Oh That's Good, No That's Bad" (US #54).
In 1967, three girls, Fran Curcio, Lorraine Gennaro, and Jane Anderson, joined as The Shamettes. The group traveled to Asia as Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and The Shamettes. In late 1967, after the Six-day War between Israel and Egypt, Sam changed to Sam the Sham Revue. In 1970, Samudio went on his own and issued an Atlantic album called Sam, Hard and Heavy that won the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes in 1972. The album featured Duane Allman on guitar, the Dixie Flyers and the Memphis Horns. He formed a new band in 1974. In the late 1970s he worked with baritone saxophonist Joe Sunseri and his band based out of New Orleans. The early 1980s found Sam working with Ry Cooder and Freddy Fender on the soundtrack for the Jack Nicholson film The Border.
Sam married Louise Smith on August 28, 1959 in Dallas, Texas. They had one son named Dimitrius Samudio, born on May 28, 1963, in Dallas. They divorced on May 16, 1968, in Dallas.
After leaving the music business, Sam worked in Mexico as an interpreter and as a mate on small commercial boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Original Album Discography
- Wooly Bully (1965) MGM SE4297
- Their Second Album (1965) MGM SE4314
- On Tour (1965) MGM SE4347
- Li'l Red Riding Hood (1966) MGM SE4407
- The Sam the Sham Revue (1966) MGM SE4479
- Ten of Pentacles (1967) MGM SE4576
As Sam Samudio
- Rosson, Chester (September 2001). "Sam the Sham". Texas Monthly.
- Sam The Sham. Classicbands.com. Retrieved on 2012-04-24.
- "Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
- Pore-Lee-Dunn Productions. "Sam The Sham". Classicbands.com. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 196 & 212. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "Look Who We Found...Sam The Sham". Los Angeles Times. 8 September 1991. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
- samthesham.com - Official website archived in 2012