Sheb Wooley

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Sheb Wooley
Wooley in 1971
Shelby Fredrick Wooley

(1921-04-10)April 10, 1921
DiedSeptember 16, 2003(2003-09-16) (aged 82)
Other namesBen Colder
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actor
  • comedian
Years active1936–1999
Musical career

Shelby Fredrick "Sheb" Wooley (April 10, 1921 – September 16, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, and actor. He recorded a series of novelty songs including the 1958 hit rock and roll comedy single "The Purple People Eater"[1] and under the name Ben Colder the country hit "Almost Persuaded No. 2". As an actor, he portrayed Cletus Summers, the principal of Hickory High School and assistant coach in the 1986 film Hoosiers; Ben Miller, brother of Frank Miller in the film High Noon; Travis Cobb in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and scout Pete Nolan in the television series Rawhide. Wooley is also credited as the voice actor who provided the Wilhelm scream and all of the other stock sound effects for Thomas J. Valentino's Major record label during the 1940s.

Early life[edit]

Sheb Wooley was born in 1921 in Erick, Oklahoma, the third son of William C. Wooley and Ora E. Wooley.[2] Wooley claimed to be part Cherokee.[3] He had two older brothers, Logan and Hubert, as well as a younger brother, William.[4][2] Federal census records for 1930 and 1940 identify Sheb's father only as a "Farmer", although the family's livestock holdings apparently included horses, for Sheb learned to ride at an early age and became a working cowboy and later an accomplished rodeo rider.

Wooley married for the first time in 1940, wedding 17-year-old Melva Miller, a cousin of Roger Miller who would later become a successful song writer and actor himself.[5] Wooley became friends with Miller when he lived in Oklahoma. He taught the boy how to play guitar chords and bought his first fiddle for him.

When the United States entered World War II, Wooley tried to enlist in the military but was unsuccessful due to his numerous rodeo injuries. Instead, in the early 1940s he worked in the oil industry and as a welder. In 1946 he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he earned a living as a country-western musician recording songs and traveling for three years with a band throughout the South and Southwest.[5] In Fort Worth he also married for the second time, to Edna Talbott Bunt, a young widow with an infant son named Gary.[6] The three of them left Texas in 1950 and moved to Hollywood, where Wooley hoped to establish himself as an actor or singer in film or in the rapidly expanding medium of television.[5]

Music career[edit]

At the age of 15, with a talent for music, Wooley formed a band called the "Plainview Melody Boys", that periodically performed on radio at station KASA in Elk City, Oklahoma.[5] He started his recording career in 1945.[7] His music encompassed Western swing,[7] country, hillbilly, rock and roll,[8] pop[9] and novelty songs.[1] At the start of the 1950s, Wooley began fusing Western swing with rhythm and blues, but later in his career his music would shift to the more commercial Nashville sound.[7]

In 1958, Wooley earned considerable fame with his hit rock and roll comedy single, "The Purple People Eater", utilizing tape manipulation inspired by the David Seville single "Witch Doctor".[8][9] In the United Kingdom, he enjoyed a minor hit with the comedy single "Luke the Spook" on the flip side of "My Only Treasure", a ballad in the country and western tradition. Wooley also had a string of country hits, with his "That's My Pa" reaching No. 1 of Billboard's Hot C&W Sides chart in March 1962. That same year, Wooley intended to record the song "Don't Go Near the Indians", but he was delayed by an acting job. Meanwhile, Rex Allen recorded the song, and it was a hit. Wooley, however, would do the sequel to the song, "Don't Go Near the Eskimos", about a boy in Alaska named Ben Colder (had never "been colder").[10] This sequel was so successful that Wooley continued using the name Ben Colder, with one of his later recordings being "Shaky Breaky Car" (which parodied the song "Achy Breaky Heart").[10] In December 1963, his single "Hootenanny Hoot" became a top-10 hit in Australia; and in 1967 his song "The Love-in" (1967) was recognized as an acerbic commentary on the 1960s' counterculture.[11]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wooley became a regular on the television series Hee Haw and wrote the theme song for that long-running series. On Hee Haw he often appeared as the character Ben Colder, playing him as a drunken country songwriter.[10] Outside of Hee Haw, Wooley released music and performed as Ben Colder, although he would still sing under his own name as well.[10] Wooley continued to tour internationally and make personal concert appearances until his death in 2003. Wooley recorded his last written song just four days before he died.

Acting career[edit]

TV Westerns[edit]

Wooley's work in syndicated TV series included appearances on The Range Rider, portraying outlaw Jim Younger on Stories of the Century (1954), and five appearances on The Adventures of Kit Carson (1951-1955).

He appeared in The Lone Ranger episodes “Stage to Estacado” (1953); “Wake of War" (1953); "Message to Fort Apache" (1954), and "Wanted: The Lone Ranger" (1955). He portrayed Bill Bronson on The Cisco Kid, Harry Runyon in "The Unmasking" on My Friend Flicka, and Shev Jones in "The Iron Trail" on Cheyenne. He appeared twice on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.

Wooley's big break professionally came when he was cast as the drover Pete Nolan on Rawhide (1959–1965). Wooley also wrote and directed some of the episodes.


Wooley appeared in dozens of Western films from the 1950s through the 1990s. He was in Rocky Mountain (1950), and he portrayed outlaw Ben Miller in High Noon (1952) and Baxter in Terror in a Texas Town (1958).

He also acted in major films, including Giant, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Silverado, and in Hoosiers.

The "Wilhelm scream"[edit]

Sheb Wooley is also credited as the voice actor for the Wilhelm scream, having appeared on a memo as a voice extra for Distant Drums in which he had an acting role. This was later confirmed by his widow Linda Dotson.[12][13] The stock recording of the distinctive scream has been used by sound-effects teams in over 200 films.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Wooley was married five times. His first wife was Melva Miller, whom he married in 1940. Six years later he married Edna Talbott Bunt in Fort Worth, Texas. His third wife was Beverly Irene Addington. He and Beverly remained together for 19 years and adopted one daughter, Chrystie Lynn. Then, in 1985, he married Deanna Grughlin and then his manager Linda Dotson, who already had a daughter, Shauna.[15][16][17]

Wooley was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, which forced him to retire from public performing in 1999.[18] After seven years of battling the illness, he died at the age of 82 at the Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 16, 2003. He was entombed in Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee.[19]


Wooley was the recipient of numerous awards over the years for his accomplishments as a singer, actor, and writer for both comedic and dramatic productions. In 1968 he received the Country Music Association's Comedian of the Year Award.[20] He also received the 1992 Songwriter of the Year, two Golden Boot Awards, and he won the Western Heritage Award for nine consecutive years in recognition of his film and television work in Westerns.[5]



Year Album US Country Label
1956 Sheb Wooley MGM
1960 Songs from the Days of Rawhide
1962 That's My Pa and That's My Ma
1963 Tales of How the West Was Won
Spoofing the Big Ones (as Ben Colder)
Ben Colder (as Ben Colder)
1965 The Very Best
It's a Big Land
1966 Big Ben Strikes Again (as Ben Colder) 17
1967 Wine Women & Song (as Ben Colder) 44
1968 The Best of Ben Colder (as Ben Colder) 44
Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day) (as Ben Colder)
1969 Warm and Wooley
Have One On (as Ben Colder)
1970 Big Ben Colder Wild Again (as Ben Colder)
1971 Live and Loaded (as Ben Colder)
1972 Warming Up to Colder (as Ben Colder)
1973 The Wacky World (as Ben Colder)


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US
CAN Country CAN
1955 "Are You Satisfied?" 95 singles only
1958 "The Purple People Eater" 1 1
1959 "Sweet Chile" 70
1959 "Pygmy Love (flip side Careless Hands)"
1962 "That's My Pa" 1 51 11 That's My Pa and That's My Ma
"Don't Go Near the Eskimos" (as Ben Colder) 18 62 Spoofing the Big Ones
1963 "Hello Wall No. 2" (as Ben Colder) 30 131 Ben Colder
"Still No. 2" (as Ben Colder) 98
"Detroit City No. 2" (as Ben Colder) 90 Spoofing the Big Ones
1964 "Blue Guitar" 33 The Very Best
1966 "I'll Leave the Singin' to the Bluebirds" 34 single only
"Almost Persuaded No. 2" (as Ben Colder) 6 58 53 Big Ben Strikes Again
"Tonight's the Night My Angel's Halo Fell" 70 single only
1968 "Tie a Tiger Down" 22 Warm and Wooley
"Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day)" (as Ben Colder) 24 67 18 82 Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day)
1969 "Little Green Apples No. 2" (as Ben Colder) 65
"I Remember Loving You" 52 Warm and Wooley
"The One Man Band" 63 single only
1970 "Big Sweet John" (as Ben Colder) 47 Have One On
1971 "Fifteen Beers Ago" (as Ben Colder) 50 Live and Loaded


Year Title Role Notes
1950 Rocky Mountain Kay Rawlins
1951 Apache Drums Townsman Uncredited
1951 Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison Chick Fullis Uncredited
1951 Little Big Horn Quince
1951 Fort Worth Outrider Uncredited
1951 Distant Drums Pvt. Jessup Uncredited
1952 Bugles in the Afternoon Gen. George Armstrong Custer Uncredited
1952 High Noon Ben Miller
1952 Hellgate Neill Price
1952 Cattle Town Miller
1952 The Lusty Men Gambler with Buster Uncredited
1952 Toughest Man in Arizona Army Officer Uncredited
1952 Sky Full of Moon Balladeer Voice
1953 Texas Bad Man Mack
1954 The Boy from Oklahoma Pete Martin
1954 Rose Marie Corporal Uncredited
1954 Arrow in the Dust Trooper Uncredited
1954 Johnny Guitar Posseman Uncredited
1954 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Minor Role Uncredited
1955 Man Without a Star Latigo
1955 Trial Butteridge Uncredited
1955 The Second Greatest Sex Silas - Jones City Leader
1956 Giant Gabe Target
1956 The Black Whip Bill Lassater
1957 The Oklahoman Cowboy Uncredited
1957 Trooper Hook Cooter Brown
1957 Ride a Violent Mile Jonathan Long
1958 Terror in a Texas Town Baxter Uncredited
1959 Rio Bravo Cowboy (scenes deleted)
1963 Hootenanny Hoot Himself
1966 Country Boy Sheb Wooley
1967 The War Wagon Snyder
1976 The Outlaw Josey Wales Travis Cobb
1986 Silverado Cavalry Sergeant
1986 Uphill All the Way Anson Sudro
1986 Hoosiers Cletus Summers
1988 Purple People Eater Harry Skinner


  1. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 109. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  2. ^ a b "The Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940," Raney Township, Greer County, Oklahoma, April 22, 1940; United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. Digital copy of original enumeration page available on FamilySearch, an online genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  3. ^ "Sheb Wooley | | the Guardian".
  4. ^ "The Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930," Raney Township, Greer County, Oklahoma, April 2, 1930. FamilySearch. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Michener, Judith (2009). "Wooley, Shelby (1921-2003)", The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, The Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  6. ^ "Gary Wayne Bunt (1943-2016)", obituary, Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), June 11, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Eder, Bruce. "That's My Pa Review by Bruce Eder". AllMusic. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  8. ^ a b Eder, Bruce. "Sheb Wooley". Allmusic. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Adams, Greg. "The Purple People Eater [Bear Family] Review". AllMusic. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 507/8. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  11. ^ "Sheb Wooley — The Love in (1967)", full song presented on YouTube. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  12. ^ Lee, Steve (2005). "The WILHELM Scream," Hollywood Lost and Found; essay on origin and later use of sound effect dated May 17, 2005. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  13. ^ Malvern, Jack (May 21, 2005). "Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhh!!". The Times. Retrieved December 12, 2009.
  14. ^ "The Wilhelm Scream". Hollywood Lost and Found. May 1, 2010. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  15. ^ Dennis McLellan (September 18, 2003). "Sheb Wooley, 82; Appeared in Film, TV Westerns, Wrote 'Purple People Eater'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Spencer Leigh (September 22, 2013). "Sheb Wooley: Singer-songwriter/actor whose hits included 'Purple People Eater'". Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  17. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The woman who can´t watch movies, the documentary". YouTube. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  18. ^ Dennis McLellan (September 18, 2003). "Sheb Wooley, 82; Appeared in Film, TV Westerns, Wrote 'Purple People Eater'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  19. ^ "Actor/Musician Sheb Wooley Dies". Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  20. ^ McClellan, Dennis (September 18, 2003). "Sheb Wooley, 82; Appeared in Film, TV Westerns, Wrote 'Purple People Eater'". LA Times. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  21. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 987. ISBN 978-0-89820-188-8.

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