Best known for their 1965 smash "Wooly Bully," which helped introduce Tex-Mex rhythms to mainstream rock & roll, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs were formed in Dallas by lead singer Domingo Samudio, who took the name Sam the Sham from a joke about his inability as a vocalist. The Pharaohs consisted of guitarist Ray Stinnet, bassist David Martin, saxophonist Butch Gibson, and drummer Jerry Patterson. Before hitting it big with "Wooly Bully," a song about Samudio's cat, they recorded the independent single "Haunted House," which helped the band get a deal with MGM. Following "Wooly Bully," the group recorded a series of largely novelty singles, but only "Li'l Red Riding Hood" approached the success of its predecessor. Frustrated at being perceived as a talentless novelty act, Samudio broke up the Pharaohs in 1967 and recorded as the Sam the Sham Revue, and adopted the name Sam Domingo in 1970. His lone solo LP, Sam, Hard & Heavy, featured slide guitarist Duane Allman, but failed to establish him as a major talent. Samudio contributed two songs to the 1982 film The Border and later moved to Memphis and became a street preacher. "Wooly Bully," of course, remains a bar band staple.
On this 2004 two-fer, Collectables for some unknown reason switched the order of release, putting Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' second album, 1966's Li'l Red Riding Hood, before their first album, 1965's Wooly Bully. Apart from that head scratcher, this is a great re-release by a band that is too often written off as a mere one-hit wonder (as if having one hit is a bad thing; think of how many bands never even pull that off). Fun, funny, and funky, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs were just about the coolest garage/frat rock/whacked-out novelty band of the '60s. Everybody knows "Wooly Bully," their signature hit. Their other big hit was "Li'l Red Riding Hood." The songs on their first two (and only) records follow the blueprint of one or the other. On the one hand, there are tough rockers like "Sweet Talk," "The Memphis Beat," the rollicking stomper "Haunted House," "Hanky Panky," and the "Wooly Bully" clone "Sorry 'Bout That" -- all perfect for toga parties, keggers, and good old-fashioned blowouts. On the other hand, there are silly novelty tracks like "Deputy Dog," the goofy "Grasshopper," "El Toro de Goro (The Peace Loving Bull"), and the truly weird Tex-Mex "Juimonos (Let's Went") -- songs that never lose their infectious funk despite the often ridiculous nature of the lyrics. Some, like "Little Miss Muffet," even manage to turn these silly lyrics into tough and emotion-packed tunes. They also turn in a pretty darn credible version of Wilson Pickett's devastating ballad "I Found a Love." The band is always razor sharp, the recording is live and exciting on both records, and Sam, while he will never be mistaken for Bobby Darin, gets the most out of his limited vocal range through his nonsensical exhortations, witty asides, and general grooviness. Even if you already have a greatest-hits collection, you need more Sam the Sham in your life. These two albums are nonstop fun and frolic, and have not lost any of their charm some 40 years later. ~ Tim Sendra, Rovi