Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

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Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs , the original Tex-Mex hitmakers. membership:Domingo “Sam” Samudio, voe, org. (b. Dallas, Tex., 1940); Ray Stinnet, gtr.; David Martin, bs.; Butch Gibson, sax.; Jerry Patterson, drm. Creating a visual identity with his turban, and a musical identity with his organ-fueled Tex-Mex rock and roll, Domingo Samudio earned a warm place in the heart of bar-band musicians everywhere. As Sam the Sham (a bit of self-deprecating humor about his vocal ability), he set the charts on fire with 1965’s “Wooly Bully,” a tune about his cat. He has spent the rest of his career trying to live that tune down.

Formed in Dallas in the early 1960s, the group went to Memphis to record some of Samudio’s humorous tunes. Early songs like “Haunted House” didn’t find an audience, but his next song, “Wooly Bully” caught on to the extent that MGM leased it and bought the group out of their independent record contract with Memphis-based Pen records. The rollicking Tejano song rose to #2 in the spring of 1965, going gold. They followed this with several equally novel, equally rollicking songs, “Juju Hand,” which hit #26, and “Ring Dang Doo,” which peaked at #33. But by early 1966, the group appeared to be washed up. However, a novelty mixture of Tex Mex and doo wop, “Li’l Red Riding Hood,” saved the day, again rising to #2 and going gold. Similar novelties followed, including “The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin” getting to #22 and “How Do You Catch a Girl” topping out at #27.

After this, the band stopped selling and morphed from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs to the Sam the Sham revue before breaking up altogether in the late 1960s. Samudio cut a solo album, Sam Hard and Heavy, for Atlantic, featuring tunes by Boz Scaggs and Doc Pomus and players including Duane Allman and the Memphis Horns. Despite all of this musical firepower, it didn’t sell, although Samudio did earn a Grammy Award for Best Liner Notes! By the mid-1970s, plagued by drugs and taxes, Samudio dropped out of the music business and went to work as a deckhand and on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1982 Ry Cooder convinced Samudio to play on the soundtrack for The Border, luring him out of “retirement.”

After making the soundtrack, Samudio returned to Memphis to run a street ministry providing food and care to prisoners and indigent people in the South and Mexico, partly with revenue from his old tunes as they got placed in films and collections. He occasionally makes tapes of his own gospel compositions and will still perform his old songs as part of a program of his gospel music.


Wooly Bully (1965); Li’l Red Riding Hood (1966); Sam, Hard & Heavy (1970); Sam the Sham & Pharaohs (1996).

—Hank Bordowitz