Memphis Minute - June 12th
“Excuse me sir. I know you’re a big disc jockey...
And I know that you’re very important
But I’d like to hear, I’d like to hear…”
- Joe Strummer, The Clash’s live version of “Capital Radio”, on ‘From Here to Eternity:Live’
What do you get when you mix Dallas and Memphis musicians in the ‘60’s? Well, you might get a great dance song, props from a punk rock legend, and a multi-million seller and classic rock ‘n roll oldie, but you don’t get to the top of Billboard’s charts. Dallas-based band The Nightriders headed to Memphis to play a standing club gig. Their guitarist and drummer thought they were wasting their time playing Memphis. Coincidentally, their front man and bass player ran into a couple of Memphis musicians who stepped in as the other two went back to Texas. They started playing covers and originals together as a blues/R&B band but knew something was missing from their sound. They found a saxophone player who joined the band and dropped out of college. Together they came up with a group identity - the way they dressed and how they got around to gigs. The front man loved Cecil B DeMille’s ‘Ten Commandments” and wanted the band to adopt desert Arab/Egyptian garb. He wore a turban and drove the band around in a hearse. He was known for his joking around at shows and coming up with weird names. After hard work gigging and building their image, they were signed by Memphis’ XL Records. A small label, XL was owned by former Sun Records songwriter (Elvis’ “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”) and musician (bass on “Great Balls of Fire”) Stan Kesler and partner Eugene Lucchesi.
The front man wrote a catchy tune about the dance the hully gully but the label thought it might run into legal problems, so he rewrote some lyrics. When Kesler brought them into Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in 1964, he ad libbed and counted off in English and Spanish since he was raised in both languages.
So we have the joking, or “shamming” front man in a turban with his Egyptian royalty band singing about a mythical creature instead of a dance, but encouraging everyone to dance so they’re not “L7” or square. The song was a huge hit in 1965, but still only topped out at number two. First beat out by “Help Me Rhonda” by The Beach Boys in the first week of June, the song was kept at #2 by The Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again” in the second. But the great dance song spent 18 weeks in the Hot 100 that year and was named Billboard’s Song of the Year for 1965, the first, and for the next 35 years the only song to be so honored without hitting #1.
What song did Joe Strummer want to hear? On this day in 1965 Sam the Sham and The Pharoahs nearly made it to the top for the second time with “Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro…”
“Wooly Bully” - “watch it now”