Behind the Song: “Wooly Bully” by Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs

Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

“Any bar band worth their salt has got to know this one,” said Bruce Springsteen of “Wooly Bully,” the rock classic which he has covered more than sixteen times with the E-Street Band.

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It was written by Domingo Samudio, better known as Sam “The Sham”, a Dallas boy born in 1937. He recorded it in 1964 with his band Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

Sam, who wore a turban and robe and drove a 1952 Packard hearse, based it on the 1962 song “Hully Gully Now” written by Big Bo and Little Smitty, and recorded by Big Bo and The Arrows. Both are fast blues stomps but Sam made it Tex-Mex with his groove, Spanglish countdown and organ hook.

All of 2 minutes and 21 seconds in length, it’s three chords in the key of G. The solo is played on sax.

The story is told between two characters, Matty & Hatty. Although the lyrics are not profane in any way, because the lyrics were hard to discern it became assumed this was a dirty song, and it was banned by many radio stations. But not enough to keep it from being a hit. If anything, that helped.

The instruction “watch it now, watch it now” is from “Hully Gully Now.”

As to the origins of its odd title, there are several stories, including two contradictory ones which both quote the songwriter himself.

Such is life in the age of misinformation.

The first story goes that Sam replaced the rhyming title, Hully Gully, with one of his own, which was not a buffalo, as some have surmised, but a smaller beast: “The name of my cat was ‘Wooly Bully’,” said Sam, “so I started from there.”

But according to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Sam corrected the record, and said: “People make up all kinds of stories when they don’t have the right answers. There was a saying around here – when anybody did good – it’s like, ‘Wooly Bully for you,’ like ‘big deal.”

Hatty invites Matty to dance, saying “Let’s not be L-seven,” which meant not to be square, the opposite of cool.

It became a monster hit. It went straight to number two on the charts. Billboard named it their “Number One Record of the Year,” and it became the first American hit to sell a million copies during the era of the British Invasion.

“We kicked The Beatles’ butt!,” said Sam.

It was recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips studio on Madison Avenue, which was his second studio after Sun Studio. It was the only song recorded there that became a hit. Released on the tiny Memphis XL Label in 1964, it was released in 1965 by MGM.

“Wooly Bully”
By Domingo Samudio

Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro!

Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw.
Had two big horns and a wooly jaw.

Wooly bully, wooly bully.
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully.

Hatty told Matty, “Let’s don’t take no chance.
Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance.”

Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully.

Matty told Hatty, “That’s the thing to do.
Get you someone really to pull the wool with you.”

Wooly bully, wooly bully.
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully.

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