Sam 'The Sham' Samudio Banner

Nowadays, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs are primarily remembered for their 1960s garage rock anthems "Wooly Bully" and "Lil' Red Riding Hood," and the flamboyant costuming of organist/lead singer Domingo Samudio and his bandmates.

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But during the '60s and '70s, Sam the Sham produced a large and influential library of garage rock tunes that helped define the genre and undermined the idea that he was just a novelty act. Even today, Samudio's Tex-Mex-infused tunes, with their gritty playfulness, have a sound that's completely unique within the rock 'n' roll pantheon.

The Tejano Troublemaker The Tejano Troublemaker Head
I was studying classical in the daytime and playing rock and roll at night

Domingo "Sam" Samudio was born in Dallas on March 6th, 1937 to Spanish-speaking parents of Mexican descent. One of three children, Samudio was primarily raised by his father due to the untimely passing of his mother.

He began singing in the second grade when he was chosen to represent his school in a live radio performance, and began playing the guitar several years later. Following graduation, Samudio joined the Navy and lived in Panama for six years. During his deployment, Samudio often acted as the M.C. during dances and became a crowd favorite due to his onstage antics.

In 1961, Samudio returned home to Texas and enrolled in music history courses at UT Arlington. "I was studying classical in the daytime and playing rock and roll at night," he recalled to Texas Monthly. Inspired by the costumes worn in the film The Ten Commandments, Samudio named his first band the Pharaohs and they adopted the flamboyant style of the Egyptians in the movie. Although this original iteration of the Pharaohs would prove to be short-lived, the ideas that they established laid a foundation for the musical sounds to come.

All Roads Lead to Memphis

After dropping out of university and following a brief stint working as a carny, Samudio returned to music in 1963 as an organist for a Louisiana-based band Andy and the Nightriders. Along with Samudio, the band included Andy Anderson, David Martin, and former-Pharaoh Vincent Lopez. Besides playing in venues Samudio describes as, "Mostly gun and knife clubs," the Nightriders soon became the house band at The Congo Club in Louisiana. In June of 1963, the band hit the road in their tricked-out 1952 Packard hearse and slowly wound their way towards Memphis.

Soon after establishing themselves as the house band at The Diplomat, bandleader Andy Anderson returned to Texas, leaving Samudio as the new lead singer. Along with new leadership came a new name and a fresh look for the band. "By that time, everyone was calling me 'Sam,' short for Samudio, and what I was doing – fronting the band and cutting up – was called 'shamming'," he explained. An alternate explanation of the "Sham" nickname states that it derives from his bandmates' tendency to tease Samudio over his perceived lack of organ-playing skills.

Piano Illustration
All Roads Lead to Memphis Head
What I was doing – fronting the band and cutting up – was called 'shamming.

Uno! Dos! One, Two, Tres, Quatro!

Group photo
Image courtesy of Teen Beat Magazine
Show poster
Image courtesy of Wes Wilson
Uno! Dos! One, Two, Tres, Quatro! Head
We kicked The Beatles' butts!

Now known as "Sam the Sham", Samudio resurrected the Pharaohs with original member David Martin along with new additions Jerry Patterson, Ray Stinnett, and Butch Gibson. The band made their first recordings at Fernwood Studios in Memphis, but their early singles like "Haunted House" failed to catch on outside of the regional market.

Undeterred, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs entered the famed Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis in the summer of 1964 determined to take a stab at another hit. The session resulted in a delightfully strange Tex-Mex stomp called "Wooly Bully," which would soon join songs like "Louie Louie" and "96 Tears" in the ranks of all-time great party tracks.

While urban legend insists that "Wooly Bully" was a reference to Samudio's cat, the man himself flatly denies it. "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," Samudio explained.

Regardless of its origin, the song became a smash hit and rapidly climbed to No. 2 on the American Hot 100 charts before Billboard named it "Number One Record of the Year" – the first song to do so without ever actually reaching No. 1. on the chart. "Wooly Bully" is also notable for being the first American record to sell a million copies during the British Invasion, a period when British bands dominated. As Samudio put it, "We kicked The Beatles' butt!"

The Beat Goes On

The Pharaohs followed up "Wooly Bully" with a few minor hits like "Ju Ju Hand" and "Ring Dang Doo" and toured the world in support of legendary acts like The Beach Boys, James Brown and Sonny & Cher. In late 1965, mere months after the release of "Wooly Bully," the Pharaohs disbanded after disagreements regarding finances and creative direction.

While in New York, Samudio recruited the group Tony Gee & The Gypsies to play as the latest version of the Pharaohs. The following year, Sam the Sham released the novelty tune "Little Red Riding Hood," which became the group's second huge hit. Like "Wooly Bully," the record reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts and was certified gold by the RIAA on August 11, 1966. As MGM pressured him to produce another hit single, Sam the Sham recorded a string of cartoonish songs that peaked with the minor hit "The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin."

As changes with personnel continued, Samudio recorded as The Sam the Sham Revue, replete with a group of female backup singers known as the Shamettes. In January of 1967, Samudio reached the Billboard Top 40 one last time with the song "Oh That's Good, No That's Bad." Despite releasing several other minor hits, Sam the Sham lost relevance as rock 'n' roll began tackling issues like Vietnam and Civil Rights.

The Pharaohs
Sam 'The Sham' Samudio

The Pharaohs followed up "Wooly Bully" with a few minor hits like "Ju Ju Hand" and "Ring Dang Doo" and toured the world in support of legendary acts like The Beach Boys, James Brown and Sonny & Cher. In late 1965, mere months after the release of "Wooly Bully," the Pharaohs disbanded after disagreements regarding finances and creative direction.

While in New York, Samudio recruited the group Tony Gee & The Gypsies to play as the latest version of the Pharaohs. The following year, Sam the Sham released the novelty tune "Little Red Riding Hood," which became the group's second huge hit. Like "Wooly Bully," the record reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts and was certified gold by the RIAA on August 11, 1966. As MGM pressured him to produce another hit single, Sam the Sham recorded a string of cartoonish songs that peaked with the minor hit "The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin."

As changes with personnel continued, Samudio recorded as The Sam the Sham Revue, replete with a group of female backup singers known as the Shamettes. In January of 1967, Samudio reached the Billboard Top 40 one last time with the song "Oh That's Good, No That's Bad." Despite releasing several other minor hits, Sam the Sham lost relevance as rock 'n' roll began tackling issues like Vietnam and Civil Rights.

Life Beyond Rock N' Roll

After landing back in Memphis, Sam returned his attention to religious and charitable duties. He began teaching Bible classes in prison and worked as an interpreter for Health Care Ministries, which sent doctors to impoverished communities in South America.

"There is life beyond rock 'n' roll," he said. Sam also continued to record and release music, including "Won't Be Long" in 1995 and "Rambler" in 2001. Today, Samudio works as a motivational speaker and poet, still performing occasionally.

Like fellow Memphis legends Rufus Thomas, Sam "The Sham" Samudio brought a lighthearted silliness and a subversive joy to his irresistibly danceable music, often hiding his musical genius behind a layer of feathered turbans and sequined jackets. But for anyone who still doubts Sam the Sham's credentials, Mr. Samudio has a few words for you: "When we hit Memphis, across the road and down a ways were the Mar-Keys. And back up the road was the Bill Black Combo. And Willie Mitchell was playing at a club called the Manhattan, and Jerry Lee Lewis from time to time was playing at the Hi Hat….and we blew that town away!"

What Others are Saying

  1. This looks soo good. What a cool guy. Congrats, Sam the Sham.

    Kayla Brown
  2. Excellent job on the site. You got Sam in a nutshell. O, but there’s so much more to the Man. He and I appreciate your work. For
    any other information or anything, don’t hesitate to ask.

    Ann Zamudio
  3. Hi Sam,
    we´re from the german Sam The Sham fan club and we met you 2002 in Stuttgart. I have showed you my special photoalbum with rare photos of you´re band.
    You talked with Bodo Kester and me and you had given me after the conversation a fan T-Shirt. I had given you a german magazin about you´re record biography. For us it was an unforgettable night !!!

    I have some super rare pictures of you´re show in Hamburg at the Star-Club in 1965. If you´re interested at these pictures, let me know…

    I wish you the best !
    Greets Fred Gibhardt

    Fred Gibhardt

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