On July 1, 2007, Camaro Hi-Performance had one heck of a 4th of July celebration. Company owner, Jerry MacNeish has been a Fireballs fan since he was a kid and for him to bring in three of the original four members to play at the CHP party was as dream come true for the MacNeish Family. What really made it special was the fact that Jerry played drums for the band at this event.
Who are Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs? During the late 1950s and into the late 1960s, this rock n’ roll band charted 11 top-40 hit records through out the U.S. “Sugar Shack” became the biggest seller for the band and was #1 for five straight weeks in 1963, becoming the biggest selling record of 1963.
Who recorded there during the mid 1950s? How about Buddy Holly, The Crickets, Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen. All legendary people in the world of rock n’ roll today. The Fireballs and Jimmy Gilmer would also make musical history once they arrived in Clovis, but it would not be an overnight success.
When The Fireballs arrived in ‘58, the group consisted of leader and founding member, George Tomsco (lead guitar), Stan Lark (bass), Danny Trammell (rhythm guitar), Eric Budd (drums) and Chuck Tharp (lead vocals). The group recorded two songs during their first session. Petty through his connections and success in the music business was able to sell the master tapes to Kapp Records. This record did not make the Billboard Top 100 but Norm Petty saw something in the group and asked that they write more material, practice and come at a later date. That they did… ….and the next session produced an instrumental that would take the nation by storm in the Fall of 1959. “Torquay” would break into the Billboard Top 40 and go all the way to #1 in Los Angeles, Calif. in November 1959. The Fireballs were now under contract with Top Rank Records during this time.
During their first national tour in the Fall of 1959, rhythm guitarist Danny Trammell would have to leave the group because of health reasons. Vocalist Chuck Tharp was asked to play rhythm guitar for the band making them a foursome.
In 1960, the group would have two more instrumental hits while under contract with Top Rank Records: “Bulldog”, their biggest instrumental hit and a follow up titled “Vaquero”. Later that year, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Chuck Tharp decided to leave the band and pursue a career of his own.
Back track to May of 1959, Jimmy Gilmer and his band from Amarillo, Texas came over to record their very first record at Norman Petty Studios. Jimmy recorded three singles, one for Decca and two for Warwick Records without any success. The Fireballs actually became session players at N. Petty Studios in 1960 and were used for one of the Gilmer Warwick singles.
Norm Petty suggested that Jimmy Gilmer would be a good fit to replace Chuck Tharp. The band agreed, and in 1961 Jimmy Gilmer was now a part of The Fireballs.
1961 would bring The Fireballs another national instrumental hit for Warwick Records called “Quite A Party” with Jimmy Gilmer playing rhythm guitar. The band started playing gigs around the Texas-N. Mex area and continued to record at Norman Petty Studios. Petty had a knack for seeking out talented artists and musicians and really believed in the group.
More personnel changes for the band came in late 1961. Drummer Eric Budd was drafted into the Army, leaving the band as a threesome. Many of the band photos in 1962 just show George, Jimmy and Stan. Eventually, drummer Doug Roberts was asked to join the band in 1962. Also in 1962, the group came under contract with a new record company called Dot Records, a major label in the music business.
In the Spring of 1963, The Fireballs and Jimmy Gilmer continued to work on writing and recording new material at Petty’s studio. Petty saw something in a song they recorded at that time called “Sugar Shack.” The masters were sent off to Dot Records and the rest was history. Not only would Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs have a vocal hit record, this one rocketed into the Billboard top 10 and went all the way to the #1 position in September of 1963 and stayed there for five weeks! As history tells the story, “Sugar Shack” would become the biggest selling record of 1963 and catapulted the band into the superstar category.
Other top-40 follow-up hits for Dot Records would continue with “Daisy Pedal Pickin” and “Ain’t Gonna Tell Nobody.” But this was not to last for long as it was about this time, early 1964, that a group from England would take the U.S. by storm called The Beatles. Many other artists and bands from the U.K. would dominate the music industry here in the U.S. for the next few years. These were lean times for many American recording artists.
From 1964 to 1967, The Fireballs and Jimmy Gilmer continued to tour all over the world but did not regain the national stardom that they achieved in 1963. That would change when Norman Petty signed the band with a new record label in 1967, Atco Records. Their first release for Atco was a song written by folk singer, Tom Paxton titled “Bottle Of Wine.” The Fireballs were back as “Bottle Of Wine” rocketed into the Billboard top-10 in February of 1968 and became one of the biggest selling records of 1968. Other follow-up hits for Atco Records included: “Goin’ Away, “Come On React” and “Long Green.”
In the Fall of 1969, Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs broke up to pursue their own interest and new careers. They left us with a warehouse of great music and recorded all of their material in a very historical recording studio that is now a museum today.
- The Fireballs and Jimmy Gilmer recorded 11 hit records that broke into the Billboard Top-40 charts. 1. SUGAR SHACK 2. BOTTLE OF WINE 3. DAISY PEDAL PICKIN’ 4. BULLDOG 5. QUITE A PARTY 6. TORQUAY 7. AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY 8. COME ON, REACT 9. LONG GREEN 10. GOIN’ AWAY 11. VAQUERO
- “Sugar Shack” was a multi-million seller and was the biggest selling record of 1963.
- The Fireballs were one of the few groups in history who had hit records in the 1950s, survived the British Invasion and continued to have hit records into the late 1960s.
- The Fireballs were one of only a few groups to have both instrumental and vocal hit records here in the US.
- During their 11 year career, Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs were under contract with six different record labels; Kapp Records, Top Rank Records, Decca Records, Warwick Records, Dot Records and Atco Records.
WHO RECORDED AT NORMAN PETTY STUDIOS?
- THE NORMAN PETTY TRIO
- ROY ORBISON
- BUDDY KNOX & THE RHYTHM ORCHIDS
- JIMMY BOWEN
- BUDDY HOLLY
- THE CRICKETS
- KING CURTIS
- WAYLON JENNINGS
- TRINI LOPEZ
- THE FIREBALLS
- JIMMY GILMER
- BOBBY VEE
- THE STRING-A-LONGS
- CAROLYN HESTER
- THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR
- CHITA RIVERA
- SONNY CURTIS
- GLENN CAMPBELL
These are just a few of the legendary artists who recorded at Norman Petty Studios during the 1950s and 1960s.