Jukebox Gem: Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs

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There were the songs I liked, and then there were the jukebox hits that I heard publicly in restaurants, drive-ins and diners. Sometimes the twain did meet (I liked the songs) but sometimes it was simply exposure. What was a radio hit was often a jukebox hit and it worked the other way around too. A record that I heard all the time on the jukebox at my favorite drive-in burger joint, and plenty on the radio, was the novelty “Li’l Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs.
Cover photo 1965, “Wooly Bully”.

Li’l Red Riding Hood” was Sham the Sham’s second top-10 hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1966. It was kept out of the No. 1 spot by both “Wild Thing” by The Troggs and “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Red Riding Hood was certified gold by the RIAA on August 11, 1966.” Sam the Sham’s real name was Domingo Samudio. Sam was born and raised in Dallas and had sang and played guitar when he was in high school. He has said that the inspiration for his band’s Pharaoh costumes came from the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments.” Sam’s first hit, probably more popular than Red Riding Hood (although both singles peaked at No. 2 on the charts) was “Wooly Bully” in 1965. It has been a staple on the goodtime oldies cover band circuit for decades.

Cover photo, British release of Riding Hood, 1966.

Sam stayed the same, but the cast of the Pharaohs changed after “Wooly Bully.” The follow-up to Red Riding Hood was “The Hair On My Chinny Chin Chin.” Now there was a song that appealed to kids with lyrics like “I’ll huff and puff and blow your little house down.” Sam recorded many novelty songs, including Red Riding Hood, although many critics have said Red Riding Hood had an understated but obvious seductive side — a guy who conceals his sexual intentions and to boot howls like a big bad wolf. Me, I was a kid when it came out, so I just thought it was a sappy novelty song I liked okay, but I was too old to get enraptured by a fairy tale.

Hollywood saw the risque potential in the song. It should have ended up on film and on the soundtrack of the 1967 motion picture “In The Heat Of The Night.” Director Norman Jewison disclosed that he originally planned to use “Li’l Red Riding Hood” in a seedy and menacing scene in the movie. In fact, he said that when they filmed it the actor dancing in the scene was in fact groovin’ to Sam and The Pharaohs. The song got cut when Sam, or whoever represented him, wanted too much money to license the track to the movie. Instead, Jewison enlisted Quincy Jones to write a similar song that would be a good substitute and that track was “Foul Owl on the Prowl.” If you’re curious, google that one. As a tune, it includes lots of howling, so it is not a surprise that it was written as a specific replacement for Sam’s better-known pop hit.

As I write this, Sam the Sham is still alive and he was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2016. After he left the music business, Sam worked in Gulf of Mexico as an interpreter and as a mate on small commercial boats. He also worked as a motivational speaker and a poet. Word is he occassionally makes appearances, singing his hits, at a Florida establishment called Snook Haven.

There are very few video tracks of Sam performing this song. The video tracks back to a medley Sam performed on TV. His version of Red Riding Hood was too short to sync with the hit record.  Somewhere along the way, an enterprising soul got the idea of filling space with a thematically appropriate Betty Boop cartoon. I have conducted a scavenger hunt and found as much of Sam’s actual footage as was possible, then I put it back together again. However, by necessity, some of Betty Boop remains. Throw a coin in the old jukebox and Sam the Sham will emerge from the ether to sing his Jukebox Gem for you.

Previously, Mike Cherry wrote an interesting post on Sam the Sham and this song. CLICK HERE. to check it out.

 

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Author: Steven L. Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions.

4 thoughts on “Jukebox Gem: Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs

  1. a couple of years ago i found a music video of little red riding hood by sam the sham and the pharohs – it had peter cushing – the 1959 mummy and assorted clips from old black and white movies – I have since mistakenly deleted it – can u help me – you are my only hope obi wan knobi lol – thanks

  2. It’s with a heavy heart that I tell yall that the man who wrote the melody to this song, Dr. Bill Hudson, lead guitarist for Sam the Sham, and a very dear friend and mentor to me, passed away in his home Friday, August 27, 2021. I’ve honestly never met a more humble, brilliant, funny, talented, amazing man in my life. Please keep his wife Laura and their children in your prayers.

  3. I understand that Sam the Sham now does christian rock. I visited his site on 2006. Saw him in person as the 1965 summer spectacular. Never knew about the song for “in the heat of the night” I like “fowl owl on the prow” as well. R.I.P. for the lead guitar player.

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