Monday, May 19, 2014

Apple #672: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

As you may be aware, I've gone on many travels in the past month or so.  Naturally, I encountered many things that made my Apple Lady brain ask many questions. I want to share some of those things with you. But first, I must tell you a story.  And then I will give you some Daily Apple facts.

Betty Boop as Little Red Riding Hood. This is relevant, I promise.
(Screen shot sourced from Pinterest)

On one of my travels, I happened to be in a small town in Michigan, the fair state of my birth.  I am not from that small town (I am not naming names so as to protect the, well, maybe not-so-innocent).  After I finished my a long day of work there, I went exploring.

I found a wonderful restaurant downtown, a pub that served British and Indian food.  Delicious, well-prepared, yet not that expensive.  The wine was tasty, the service was decent, the dessert delicious.  This was on a Wednesday night.  The next night, I tried someplace else and was disappointed.  Friday night, I thought, heck, I liked that first place so much, I'll go back.  Friday, the same place was a completely different scene.

What had been a quiet pub with few occupants toward the end of its night, on Friday, it was a bit of a local hot spot.  A roving guitarist was playing hit songs, and there was a gang of rather soused locals sitting at the top end of the bar.  One of them, a man who looked something like Brian Cox from a couple decades ago, was going back to his seat as I was walking in.

Brian Cox. The man in question looked something like him, hair a bit more lush, face a bit younger and also redder with drink.
(Photo from

I'll call our man Mr. Not Cox.

He was obviously having a good time, snapping his fingers along to the roving guitar man's song, which I think was "Yellow Submarine."  I ducked and paused in the doorway, waiting for Mr. Not Cox to pass.  He saw me, smiled, and stopped right in my path.  There wasn't much room to get past him so I was waiting for him to take a step to the side, but he held out his hand for me to go by, laughed, and said, "You're so shy."  It was not about shyness, but I did not want to discuss it.

I went to my table, ordered my food, and watched the Tigers game on TV.  Roving Guitar Man came by, dropped a piece of paper inside a plastic protective sleeve, and told me sotto voce (though his face mike picked it up so that anyone paying attention could hear) to see if there was anything I wanted to hear.  He roved on, playing someone else's earlier request.

This is Usher, but I'm showing you this for the face mic.  Mr. Roving Guitar was wearing one like this, and he also had his guitar wirelessly amped, so wherever he went in the restaurant, everyone could hear him.
(Photo from

Names of songs were printed, in alphabetical order, in two columns down the 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.  The list of songs continued on the back.  They included fairly standard 60s & 70s rock songs -- Beatles tunes, some Neil Diamond numbers, Gordon Lightfoot, some Johnny Cash, "A Horse With No Name," you get the picture.  Kind of impressive, that he was essentially saying, "I can play any one of these 150 songs. You name it, I play it."

But he was playing them all in the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky, hey-everybody-let's-all-have-fun kind of style.  When he roved back to my table a few songs later, I asked him to play Elvis Costello's "Alison," just to see if he could put any kind of real feeling into one of his renditions.

Nope.  He played this song with the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky style.

I thought that request might be my only shot, but it took a while for my food to arrive, and other people at tables were finishing up and leaving, so Mr. Roving Guitar had fewer people to ask what they wanted to hear.  He came back around to me and asked for another request.

I'd noticed "Little Red Riding Hood" from Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and thought about asking for that one.  But I decided I'd rather choose something that maybe the whole room could get into.  The soused locals at the bar were getting a little more vocal, singing along to "Cheeseburger in Paradise," so I thought a more sing-along item would go down better.  So I asked Mr. Roving Guitar for "Ring of Fire."

When Mr. Roving Guitar kicked off the song with its unmistakable, "Love, is a burning thing," while still standing near my table, Mr. Not Cox at the bar turned around with excitement and shouted across to me at my table, "Yes! I almost picked this song!  I LOVE this song!  I almost picked it! What a coincidence!"

I nodded with what I hoped was a neutrally pleasant expression and went back to my dinner.

Mr. Roving Guitar clearly knew the soused locals at the bar because he asked a few of them by name what songs they would like to hear.  They asked for all sorts of items from the list--I can't remember now what they all were--and I was half-listening to the music, half-watching the Tigers game.  After a while, I looked over toward the bar to see what the soused locals might pick next when, uh-oh, here comes Mr. Not Cox sliding off his barstool and coming over to my table.

Standing in front of me, he said in a somewhat deprecating fashion, "Our eyes met at some point tonight, I'm not sure when" (I thought, was it when you shouted at me across the bar, or was it that awkward moment when I first walked in and you thought you were being a gentleman but you were really not? But I kept that neutrally pleasant smile on my face and said nothing), "and I thought I'd just come over and say hello, and maybe I could join you for a drink."

I said something completely non-committal in return, like, "Hello," since that was the minimum that was asked of me.  I really did not want Mr. Soused Not Cox to sit down at my table because, in my experience, guys in his condition are not really interested in anything meaningful, they just want to blather on about themselves and say stupid things, and they're hoping to get some physical thing or other out of the deal.  So I tried to let him know, No dice, without having to come out and say it.

Then he says, "I can see you're reluctant.  I didn't mean anything by it.  I just thought, hey, our eyes met at some point, maybe we could have a friendly conversation.  But if you don't want to, hey, that's life."  He shrugs as if to say, no big deal, you want to be a jerk, that's up to you, it's got nothing to do with me.

So I thought I could either tell him to beat it and feel like a jerk, or I could say, No, it's fine, sit down.  So I said, "No, it's fine, sit down."

Instead of taking the chair right next to where he was standing, he went around the table and sat in the one against the wall.  I don't know why he did that, but I thought it was kind of odd.  Maybe so he could still see his fellow soused locals at the bar?  Maybe it was so he could see the bartender and simply wave and call to her, "Could I have another Pinot Grigio?  I don't need two, I'll just take one."

Pinot Grigio.  He didn't need two, just one.
(Photo from Chatham Imports)

So he started talking.  He had retired in November, he loves music, really loves it, loves what this guy plays, loves my purse, how it's blue and all, and he has a place up on Lake Superior where he likes to spend as much time as possible in the summer, but now that he's retired, he can go up there so much more often, and it's beautiful, really beautiful. 

I'm sure it is beautiful.  I like the Great Lakes, myself.  But this was all said with a soused, show-off manner, and I was nodding, half-smiling, all the time thinking, as soon as I've finished my half-glass of wine, I'm out of here.

Then, here comes Mr. Roving Guitar again, playing his latest request, "Little Red Riding Hood."

He's roved over to my table where Mr. Not Cox is still talking, trying to talk over the music, but Mr. Roving Guitar gets louder.  Now, if you don't know the song, you really need to click the button and listen to it.

Because, lo and behold, when Mr. Roving Guitar gets to this verse, the song changes key and gets serious:

What big eyes you have,
The kind of eyes that drive wolves mad.
So just to see that you don't get chased
I think I ought to walk with you for a ways.

and Mr. Roving Guitar, who until now was all boom-chick, play everything exactly the same way, GETS DOWN ON ONE KNEE IN FRONT OF ME AS HE IS PLAYING and is singing to me and in essence telling me, with great, exaggerated but no less sincere seriousness, that the guy sitting at my table is the Big Bad Wolf.

I start laughing because though I do not need him to tell me this, he is absolutely right, and I am impressed at his chutzpah in doing this right in front of the soused locals who surely know him the same as they know Mr. Not Cox.

The thing is, I'm not sure Mr. Not Cox understood what was happening.  He was chuckling away merrily, as if his mark was not being explicitly warned against him.

And then, as the song is going on and Mr. Roving Guitar continues to sing so clearly in my direction he might as well be speaking entire paragraphs to me, my face turns red.  Flaming, super-hot, and I am sure, beet red.

"You're blushing!" Mr. Not Cox announces, pointing.

How very astute.  There's nothing like being pointed at to make a blushing person stop blushing.  Right. 

I said, "Yes, I know," and tried to make myself stop by taking a sip of wine.  Mr. Roving Guitar got up off his knee and went roving around the rest of the bar, finishing his song.

Well, I sat and listened to Mr. Not Cox talk for a little while longer, until I had finished my wine and paid up, and then I took my leave.  I looked around for Mr. Roving Guitar so I could wave in his direction and let him see I was leaving by myself, no wolf with me.  But Mr. Roving Guitar had finished his set and was talking to a woman he knew at the bar.  So I tipped my mental cap to him and left.

And now I will tell you a few things about Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, in a publicity still for a 1965 terrible re-make called When the Boys Meet the Girls
(Photo from Robert Kruse's page on Sam the Sham etc.)

  • You may know them by their more famous song, Wooly Bully.
  • Sam the Sham's real name is Domingo Samudio.  Some sources spell it Zamudio, except people shortened his last name and called him Sam.
  • Sam was born in Dallas, Texas, and that's where his group hails from.
    • He was in the Navy in Panama, and then he was a carny for a couple of years, after dropping out of U Texas-Arlington, and before forming the band that would become the Pharaohs.
    • They dressed up and called themselves Pharaohs after Yul Brynner's costumes in The Ten Commandments (1956).
      •  "Old Ramses, the King of Egypt, looked pretty cool," Sam said once in an interview, "so we decided to become The Pharaohs." 
    Sam and the Pharaohs, 1965
    (Photo from Wikipedia)

    • He called himself "the Sham" because, as he said, "what I was doing, fronting the band and cutting up was called 'shamming.'"
    • The band went through a lot of iterations.  The first group recorded an album which didn't sell at all, so they broke up.  Then another group of people formed the band, they wrote "Wooly Bully" (which is about a monster with two big horns and a wooly jaw), which became all kinds of popular.
    • The band changed some more, they recorded lots of songs about nursery rhymes, including "Little Red Riding Hood," and they took the show on the road.
    • For a while, they were backed by a group of three female backup singers who called themselves The Shamettes.
      • "When I was a kid, about 10 years old or so," Mr. Not Cox told me, "Sam the Sham and the Shamettes came to the fair and my dad took me to see them.  Now, we're from a small town and we're not dumb, there's just a lot you don't see.  And I had never seen anything like the Shamettes."
      • "Why, what were they wearing?" I asked, thinking maybe they had on spangly suits like Las Vegas dancing girls.
      • "I can't remember, I was only ten, but I do remember I had never seen anything like that." And he gestured with both hands in front of him, signifying, breasts.

    Sam and the Shamettes.  They look pretty tame to me.  But maybe this was a relaxed moment, not on stage in all their Shamette glamor.  Or maybe what looks tame to adult-me seemed like a really big deal to a small-town 10 year-old boy.
    (Posted on Reddit)

    • Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' fame started to fade as musical tastes changed in the late 60s and early 70s.  Sam tried to remake himself and recorded a blues album in 1971.  It won a Grammy --  for Best Album Liner Notes. 

    How's that for a travel Apple?

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