Music is so incredible that many days I sit and wonder how music came to be. I love to listen to music of today, but the music of my listening ear and the music that helped me become a musician was the sounds of the 50s and 60s. The bands of that time literally gave birth to rock and roll and we never pay enough attention to the greats of our past and it got me thinking…
Wouldn’t it be a great idea to start to talk to some of these older bands who helped mold and create the very core of rock and roll music of today? Well thanks to Stan Blitz I am able to pick up the phone and talk some of the people who played in the bands that shaped rock and roll.
George Tomsco who is the leader, lead guitar player and composer for The Fireballs who had a number one hit in 1963 called Sugar Shack and then another top hit called Bottle of Wine was more than glad to share the experience of being in a top number one band. For me, it was an honor to talk to this great musician who broke records in 1963.
I have memories of the band as well as both songs; however, I had no idea how impressive their story was until now. Basically the group started in about 1958 and they did a performance of “Great Balls of Fire” at the Raton High School talent contest in New Mexico. The crowd loved them so much they received a standing ovation. That’s not all they received, by the end of the year they had an audition with Norman Petty, musician, songwriter, and pioneer record producer.
The Fireballs started off doing instrumental, and excuse the pun, but were quite instrumental in the surf music movement. They had no idea that their instrumentals such as “Torquay“, “Bulldog”, and “Vaquero” would land them American Bandstand on several occasions. They also had no idea Sugar shack would become a hit.
“We had no idea,” George said. In fact, they were not so thrilled about the little “flute” sound in the background that penetrates your brain when you hear the song. Petty had put that “ditty” in and the band was not too thrilled about it. The record company was so thrilled either because they did not want to promote it. They just wanted to put it out because it was in the Fireballs contract.
Mainly small radio stations picked up the song. Throughout time of course, word got out, big radio stations were spinning the record, and they were printing 50,000-100,000 copies of the record on a continuous basis. The song became the best selling song in 1963 staying on the chart for over 5 weeks.
I asked George what it was like to have a number one hit. He said, “Well nothing for us changed. I still played the same old guitar and we stayed in the same hotels.” He paused, “What changed though was the way people looked at us.”
He was right, the Fireballs were blazing the charts and they were a sensation. “We never got a big head over it,” George said, “We were just grateful it happened.” That was the way the Fireballs were. They were simply grateful they could use their musical passion to make a living and share with others. In fact, when they were not touring, they were the studio band for many artist in that time frame.
Well where are they today? George still lives in Mew Mexico and in fact they still tour. They will be in Vegas next month. George has fond memories of the band and loves to play his music and make people happy, which makes sense, because after talking to him, you could tell music was a passion for him. He does not have a big head at all even though he is fully aware that his guitar playing shaped what we call surf music. He just loves playing.
I absolutely cannot encourage you readers to pick up their album The Fireballs 7th Street Legends and listen to what help create the music we listen to today. There you can hear George’s smooth guitar playing. George says that Chuck Berry inspired him. He said many guitar leads came from the basis of big bands, but Berry “leaked his soul” into the guitar and George was clearly paying attention to be part of a number one band.
Thank you Fireballs for giving us so much wonderful music to listen to.