Introduction to the Fireballs
The Fireballs were an American rock and roll group who rose to fame in the late 1950s to early 1960s. They started out in 1958 as an instrumental group, later evolving into a full-fledged rock n roll band consisting of lead guitarist George Tomsco, vocalist Stan Lark, Eric buds on drums, and rhythm guitarist Dan Trammell. They used to record at a studio in Clovis, New Mexico owned by Buddy Holly’s manager Norman Petty; it was also where Holly himself launched his music career. According to the group members themselves, they took their name from the Jerry Lewis hit “Great Balls of Fire;” they were also popularly known as Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs with the addition of pianist/vocalist Jimmy Gilmer. Up until the early 1960s the Fireballs scored a lot of Top 40 hits: “Torquay,” “Bulldog,” “Quite A Party,” “Daisy Petal Pickin” and the number 1 hit “Sugar Shack,” which also went to #1 on the R&B singles chart for five weeks. When the British Invasion swept America beginning with the Beatles’ dominance on the charts, the Fireballs were now having difficulty to achieve a Top 40 hit. It wasn’t until 1968’s “Bottle Of Wine” that the Fireballs were able to get into the Top 40. At that time they became simply known as the Fireballs, although Gilmer remained with the group. Until Tharp’s death from 2006, the Fireballs continued performing with the original lineup; Gilmer has returned to perform in the band in occasion.
The formation of the Fireballs
Consider as one of the earliest proponents of Tex-Mex sound in the late 50’s and early 60s instrumental rock and roll, The Fireballs were formed in Raton, New Mexico in 1957. Initially, they were created as an instrumental rock and roll group. The group’s original members consist of vocalist Chuck Tharp, lead guitarist Goerge Tomsco, rhythm guitarist Dan Trammel, bass guitarist Stan Lark, and drummer Eric Budd.
The band got the name “The Fireballs” in homage to the Jerry Lewis classic “Great Balls of Fire.” The band would be known for Tomsco’s distinctive lead guitar picking which slightly resembles that of the Ventures. The Fireballs also got to use the same recording studio as Buddy Holly had; the studio was run by Holly’s producer and manager Norman Petty.
The Fireballs’ hits
The Fireballs first reached the charts with the Tomsco-penned “Torquay” (#39 pop) in 1959. Follow up singles became hits too: “Bulldog” (#24 pop, 1960) and “Quite a Party” (#27 pop, #29 UK)
In 1963, the Fireballs got the services of singer Jimmy Gilmer, turning the Fireballs from a mere instrumenal group into a full-fledged rock and roll combo. Since Gilmer’s arrival, the Fireballs would sometimes bill themselves as Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs.
Also in 1963, the Fireballs scored their first #1 hit with “Sugar Shack,” written by Keith McCormack and Jimmy Torres. Later that year (or in early 1964) the group achieved another smash with “Daisy Petal Pickin'” (written by McCormack, Glynn Thames and Juanita Jordan).
During “Daisy Petal Pickin'”‘s run on the charts, the Beatles arrived in the US and instigated the British Invasion in the country. Since that happened, the Fireballs now had difficulty achieving a Top 40 hit until early 1968, when the group’s “Bottle of Wine” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was written by Tom Paxton, and would be the Fireball’s last entry into the top ten.
During this time Gilmer was still a member of the band, but the band reverted back to simply being The Fireballs. Gilmer left the band in 1969, and the band broke up shortly thereafter.
The Fireballs’ part in Buddy Holly’s legacy
At one point of the Fireballs’ early years, they became famous (or infamous) for overdubbing the demo tapes Buddy Holly left behind after his death — all with the blessing from Petty. Despite the protest of some fans that the demo tapes should sound as they originally were, Petty defended that these demos could be commercially viable if they salvage them through overdubbing.
Drummer Doug Robers died in 1981, and vocalist Chuck Tharp passed away in 2006. Jimmy Gilmer has since returned to the lineup, and the band has continued releasing material and been performing up to the 21st century.