Named after the Jerry Lee Lewis classic Great Balls Of Fire, The Fireballs had their roots in rock’n’roll but managed a recording career which ran from 1958 right through to the end of the 1960s. Now that was no easy feat in the fickle world of popular music. It is testament to the group’s abilities that they had Top 40 hits between 1959-1961 with their own rock instrumentals Torquay, Bulldog and Quite A Party, then topped the charts for five weeks in 1963 with the engaging pop vocal Sugar Shack, and returned to the Top 10 in 1968 with the flower-powered folk-rock of Bottle Of Wine. Alongside all of this they were always busy in Norman Petty’s Clovis, New Mexico studio, most notably with their outstanding contribution to the overdubbing of Buddy Holly’s apartment tapes.
Successfully following musical trends through the 1960s was an achievement in itself, but with their early instrumental recordings the group was a major influence on others. Their two guitars, bass and drums hits Torquay and Bulldog had come and gone months before the Ventures arrived with Walk, Don’t Run, and the Fireballs’ influence was soon to spread around the world.
QUITE A PARTY! is a celebration of this influential Fireballs era. It includes contributions from the UK with the Scorpions’ excitingly raw pre-EMI demo version of Torquay from 1960, and the distinctive echo sounds of the early Shadows on Find Me A Golden Street. This was recorded for their eponymous debut album in 1961 when they were in their prime with founder members Jet Harris and Tony Meehan alongside Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. A year later Sweden’s Spotnicks recorded Gunshot for their first album, re-titling the track as Moonshot and giving it their unique metallic space twang treatment. Canada’s Wes Dakus & His Rebels were to establish a close relationship with the group, and included here is their original 1961 version of El Ringo which the Fireballs were to record later.
Closer to home their music had even more impact. Bulldog soon became a staple for the Ventures who still play it on their annual tours of Japan, and the Electras, featuring future USA presidential candidate John Kerry on bass, were one of many groups to record Torquay in the early 60s. But it was on the 60s surf music scene, rock instrumental’s final fling, that the Fireball’s influence was most keenly felt. Lead guitarist George Tomsco’s damped string technique can be heard resonating through many a surf track, his grand echo sound often spiced up with the introduction of the Fender reverb unit. Representing such original surf recordings here are Rik-A-Tik by the Lively Ones, Foot Patter from the Challengers and Vacquero by the Tornadoes.
In homage to the Fireballs, and in particular to guitarist George Tomsco who wrote most of these tunes, a number of major names from the current surf scene have contributed newly recorded tracks. Dave Wronski and Pete Curry have served in several top surf bands and now reside in the highly acclaimed Slacktone and Los Straitjackets respectively. John Blair is surf music’s pre-eminent historian and leader of surf’s prime revivalists Jon & The Nightriders, while the Torquays, who began in 1964 and reunited in the 90s, remain dedicated to the vintage surf sound. Meanwhile, from across the Atlantic, newcomers the Vibrants deliver a fine reading of Blue Fire all the way from Spain – the Fireballs’ influence clearly continues to this day.
by Alan Taylor. Alan is co-editor of the rock instrumental magazine Pipeline (www.pipelinemag.co.uk)