In this new, revised Ace CD package, we feature the first and last Fireball’s instrumental albums made while under contract with Dot. The sound quality is excellent, as the original Norman Petty masters were used to produce this package. One of the great features of this CD is you’ll hear how the Fireballs evolved musically from a small little band out of Raton, New Mexico to the million-selling band they would become later.
1962 was a year with big changes for the Fireballs in both band personnel and recording contracts. Drummer Eric Budd had to leave the group because he was drafted into the Army. Eric was replaced by Doug Roberts. Lead singer Chuck Tharp had left the group in late 1960 to pursue other interests and a career of his own. Chuck was replaced by Jimmy Gilmer.
With personnel changes in the band made, Petty landed the Fireballs a recording contract with one of the bigger and more reputable labels in the country: Dot Records. The first recording project for Dot would be an instrumental album titled “Torquay”. A new stereo version of Torquay became the lead track for the album. This version was much more polished and not as raw as the original track released on Top Rank. The new stereo Torquay also features Stan Lark playing a Fender electric bass guitar instead of a stand-up acoustic bass. Other songs on this album were a mix of the band’s own original material written by George Tomsco and cover versions of hits of the day. One of the mysteries on this album is why the band did not record a new version of Chief Whoopin’ Koff. The original Top Rank track was used with an overdubbed rhythm guitar added to the mix making it sound like stereo.
Their debut album for Dot was not a big seller but Noel Ball believed in the group and Petty’s engineering talent and kept them under contract with the label for the next six years.
The cover was shot at the old Mesa Theatre on Main Street in downtown Clovis, New Mexico, which became the new “state of the art” recording studio for Norman Petty. Eventually, Petty would phase out the old 7th Street studio where the bulk of his hit records were recorded.
In 1963, Noel Ball’s belief paid off big time for Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. The band had begun to concentrate more on songs featuring Gilmer as the lead vocalist. George and Stan could also sing, so vocals by the band became another avenue to pursue as instrumentals were not getting as much airplay as they did in the 1950s and early 60s. The Fireballs were versatile enough to get the job done. A little old song written by String-A-Longs’ member, Keith McCormack, titled Sugar Shack was recorded by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs. This track cemented the band’s place in musical history as Sugar Shack became the biggest selling record of 1963 and was #1 for five straight weeks! Other vocal hits followed.
From this point on, the Fireballs and Norman Petty could pretty much record whatever they wanted while under contract with Dot Records. Albums that featured Jimmy Gilmer as a soloist were recorded while others were released as by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs.
The Fireballs recorded one last instrumental album in 1966 titled “Campusology”, listing the artist as simply The Fireballs. Remember, this was 1966 and the instrumental Fireballs had a whole new sound trying to break into the British Invasion happening in the USA. All but two of the tracks were written by George Tomsco. Three songs were used for the “Campusology” album that had been recorded several years earlier. Find Me A Golden Street, Mr Mean, and Mrs Mean. These tracks were overdubbed trying to give this material a new “feel” or sound for the mid 1960s. Unfortunately “Campusology” actually sold less than the first instrumental album recorded for Dot Records and is the rarest of all the Dot album releases.
By Jerry MacNeish