The Fireballs Biography

Formed in the autumn of 1957 in Raton, New Mexico, USA, the Fireballs originally comprised George Tomsco (24 April 1940, Raton, New Mexico, USA; guitar, vocals), Chuck Tharp (b. 3 February 1941, d. 17 March 2006, Clovis, New Mexico, USA; lead vocals), Danny Trammell (b. 14 July 1940; rhythm guitar), Stan Lark (b. 27 July 1940; bass, vocals) and Eric Budd (b. 23 October 1938; drums). Their Tex-Mex instrumental rock ‘n’ roll was driven by Tomsco’s clear and concise guitar sound, which helped the group place 11 singles in the US charts between 1959 and 1969, although they achieved their greatest success when they hooked up with singer Jimmy Gilmer. The Fireballs also attracted controversy in the 60s, when they were used to overdub music behind unfinished tapes recorded by Buddy Holly before his death in 1959.

Founder members Tomsco and Tharp met at Raton High School in New Mexico. After the others came in, they rehearsed and won a talent contest in January 1958 with a performance of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, from which they took their name. After a shaky start that found members leaving for college and then returning, they recorded at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, in August 1958. Their debut single on Kapp Records was the instrumental ‘Fireball’, b/w a vocal performance by Tharp, ‘I Don’t Know’. A contract with the Top Rank label led to the breakthrough instrumental ‘Torquay’, which scraped into the US Top 40 in September 1959 and saw the band appearing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Another Top Rank single, ‘Bulldog’, reached number 24 in January 1960 and one on Warwick, ‘Quite A Party’, reached number 27 the following June. Several non-charting singles also appeared on the Jaro and Hamilton labels. Tharp left the group and was replaced by Jimmy Gilmer (b. 15 September 1940, LaGrange, Illinois, USA). During 1962 the Fireballs were signed to Dot Records, where they recorded Torquay, after which Budd entered the army and was replaced by Doug Roberts (d. 18 November 1981). In early 1963, now billed as Jimmy Gilmer And The Fireballs, they recorded ‘Sugar Shack’, using an unusual keyboard called a Solovox to give the record a distinctive sound. The result was one of the bestselling hits of 1963 - ‘Sugar Shack’ stayed at number 1 for five weeks late in the year. An album of the same title also charted. Although several other singles and albums were released, the group was unable to capitalize on that success, although ‘Daisy Petal Pickin’’ made number 15 in December. Such efforts as Folk Beat, a 1965 album crediting only Gilmer, were unsuccessful. By the following year, Dot was sold and in 1967 the Fireballs, minus Gilmer, signed to Atco Records. Before Christmas that year they recorded a Tom Paxton song, ‘Bottle Of Wine’, which reached number 9 in late December 1967. Three other minor chart singles followed before the end of 1969, including the politically charged ‘Come On, React!’. Although the latter marked the end of their chart success, the Fireballs continue as a popular live unit with a line-up now comprising Lark, Tomsco, Ron Cardenas (vocals, keyboards, guitar) and Daniel Aguilar (drums).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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