DEAR JERRY: I heard that Dot Records initially refused to press stock copies of "Sugar Shack," by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, because the company did not like the song. True or false?
They did, however, make promotional copies that were sent to radio stations. Thus the song became No. 1 based on requests by listeners.
I do have a white label Dot promo "Sugar Shack" that they pressed in
December of 1966, but whatever happened to those first promotional issues made in 1963?
Tom Kirby Carlsbad, N.M.
DEAR TOM: Jimmy Gilmer probably knows more than anyone about the period leading up to, and including, "Sugar Shack." He will address some of your points, especially the story that Dot didn't like the tune.
As for the Dot promo question, I will venture an educated guess. Jimmy explains:
"All of the Fireballs' hits were instrumentals, including "Torquay"; "Bulldog"; "Vaquaro"; and "Quite a Party."
"But in our live shows, we couldn't fill an entire concert with just instrumentals, so it was important to always have a vocalist.
"From 1958 until mid-1960, Chuck Tharp filled that role. He left the group that summer. But thanks to legendary producer Norman Petty, who introduced me to the band in Clovis, N.M., I got the chance to audition for the Fireballs, and they asked me to be their new lead singer.
"Near the end of 1962, we made our first record for Dot, though they issued it on their subsidiary label (Hamilton 50037), and credited it to just myself.
"The A-side was our version of "Won't Be Long," a minor hit for Aretha Franklin about a year earlier.
"Won't Be Long" was a "pick hit" in a few areas, but never reached the charts anywhere that I know of.
"Then came "Sugar Shack," a song we had been singing in our live shows, and it always seemed to get the most requests and biggest response from the crowds.
"Based on that, I called Norman Petty and told him we needed to put this tune on a record as soon as possible.
"So we went back to Clovis as soon as we could and recorded it at his studio.
"Once we had a good demo, Norman contacted Randy Wood, owner of Dot Records, and he "loved it," and wanted to release it right away.
"Coupled with "My Heart Is Free," the single came out in late May 1963 (Dot 16487) by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs.
"For about 10 years the Fireballs remained pretty much the same. At most, we might have made one change at the drums."
As for a white label, promo-only Dot single from 1963, I have never seen one, nor can I find any confirmation of its existence. Jimmy Gilmer also has no recollection of a separate promo pressing.
Most likely, Dot sent their black label commercial copies to the media to promote "Sugar Shack," either as is or with a small "Not for Sale" sticker to identify it as a promo.
Not every Dot promotional record had a custom label, such as the white one you have (Dot 16979), released in 1966, with "Daisy Petal Pickin'" on the flip.
Conversely, this back-to-back hits disc may have been strictly a promo for radio stations. That is the only way I've seen it.
In 1969, the same two hits were issued as part of Dot's commercially available oldies series (45-238).
In July of '63, "Sugar Shack" debuted on many regional charts, especially in the Midwest and Southwest.
By the end of summer, it was No. 1 in countless local markets plus all three of the national pop charts, and was the unanimous No. 1 song of 1963.
DEAR JERRY: I enjoyed your recent look into where many Motown artists originated.
It triggered a piece of trivia I read years ago, regarding that label having the most consecutive No. 1 hits, or something like that.
Can you fill in the blanks?
Jacob Linton, Odessa, Texas
DEAR JACOB: The blanks are few, but indispensable if the point is to be made.
No doubt the trivia source referred to the Tamla label, a charter member of the Motown family.
Tamla had the distinction of having three consecutive No. 1 hits on Billboard's 100 Hot Soul Singles charts.
From August 18, 1973 through October 19th, these were the chart-toppers:
Marvin Gaye "Let's Get It On" (Tamla 54234)
Stevie Wonder "Higher Ground" (Tamla 54235)
Eddie Kendricks "Keep on Truckin' (Part 1)" (Tamla 54238)
IZ ZAT SO? In 18 years (1963-1980), nine times the No. 1 R&B/Soul hit of the year was a Motown product:
1963: Little Stevie Wonder "Fingertips - Pt. 2" (Tamla 54080)
1964: Mary Wells "My Guy" (Motown 1056)
1965: Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself" (Motown 1076)
1966: Temptations "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (Gordy 7054)
1968: Marvin Gaye "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (Tamla 54176)
1969: Marvin Gaye "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" (Tamla 54181)
1970: Jackson 5 "The Love You Save" (Motown 1166)
1973: Marvin Gaye "Let's Get It On" (Tamla 54234)
1980: Stevie Wonder "Master Blaster (Jammin')" (Tamla 54317)