This New Mexican group was the primary exponent of the Tex-Mex sound in the instrumental rock & roll of the late '50s and early '60s, landing three Top 40 hits, "Torquay," "Bulldog," and "Quite a Party." Paced by the clean, economic guitar lines of George Tomsco, their moody, laconic arrangements and dextrous picking was similar in essential respects to the Ventures. The Fireballs, who used the same Norman Petty-run studio in Clovis, NM, as Buddy Holly, had a much more prominent "border" music feel to their melodies than the Ventures. the Ventures, on the other hand, had a much more full-bodied and versatile attack, accounting to a large degree for The Fireballs' comparatively slight place in history.
The Fireballs, who occasionally sang on their recordings, are actually much more famous for their controversial contributions to the Buddy Holly legacy. In the early '60s, in association with Petty (Holly's former producer and manager), they overdubbed some of Holly's demo tapes for posthumous release. Some Holly fans claim that these performances should have been left to stand as they were; Petty, and others, have claimed (dubiously) that they were only salvageable for commercial release via such overdubs.
In 1963, The Fireballs hooked up with singer Jimmy Gilmer. As Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, they had one of the biggest hits of 1963 with a number-one smash lightweight-pop ditty, "Sugar Shack." A similar follow-up, "Daisy Petal Pickin'," made the Top 20, but the British Invasion wiped them out immediately. The Fireballs, sans Gilmer, made one last unexpected comeback in 1968, when their "Bottle of Wine" (featuring vocals by the group themselves) made the Top Ten.
Bottle of Wine
By the late 1960s, the Fireballs were trying to update their sound into the AM radio mainstream, as evidenced by the presence of beefy horns and full Grass Roots-type production on several tracks. Despite the presence of the hit "Bottle of Wine," it wasn't convincing, largely because the material was so run-of-the-mill. A few of the songs are decorated by an odd, Mellotron-ish keyboard sound (perhaps the Solovox, which had been employed back in 1963 on "Sugar Shack"), especially the ballad "Ain't That Rain" (the best track), but there's nothing too memorable. The liner notes, by the way, claim that Tom Paxton, noted folk singer and author of "Bottle of Wine," sent a demo of the song, which he "had just written," to Norman Petty in 1967, but in fact the tune could not have been penned in 1967: Judy Collins had recorded it in 1964. A CD reissue combines this and the 1969 album Come On, React! onto one disc.
Come On, React!
Always a tenuous artistic force at best, the Fireballs had reached the end of the line, creatively and commercially, by the end of the 1960s. Their final LP has a small (#63) hit in the title track, which like the entire album is humdrum stuff. The group embraced late-'60s commercial rock production with the occasional fuzz riff, horns, soul-styled backup vocals, and so on, yet the songs possessed neither a solid identity nor notable quality. A CD reissue combines this and the 1968 album Bottle of Wine onto one disc.