Fireballs’ rise to fame helped put Clovis on map

By Don McAlavy: County historian

Editor’s note: This is second of a two-part series on the history of the Fireballs rock n’ roll group, a frequent guest of the annual Clovis Music Festival.

Tomsco reunited the group and set up a recording session at the Petty studio.

“We were really excited, we had no idea that there was a recording studio in Clovis where Buddy Holly was actually recording. We were awestricken!” he said.

On August 10, 1958, the Fireballs piled into a car along with their life savings and instruments and headed for Clovis. Upon entering the Seventh Street Studio, they were surprised to see a very well-groomed man not much older than here were.

Tomsco said they expected to see some big fat guy with a bald head and a cigar sticking out of his mouth.

After a few minor setbacks, finally on Sept. 3, 1958, in the wee hours of the morning, Petty finally said, “OK, we have a take.”

“Fireball” and “I Don’t Know” were completed. Soon afterward, Petty landed “The Fireballs” a contract with Kapp records.

The instrumental recording of the “Fireballs” became a Billboard magazine “pick” in 1959. Other hit instrumental records and albums followed: “Torquay,” “Bulldog,” “Vaquero” and “Quite a Party.”

On Jan. 30, 1960, the group appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

The Fireballs released “Sugar Shack” in 1963 and by midsummer it began to take off like a rocket, soaring to No. 1 on Billboard’s chart and remaining there for five weeks.

The group’s last top 10 hit was “Bottle of Wine,” which reached No. 9 in 1969. the same year the Fireballs decided to break up. After creating music for 11 years, the group’s total record output – more than 45 singles and a dozen albums.

In the music industry, the Fireballs are recognized as unique in being the only group to make a transition from an instrumental to a vocal group while retaining popularity in both.

In a five year period between 1954 and 1959, an explosion of music erupted from Clovis and was heard around the world. Most of that music, which major recording studios and producers called “Tex-Mex Sound” (which is a misnomer I say), came out of a small recording studio created by Norman Petty, a hometown boy. He made recordings for such notables as Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, Roy Orbison, Wayland Jennings, Trini Lopez, Bobby Vee, Charlie Phillips, Jimmy Bowen and such musicians at the String-A-Longs and many other musicians.

Clovis became a major music town around the world.


Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com