Sheb Wooley

Sheb Wooley – born Shelby Wooley in Erick, Oklahoma on April 10, 1921 – was a singer, songwriter, and actor best known for his 1958 rock and roll novelty hit “The Purple People Eater.” In his younger years, he lived on a farm and became a rodeo rider as well as a musician. He formed his first band at the age of 15 and taught a young Roger Miller – his cousin through marriage – how to play guitar. Sheb Wooley briefly worked in the oil industry before beginning his recording career in 1945 and moving to Ft. Worth, Texas a year later to earn a living as a country and western musician. He eventually relocated to Hollywood, California in 1950 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Incorporating many styles into his music - including pop, country swing, and rock and roll - he issued his debut album, Sheb Wooley, in 1956, although it wasn’t a big commercial success. Inspired by David Seville’s novelty single “Witch Doctor” (1958) – the first song to feature The Chipmunks – Sheb Wooley wrote and recorded “The Purple People Eater,” which became a massive hit and reached the number 1 spot in the US and Canada. The song went on to become one of the most memorable and beloved rock novelty hits of all time. However, Sheb Wooley returned to his country music roots with further singles including 1962’s “That’s My Pa,” which reached number 1 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart. His Top 20 single “Don’t Go Near the Eskimos” (1962) was the first release to feature his pseudonym Ben Colder, which he would continue to use sporadically for the next decade. While he continued to land many Top 40 Country and novelty singles – including “Hello Wall No. 2” (1963), “Blue Guitar” (1964), “Tie a Tiger Down” (1968), and “Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day)” (1968) – he was never able to achieve the same chart success that he had achieved with “The Purple People Eater.” Adjacent to his music career, Sheb Wooley was a busy actor and appeared in many Western-themed films and TV series (including Rawhide). He is also acknowledged for being the originator of the ‘Wilhelm Scream,’ a sound effect that has been used in hundreds of movies since he recorded it in 1953. Sheb Wooley also appeared as a regular on the long-running country music TV series Hee Haw and wrote the show’s theme song. Sheb Wooley died from leukemia on September 16, 2003, at the age of 82.

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