This is probably the oddest song of 1963. It was the type of song that people either loved it or hated it. One writer for Rolling Stone Magazine said it was the worse excuse for rock and roll he had ever heard. Obviously, enough people loved the song to put it at number one. In fact, it was the top selling song of 1963, staying at number one longer than any other song that year.
Jimmy Gilmer saw himself as a reincarnated Buddy Holly. He was born in Chicago in 1940, but his family soon moved to Amarillo, Texas which is not far from Lubbock where Buddy Holly was born. He attended the Musical Arts Conservatory in Amarillo and studied music, which lead to him forming his own band called the Jimmy Gilmer Combo. The Combo played all over northern Texas. Jimmy’s drummer Gary Swaffert also played for the Norman Petty Trio and one day introduced him to Norman Petty. Petty asked him to come to Clovis, New Mexico to record a song. Petty had a nice recording studio there. This was the same studio where Buddy Holly recorded his first records, years earlier.
At Petty’s studio, Jimmy met the band he would be with for the next several years, The Fireballs. They were named after the Jerry Lee Lewis song “Great Balls of Fire” and had already had three hits on their own. They were the instrumentals “Torquay” (#39,) “Bulldog” (#24) and “Quite a Party” (#27.) They were in need of a lead singer and Jimmy fit the bill. So, he joined them and they became Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs.
By 1963, they had been touring together and were comfortable with each other when they met Keith McCormack who had just written “Sugar Shack.” Writing credit for “Sugar Shack” includes McCormack’s aunt Faye Voss because when McCormack was writing the song he asked his aunt, “what do you call those skin-tight pants that girls wear?” Aunt Faye answered “leotards” and so that word is in the song and she gets credit. In fact McCormack gave rights to the song to Voss as a birthday present. That was some present as the song earned thousands of dollars. They say Aunt Voss payed off her home with the proceeds.
“Sugar Shack” was released in May of 1963 and really didn’t catch on right away. It bounced around for a while until a station in Detroit (actually, across the river in Canada,) CKLW started playing the song and suddenly, it was a hit. I was living in Michigan in 1965 and remember listening to CKLW, it being one of the best radio stations in the area.
Jimmy Gilmer stayed with the Fireballs until 1969 when he was hired by United Artists in Nashville and has been working behind the scenes in the music industry ever since.
“Sugar Shack” debuted on the pop charts at number 65 on September 21, 1963, took three weeks to get to number one on October 12 where it stayed for five weeks, thus becoming the number one song for the entire year, 1963.