“Bandstand: The Untold Story” author Stan Blitz is back with a new presentation at the Rio Grande Theatre, accompanied by New Mexico music legend George Tomsco, the founder of The Fireballs, the group that recorded the only number one hit song to come out of New Mexico, “Sugar Shack.” On June 3, they will collaborate to educate the audience about the history of the popular radio and TV show “Bandstand” when it was hosted by Bob Horn, before it became “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark, and the history of New Mexico music. Tomsco will also perform a live solo of his song “Everybody Should Have Lived in the Fifties.”
The first half of the show features Blitz in a “town hall” style program, where he will play clips of songs of the era, tell the story of “Bob Horn’s Bandstand” and the controversy that swirled around its original host, then take questions from the audience. Writing a book about Horn and “Bandstand” has been a life-long crusade for Blitz. As a music-loving kid in Philadelphia, he always felt an injustice had been done to Horn and he felt that someday he would do what he could to set the record straight.
Blitz says of his book, “It’s a piece of rock and roll history never been told before. You will not see it in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine or any of these music publications. It’s a true history by a purist: myself.” He adds, “It’s like ‘Citizen Kane’ about ‘Bandstand’.”
The second half of the presentation at the Rio Grande Theatre features George Tomsco. The Raton native will tell about his involvement with New Mexico’s music scene, which revolved around Norman Petty Studios in Clovis. Petty, his wife, Vi, and Jack Vaughn formed the Norman Petty Trio in the early 1950s and had a big hit with “Mood Indigo,” selling a half million copies. While Petty did quite well with his own music, he is best known for his recording studio and working with music legends such as Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, and Buddy Holly, as well as Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs with their hit song, “Sugar Shack.”
The Fireballs formed in Raton in 1958, using their favorite song’s title as inspiration to name their band: “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis. The Fireballs as originally formed included Tomsco on lead guitar, Chuck Tharp as the vocalist, Stan Lark on bass, Eric Budd on drums, and Dan Trammell on rhythm guitar. They had some top 40 hits such as “Torquay” in 1959, “Bulldog” the next year, and “Quite a Party” in 1961. But in the early 1960s, three of the members left the group and new member Jimmy Gilmer was the lead singer when they recorded their biggest hit, “Sugar Shack.”
Tomsco has never stopped being a Fireball and the band has recorded and performed together, with some restructuring, since the 1950s. Tomsco also performs as a “solo Fireball” for events such as these. He again lives in Raton, after living in Clovis to be near the Norman Petty Studios for many years.
Blitz and Tomsco met in Albuquerque and found they had a mutual interest in music history. “The fact that The Fireballs had a number one record and the fact that it is the only official number one band record out of New Mexico, ever, that’s pretty monumental. So, we just decided we should put the two things together,” Tomsco says.
He and Blitz will collaborate on several presentations around the state, bringing the early days of rock and roll to life for music-loving audiences of any age.
There will be CDs, photos, and other merchandise available that evening, as well as Blitz’s book, “Bandstand: The Untold Story.” Tomsco will also have a newly released box set with four CDs of the Fireballs’ early instrumentals and Chuck Tharp vocals. It’s a brand-new release from Nor-Va-Jack Music. He’ll also offer a book by Frank Blanas about The King of Clovis, Norman Petty.
The presentation is June 3 at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $17, including all fees. The Rio Grande Theatre is located at 211 N. Main Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is managed by the Doña Ana Arts Council. The theatre box office and Doña Ana Arts Council office are on the second floor of the theatre. Box office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and one hour prior to show time. For more information or to purchase tickets online, go to www.riograndetheatre.com or call (575) 523-6403.