The story of Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs is somewhat confusing, in that the Gilmer-fronted lineup was identical to the one that played on records simply credited to the Fireballs (see separate entry). The New Mexico band had several instrumental hits in the late ’50s and early ’60s in a slick Tex-Mex style, with staccato guitar lines that prefigured surf music. Using the same producer as Buddy Holly (Norman Petty), the group also performed controversial overdubs that were added to some of Holly’s posthumously released material. Again following the lead of Holly and the Crickets, in the mid-’60s they recorded some singles credited to Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs. These were distinguished from most other Fireballs records in that they were vocal numbers, not instrumental, Gilmer (who was second guitarist in the Fireballs) being the lead singer.
Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs had a monster number one single in late 1963 with “Sugar Shack,” a light pop/rocker dominated by the vibrating sound of a primitive precursor to the synthesizer, the Solovox. The song was singled out for special venom by Greil Marcus in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, who called it “the worst excuse for itself rock and roll had yet produced.” The public disagreed, sending it to number one; surprisingly, it also topped the R&B charts.
Gilmer and band made the Top 20 one more time with “Daisy Petal Pickin’,” a transparent “Sugar Shack” soundalike, right down to the Solovox. They cut various flops for Dot in the mid-’60s, and Gilmer recorded a Buddy Holly tribute album on his own. Signing to Atlantic in 1967, the Fireballs had another Top Ten hit with Tom Paxton’s “Bottle of Wine,” without giving top billing to Gilmer, although he was still in the band. Gilmer left the Fireballs shortly afterwards, though, and the Fireballs saga petered out after a few other low-charting singles in the late ’60s.