By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Rail thin, with a black cowboy hat perpetually atop his head, Chuck Tharp entertained for generations. He died Friday at the age of 65 from heart failure, following a battle with cancer.
He was a founding member and the original vocalist of the Fireballs, an internationally known band. He penned a corpus of southwestern rock ‘n’ roll hits, including “Long, Long Ponytail” and “Sweet Country Woman.”
“He had a lot of fans that revered his vocal personality, his music, and his writing,” said George Tomsco, fellow Fireballs founding member. “A lot of people think of Chuck Tharp as the most famous Fireball. He had a unique style of delivery — very personal and very individual,”
Tomsco and Tharp began a rich history of musical collaboration in high school, where they were dubbed the Fireballs for their flawless rendition of “Great Balls of Fire” in 1958 during a high school talent show. Tharp later plotted lyrics for the band, while Tomsco matched them to music.
The five-member band went on to record at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis. They were inducted into the Norman Petty Studio Walk of Fame in 1989, according to the Web site, www.fireballs-original.com. In 2001, they were inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame.
Born in Yselta, Texas, Tharp settled in Clovis years ago.
“He was always very modest about his contribution to rock and roll,” said Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing Liz Eisenbraun, who became acquainted with Tharp through her organization of musical events in Clovis.
Publisher of the magazine “Rockin’ 50s,” Bill Griggs, knew Tharp well. He admired his voice, which could pendulate from sweet to harsh. Beneath a “gruff exterior,” long, white hair and the modus operandi of a biker, Tharp was a “very sweet guy” with a memorable sense of humor, Griggs said. And he helped put Clovis on the musical map.
“He was very creative. His mind was always going,” Griggs said.
“He will be sorely missed. I know people say that all the time, but I don’t,” Griggs said. “I say it when I mean it.”
Tharp reunited on stage with the Fireballs just months before his death. The band celebrated their 48th reunion with a performance at the Raton Middle School, formerly Raton High School. He played for the last time on the stage where he got his start as a talent show contestant.
“That very same stage was our launching pad,” Tomsco said.