The Fireballs got start in high school talent show

By Don McAlavy: County historian

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on The Fireballs, one of the top rock ‘n’ roll acts of the early 1960s with strong roots in Clovis.

It’s been 37 years since five young men from Raton made their first record at Norman Petty Studios in Clovis.

George Tomsco, founder of the group was already strumming the guitar at the age of 9. An early bloomer, at the age of 12, he began playing professionally on Saturday nights with a local western band.

In 1955, while attending Raton High School, Tomsco met his partner in music, Chuck Tharpe. Their mutual interest in music made them the best of friends; they would sing and play together every chance they had.

During the summer of ’57, Tomsco began to take his music more seriously.

He sold his car and motorcycle, quit school, enlisted in the Navy and — more significantly — purchased a top-of-the-line guitar.

After being discharged from the Navy for being underaged, Tomsco returned to school in the fall of 1957 for his senior year. Along with Tharpe, he formed a band with the intent of competing in the Raton High School PTA talent contest.

With recruited members Danny Trammell on rhythm guitar, Eric Budd on drums and Stan Larks on stand-up bass, the group rehearsed feverishly in preparation for the contest that would unveil their talent.

The Fireballs’ explosive rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” was such a hit that the group adopted the name “The Fireballs” that night.

After high school, Tomsco and other members of the group received scholarships for college, thus slowing their musical career. While attending college, Chuck Townsend, a friend of Tomsco, heard the group plan a trip to Norman Petty Studios in Clovis for a recording session.