By David Stevens
You know his song:
“Well I saw the thing comin’ out of the sky
“It had one long horn, one big eye
“I commenced to shakin’ and I said ‘ooh-iee’
“Looks like a purple people eater to me.”
Turns out, it was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater with aspirations of playing in a rock-and-roll band.
But did you know the “Purple People Eater” songwriter had close ties to eastern New Mexico?
Sheb Wooley, born April 10, 1921, co-owned a farm south of Clovis, performed at least twice at Marshall Junior High to raise money for Clovis Jaycees — in 1964 and 1965 — and spent about six weeks in Tucumcari filming episodes of the “Rawhide” television show in 1959.
In May 1964, Wooley was featured on the front page of the Clovis News-Journal. He was interviewed while repairing an irrigation pump, which “chugged to life” while he talked about the 160-acre farm where his brother Hubert lived after a stint at Cannon Air Force Base.
“My wife, Beverly, and I live near Hollywood, but we like New Mexico,” he said. “It gives us a chance to get away from the Coast and relax a little.”
Sheb Wooley, who died of leukemia in 2003, grew up in Oklahoma, where he learned to ride horses and rodeo, according to his website, www.shebwooley.com.
Those skills served him well throughout his life, especially in his numerous cowboy acting stints that included major roles on “Rawhide” and “High Noon,” starring Gary Cooper.
Probably his role as Pete Nolan, the guitar-playing scout on “Rawhide,” was his most memorable as an actor, but it’s the “Purple People Eater” song that has transcended the generations and keeps Wooley in our hearts on what would have been his 93rd birthday last week.
You know the rest of the story.
“And then he went on his way, and then what do ya know
“I saw him last night on a TV show
“He was blowing it out, really knocking ’em dead
“Playing rock-and-roll music through the horn in his head.”
Happy birthday, Sheb Wooley. Thanks for the purple memories,
David Stevens is editor for the Quay County Sun. Contact him at: