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FISHER, THERMAN [SONNY]

FISHER, THERMAN [SONNY] (1931–2005). Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Therman Fisher, better known as “Sonny,” was born on November 13, 1931, in Chandler, Texas. He was known for being a pioneering rockabilly artist in the 1950s. Combining together the blues and country genres, the “Wild Man from Texas” was one of the many American rockabilly artists of the 1950s who was unable to make it big in his regional markets but became popular in Europe as a result of a growing interest in the genre in the late 1970s.

Sonny Fisher was born on a farm in the small town of Chandler. Shortly after he was born, the family relocated to Tacoma, Washington, where Fisher grew up listening to his father sing and play the guitar. Ultimately settling in Houston, Fisher formed the Rocking Boys in the early 1950s after seeing Elvis Presley perform in 1954 at the Paladium. Teaming up with bassist Leonard Curry, drummer Darrell Newsome, and guitarist Joey Long, the group appeared alongside artists such as Elvis, George Jones, and Tommy Sands at shows in Houston and Beaumont. Fisher paid for his own recording session with engineer Bill Quinn at his Gold Star Studios in Houston, and his “Elvis-like” performance caught the attention of Quinn who alerted Jack Starnes of Starday Records. In early 1955 Fisher signed a one-year contract with H. W. “Pappy” Daily of Starday. Daily later recorded J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, George Jones, and others. Starnes served as Fisher’s manager.

Fisher’s next recording session took place in January 1955 at Quinn’s studio. His records released under the Starday label included “Rockin’ Daddy”/“Hold Me Baby,” “Hey Mama”/“Sneaky Pete,” and “I Can’t Lose”/“Rockin’ and Rollin’”; “Rockin’ Daddy” became a regional hit. After receiving a royalty check from Starday for only $126, however, Fisher refused to sign with the label again. Fisher attempted to start his own record label, Columbus Records. With little success, he left the music scene in 1965 to dedicate his time to his floor-laying business. The singer’s entire 1950s output was composed of a mere eight songs, all recorded in the years 1955 and 1956.

In 1980 Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong of Ace Records in London gathered the eight songs Fisher had recorded between 1955 and 1956 and combined them on a 10” LP, entitling it Texas Rockabilly. The album launched the record label and caused a popular rockabilly revival throughout Europe. Following the release of Texas Rockabilly, Fisher recorded an EP of new material for the label in May 1980. From 1981 to 1983, he played shows throughout Europe with artists such as Eddie Fontaine, Gene Summers, Billy Hancock, and Jack Scott. After moving back to Texas, Fisher visited Spain in 1993 to record with veteran rockabilly artist Sleepy LaBeef and the Spanish band Los Solitarios. Fisher disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter. Despite his disappearance, the singer left a lasting impression on Europe, embodying the essence of early Texas rockabilly to his fans.

Fisher died on October 8, 2005 in Houston. Funeral services were held at Brookside Funeral Home, and the musician was buried at Brookside Memorial Park. Fisher was survived by daughters Vicky Daigle, Kimberly Eason, and Felisha Evans; sons Gary Bennett Fisher, Tony Wayne Fisher, Gordon B. Fisher, and Wendell C Fisher; sister Judy Weber; and brothers Charles and Carl Frieley; as well as nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Andy Bradley and Roger Wood, House of Hits: The Story of Houston’s Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010). The Guardian (London), October 26, 2005. The Independent (London), October 22, 2005. Craig Morrison, Go Cat Go!: Rockabilly Music and Its Makers, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996). Houston Chronicle, October 16, 2005.

Jennifer Cobb

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Jennifer Cobb, "FISHER, THERMAN [SONNY]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi60), accessed November 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 30, 2014. Modified on September 14, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.