The Curious Case of the Groovy Grubworm
Instrumental hits are scarce these days, but there was a time when a recording artist in any genre could have a substantial hit with an instrumental record. Equally scarce these days are local record charts, reflecting local tastes in music.
Until the 1980s, Billboard and Cashbox battled it out as the national authority for charting records. In the realm of country music, Billboard and Cashbox were near equal importance with as many country radio stations basing their weekly countdown shows on the Cashbox charts as on the Billboard charts. Normally this presented little controversy as most Billboard #1s made it to #1 on Cashbox and vice versa. Even when such was not the case, a song reaching #1 on one chart usually would be a top three record on the other chart, or occasionally top five.
On a few occasions there would be an outlier, with a hit making a much bigger impression on one chart than the other, such as Johnny Darrell’s original recorded version of “The Green Green Grass of Home” reaching #12 on Cashbox (it also charted on Record World) but not charting at all on Billboard’s Country Chart. This normally would occur on songs not reaching the Top 10 on either chart. The most noteworthy outlier to reach #1 was that of the instrumental hit “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and the Oakies.
There isn’t much to say about Harlow Wilcox; Wikipedia has the following:
Harlow Wilcox (died August 26, 2002) was an American session musician from Norman, Oklahoma. In 1969 he released an instrumental single on Plantation Records (as Harlow Wilcox & the Oakies) called “Groovy Grubworm,” which hit #30 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart late that year[...] “Groovy Grubworm” has sold over a million copies and was nominated for a Grammy in 1969.
It seems odd that a record topping out at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 would sell over a million copies, but everything about this record’s history is odd. For one thing it seemed to appeal across genre borders and the single could not clearly be defined as country or rock ‘n roll. The record does remind the listener of some of the material of The Bill Black Combo or even Johnny & The Hurricanes, both groups that straddled the country/rockabilly border. Our neighbors to the frozen north really took to the record as it reached #1 on the Canadian Country Charts and made the Top 20 on Canadian pop charts, reaching the Top 10 in several Canadian markets.
The song’s American history is interesting. Harlow Wilcox recorded “Groovy Grubworm” in 1969 for the tiny Impel label. Somehow the song came to the attention of Shelby Singleton, the owner of the previously dormant Sun label (which he used for reissues) and the Plantation label. Singleton purchased the master and re-released it as Plantation 28 in the fall of 1969.
“Groovy Grubworm” made its debut on both the Billboard and Cashbox Country charts on September 20, 1969. It hung around the Billboard Country charts for 13 weeks, peaking at #42. At some point, Billboard started tracking the record as a pop or rock ‘n roll record, as it made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 22, 1969 and stayed there for six weeks, peaking at #30
“Groovy Grubworm” would stay on the Cashbox Country Chart for 19 weeks with the following progression:
From this point, the song dropped to #4 for two weeks and then slowly slid off the charts.
Cashbox also charted the song on its Top 100 Singles, where it debuted on Septemer 20, 1969 and peaked at #25 on December 13, 1969 before sliding back down the charts, disappearing with the start of the new year.
Both Billboard and Cashbox charts seemed subject to some manipulation during this period of time (307 country recordings would reach #1 during the 510 weeks that Billboard printed charts during the 1970s) but that would not seem to be the explanation for “Groovy Grubworm,” which had an unknown artist recording an instrumental for a minor label. I don’t have a good explanation on why the song reached #1 for two weeks on Cashbox but only #42 on Billboard. Whatever the case, Harlow Wilcox would never chart again on Billboard’s charts, and would have only one more minor country chart hit: “Cripple Creek” which topped out at #54 in 1970.
#42 or #1?
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