The Fireballs formed in Raton, New Mexico in the late 1950s. They took their name, the story goes, from Jerry Lew Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” The original 1958 members were George Tomsco (lead guitar), Chuck Tharp (vocals), Stan Lark (bass), Eric Budd (drums), and Dan Trammell (rhythm guitar). They had success with a number of songs, including “Bulldog” and “Quite a Party.” Tharp, Budd, and Trammell left in the early 1960s. They added Doug Roberts on drums and singer/pianist Jimmy Gilmer and released this version of “Bottle Of Wine” in 1967. The record was produced by Norman Petty, who is best known for his association with Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
In 1963 they had their other notable hit “Sugar Shack.” Gilmer left the group in 1967 to pursue other music business endeavors.
In the early 60’s, Jimmy Gilmer had taken an interest in folk music and often went to Greenwich Village to see the performers. One the performers he saw was Tom Paxton. Paxton has been an integral part of the songwriting and folk music community since the early 60’s Greenwich Village scene, and continues to be a primary influence on today’s “New Folk” performers. Tom wrote “Bottle Of Wine” and released the original recording on his 1965 album “Ain’t That News” and as a 45 single.
Paxton had written more verses to the song, but The Fireballs chose two of them and repeated the chorus.
Toms version included these verses:
Ramblin’ around this dirty old town
And singin’ for nickels and dimes
Times gettin’ tough, I ain’t got enough
To buy me a bottle of wine
Little hotel, older than Hell
Cold and as dark as a mine
Blanket so thin, I lie there and grin
Buy me little bottle of wine
A pain in my head
There’s bugs in my bed
My pants are so old that they shine
Out on the street, I tell the people I meet
Won’t you buy me a bottle of wine
Well the preacher will preach and Teacher will teach
Miner must dig in the mine
I ride the rods, trusting in God
And hugging my bottle of wine
Many people have covered this song, varying the verses. Two well-known were Judy Collins
And the Kingston Trio