Samm Culley spotted something unusual while watching cars pass under the highway as he often did. It was the tour bus for “Mr. Personality,” singer Lloyd Price.
“One day I’m going to be on that bus,” thought young Culley. It would take a while but eventually his dream would come true.
Culley’s musical career began as a keyboard player for Maryland Eastern Shore act Tiny Tim and the Hits, where he met fellow singers Tom Price and Bill Collier. In 1958 Tiny Tim and The Hits released a 45 on Roulette Records—“Wedding Bells” with the b-side “Doll Baby.”
The trio soon left Tiny Tim to form their own group with singer Irving Waters called The Diplomats. While most young people in Maryland were going out on Saturday nights the quartet practiced singing. The Diplomats—Price, Culley, Waters (pictured left to right), and Collier—performed all over the Eastern Shore and were determined to be the first successful group out of the region. Cully moved to Newark, New Jersey after a brief stint in the army and Price and Waters soon joined him.
The Diplomats recorded their first 45, “Unchained Melody/Card On The Table” on Arock Records in 1963 and performed all over New York City including at The Apollo Theater, but still did not have a big song. That changed in 1964 when they met with Washington, DC producer Van McCoy who turned out their first hit “Here’s A Heart.” The song stayed at #1 in DC for nine weeks and The Diplomats returned to South of the Mason-Dixon line to play at The Howard Theatre. Feeling the strains of the music industry, Price left The Diplomats and Culley and Waters found George Bragg to replace him. Being a drummer, the addition of Bragg helped The Diplomats transition from a singing group to a band. The three performed so well together they never even needed to rehearse. It was during this time that Culley’s childhood dream began to take shape. Lloyd Price came by to see a show and was blown away, predicting that the band would literally make people’s skulls snap.
Now named the Skull Snaps, the trio released their only LP on GSF Records in 1970. The band was unable to continue recording as the Skull Snaps due to legal difficulties for GSF records so they released a 45—“Soul Makossa/On Top Of It”—as All Dyrections. The Skulls Snaps disbanded shortly after; Culley went on to record with an early version of The Fatback Band and eventually produced an album for Lloyd Price.
In 1989 Connecticut rapper Stezo sampled Bragg’s drums from the Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day” on “It’s My Turn.” The Skulls Snaps track has since been sampled over 270 times, making it one hip-hop’s most ubiquitous break beats. The group saw their popularity rise again and Culley, Waters, Price, and Bragg reunited to record and tour. Bragg passed away in 2007 but the Skulls Snaps recently recorded a new single with Stezo and were followed by a documentary crew for their soon to be released film, “The Legend of The Skull Snaps.”