Randy Sparks’ Essay on Excellence and Authenticity
When I invented The New Christy Minstrels on paper in 1961, I heard a sound in my mind, and I envisioned a group that would be as entertaining as The Kingston Trio, but have the choral power of The Norman Luboff Choir. I liked the joyful noise of a chorus, all those gifted people singing in perfect harmony, but they weren’t much fun to watch, as they just stood there and sang. The KT, on the other hand, while maybe not as careful to hit every note exactly right, were much more entertaining, as they jumped around on the stage, all three of them playing and singing at the same time, having fun. ‘Wouldn’t it be delightful,’ I asked myself, ‘if I could achieve just the right combination of those two diverse elements in a new act?’ It took a while to get the sound I heard in my mind onto a record, and it was even a greater challenge to properly prepare such an act for the stage, but my invention was so successful that our first signed contract for a concert date was The Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and I won a Grammy for our very first album on Columbia Records
The billing of the act, both on record and in live performance was: ‘The New Christy Minstrels, Under the Direction of Randy Sparks,’ and now, over 56 years later, it’s exactly the same. I put the first group together, selected all of the performers, even wrote most of the songs, and through the years I’ve become an expert on achieving that signature sound that I invented. I also take much pride in our being entertaining as a group, not just fossils in a museum.
My first thought in restoring the group to its former luster was to present only original Minstrels, the very same people who helped me to win audiences in the ‘sixties, and that worked to a degree, but I like to compare the task to what happens in baseball. A team of all old-timers is great for nostalgia, but that’s not what the game is about. It’s about winning, and yes, it helps to have one or two seasoned players in the locker room and on the field, but we also need younger players with energy and excitement to properly share our music with the people in the seats.
We no longer need ten members to get the sound I demand. Because we have better sound equipment nowadays, we can do it with seven singers and players.
'Cousin' Dave Rainwater
I called Dave Rainwater, our champion fiddler. He’s younger, but not embarrassingly so, and he has longevity in the NCM uniform. We’ve never lost a battle with Cousin Dave on our stage.
'Uncle' Dave Deutschendorf
Dave Deutschendorf, John Denver’s uncle, also began his permanent stay with the group in 2010, and the bottom line of our vocal mix has never been better. What a talent! He’s so good vocally that I have even waived my demand that every song be played as well as sung. He’s not equally-gifted instrumentally, plays guitar on only a couple of our ditties. It’s okay; we have it covered.
Tholow Chan is our fabulous bass player and he and I first toured together in 1969, all across the country. He has worked continuously, so he’s up to speed, well-rehearsed, and there’s no lack of energy. We can also take great pride in having the only-known Chinese folk-bass player.
Our instrumental sound is carefully tended by Greg O’Haver, who first worked for me back in 1967. It’s amazing how much better a musician can get with just a few decades of practice. He’s the very best on anybody’s stage, and we’re grateful for his loyalty to the calling.
Becky Jo Benson
Becky Jo Benson is one of the younger members of The NCM, but amazingly, she has more time vested in the group than anybody, ever, except me. She didn’t arrive until 1997, but her participation has been non-stop since then, and that’s a record.
Sue Harris is the best girl type entertainer in Arizona, according to NCM original, Dolan Ellis, who is also
The Official Balladeer of Arizona. Now since becoming a core NCM member, the rest of the group agrees!
I have been thinking a lot lately about ‘Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians.’ They had a wonderful sound. If Fred were to suddenly come back to life and be billed at one of the fancy theaters that we play, how many people would ask him, “Are these the same Pennsylvanians, the very same singers you had with you in 1947?” I don’t believe that would happen. As long as Fred was there, the people with him would be given a pass, as the audience would fully accept that the presentation would be first-rate, well-rehearsed, and professional. It surely wouldn’t matter that most of them weren’t from Pennsylvania. All I want is the same consideration. Please accept my assurance that The New Christy Minstrels® is still a group of the very best performers that can be found for the task of entertaining in our unique and well-established manner. We’ll prove it to you. RS
When one of our members couldn't make the concert tour, Ed was asked to help out by standing in---and since that tour in 2015 has become our very talented
'Permanent Back-Up Stand-In' member.
Jennifer Lind was trained as a replacement member of The NCM beginning in 2005, and performed with the group full-time since 2010. Then in 2016 Jennifer made the decision to go from a core member, to a back-up member as her life became too busy to go on the road with her musical family, but she will join us on stage for special events. Not yet old enough to order from the back page of a Denny’s menu, she’s somewhat of an embarrassment in a group of bona fide seniors, but her excellent talent is persuasive, exceptional.
Chuck is an exceptional talent and our dear friend. We love to have Chuck on stage with us when we are in California,