Randy Sparks wrote this song for his mom and sang it to her on Mother’s Day. ‘Take Your Mother To Brunch’ is on The New Christy Minstrels’ CD titled ‘NICE TIME TO BE ALIVE’ and is for sale at all the live concerts. This CD was recorded, and mixed by The NCM Sound Engineer, Becky Jo Benson, and Mastered by Fab Dupont of Pure Mix Studio, New York, New York.
The New Christy Minstrels Foundation is presenting a precious collection of Burl Ives memorabilia in this moving museum to celebrate the life of singer, performer, actor, and dear friend of Randy Sparks, the late Burl Ives. First stop for viewing will be Burl Ives birthplace of Newton, Illinois in Jasper County, June 14th (which would have been Burl’s birthday). For details, please click on UPCOMING EVENTS and scroll down to June 14, 2018. Then the moving museum will travel to be parked next to the River Inn, Brownville, Nebraska during The New Christy Minstrels’ concerts there on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17th and Monday, June 18th for the 2:00 PM concert in the Brownville Concert Hall, Brownville, Nebraska. If you buy a ticket to any of the above concerts, then you deserve a tour through the Burl Ives Mobile Museum. See you there!
April 26, 2018, Steve (Slim) E. asked: Who wrote Mighty Mississippi?I searched the web and didn’t find its author.
RANDY SPARKS wrote Mighty Mississippi while on board the airplane that was bringing The New Christy Minstrels back from their concert at Carnegie Hall, New York City, New York.The Captain of the airplane announced that they were flying over the Mighty Mississippi and folks could see it if they looked out the window.This view inspired Randy Sparks to start writing and singing the song, Mighty Mississippi, which he completed before they landed the airplane.Then he started teaching the song to the group, and they recorded Mighty Mississippi shortly after.
One of the advantages of folk music happens to be that so many of the beloved stories told in song belong to all of us, that is, they are in the public domain, free of copyright protection, and every folksinger worth his keep is allowed, even expected, to make improvements in the retelling the tale. One of my goals in life is to keep old-fashioned music alive and entertaining. ‘The Land of Giants’ album was a favorite project of mine, and I wanted to celebrate the American spirit through some of its heroes. The John Henry song had been sung to death by nearly everybody, and I simply wanted to create a better vehicle to carry the message. Columbia Records wanted no part of my entertaining ‘painless history’ lesson, but I ran my own group, and didn’t take direction very well. History teachers over the past 54 years have thanked me for the effort, and that’s much better than money.
Question from C. Jones, about the John Henry song in The Land of Giants:
I am working on an empathetic research paper centered on an American folk song, and I chose your version of “John Henry and the Steam Drill” for it. However, I can’t find any information on WHY you guys wrote and recorded the John Henry song or why you made the Land of Giants album. Could you tell me what inspired you guys to make the song?
Comment from John H.
Hi, I just wandered through your Web site here thinking of how much I used to love listening to the group’s Columbia LPs back in the 1960s. I discovered a lot of Americana and the joy of harmony in those records. I loved “Land of Giants.” I always hoped the group could have its own movie, something about the backstage personalities and how they all came together on stage. Just wanted to say thank you to Mr. Sparks for giving me that. God bless you for keeping this music alive.
Then, if there’s any time left, please offer a guess about how Native Americans and primitive tribes of Mexico and Central and South America learned how to prepare corn to keep it from killing people. Did you know that Gene Autry’s mother quite likely died from eating corn?
When Columbus came to the New World, he was excited to take back with him a miracle food the natives called maize. It grew rapidly and was wonderfully inexpensive, but Europeans and Asians who eagerly made use of this breakthrough food began to die-off, as in a plague. So, why didn’t our so-called Indians and indigenous Mexicans suffer? The answer was in preparation. They had learned to make hominy, to free the trapped niacin by bathing the maize in lime water or an alkaline solution. Did they have chemistry classes? No, but someone obviously had solved the problem EARLY on. Corn is, in effect, poisonous if it’s over-consumed, and when it’s all that poor people can afford, here comes pellagra. I’ve learned there was an epidemic of sorts during the Great Depression, hence Gene’s mother’s death. People without funds grew and ate corn. It kept them alive for a while.
Hi! I know this is somewhat off-topic however I needed to ask.
Does running a well-established blog such as yours require
a lot of work? I am completely new to writing a blog however I do
write in my diary on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my own experience and thoughts online.
Please let me know if you have any kind of suggestions or tips for new aspiring blog owners.
RESPONSE from Becky Jo Benson Hi! We are happy that you visited our web site!
I truly believe that you can do anything in this world as long as there are YouTube instructional videos.I am using WordPress to build this web site, and my theme is ‘Sydney’ because it like the way it looks, plus there are many YouTube instructional videos on line from which you can learn what the buttons are for.You already write in your diary, so you are accustomed to writing down your thoughts.You can DO THIS!Never give up, and enjoy what you do. . . the rest will follow.Wishing you all the best!
This is a photo of an OLD man returning to a former haunt. The Victorian building behind me once housed The Florentine Club in Shreveport. While I was there, a new act was appearing less than a block away at the Civic Auditorium: Elvis Presley.
There were times when my life seemed to be scripted, and this photo recalls one of the most meaningful couple of weeks I ever had. The year was 1955, and I was working my very first job away from San Francisco home territory, namely Hollywood (actually West Los Angeles), John Walsh’s 881 Club, 881 La Cienega Blvd. I was the youngest performer, so I opened the show, and the headliners were all ladies: Julie London, Kipp Hamilton and Pat Carroll, over a three week period. I felt that I was doing well, as the audience liked me, but after one of my best shows, a man sitting alone at one of the front tables called me over as I was exiting the stage, and said I should go back to wherever I came from, as I didn’t have “what it takes,” and I’d be saving myself “a lot of heartache.” He looked familiar, and Lucien the cook told me it was Gordon McRae. The very next night, another man sitting alone, one table over from where Gordon McRae had sat, said to me, “That’s pretty good, kid, but your name isn’t Lloyd Sparks…I haven’t yet figured out what it is, but I will, and I’ll come back and tell you.” “Who’s that, Lucien,” I asked. “That’s Henry Willson, the biggest independent agent in Hollywood, and his thing is naming people…Rory Calhoun, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, all the actors at Universal…” Wow!
The newest lady singer was very nice to me, and one day she said, “How would you like to go to Dallas with me? We could have a good time.” I didn’t know what to say. She was at least five years my senior, and I was just about to turn a very young 22 by then. She saw my uneasiness, then explained that her agent in Texas was in the process of booking her into one of two hotels, either the Baker or the Adolphus, and it would be her own show, so she got to pick her opening act, she said, and she wanted me to be there with her. Wow! She asked for my bio and 8X10 glossies, and I handed them over. Two or three days later, she said to me, “My agent likes everything but the name.” It was then I told her about Henry Willson, who had announced that Lloyd Sparks wasn’t my name, and he had come back the night before this, and said to me, “Your name is Randy Sparks.” I had laughed it off, but now here comes the issue again. “That’s a much better name,” she said, then collected another copy of my bio and photo, promising to make the changes. A day or two later, her agent from Texas called me at the club to say, “The job in Dallas probably isn’t going to happen, and I have a much better situation for you at The Florentine Club in Shreveport, Louisiana. The pay is better, and it’s an excellent credit for your resume.” Just like that, all in the same few days, I now had my first contract outside California, AND AN AGENT. Pat Carroll had gone to a lot of trouble in my behalf, and her efforts were sincerely appreciated.
By the way, eight years later, when I won a Grammy for the first NCM recording, guess who handed it to me…Gordon McRae.
I just wanted to take a moment to send a note to say thank you again for the concert I attended.
It was back in November (November 10) in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. I was the gentleman with a bag full of lps and cds for Randy to sign.
My wife and I drove two and half hours for the concert and I don’t regret a single moment. I grew up listening to the New Christy Minstrels albums, over and over, and Randy Sparks and the New Christy Minstrels are probably the only group I would travel that distance to see.
I’d like to explain that I am not a ‘typical’ fan. I have spent my career working as a stage manager for live theatre. I have worked on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and at some of the premiere theatres around the country, such as The Kennedy Center and the Pasadena Playhouse. My business has been working with big names and with stars and as such I am not usually prone to being awestruck by an individual.
I was awestruck when I met Randy.
I was meeting the man whose life’s work has inspired me and certainly in many ways, shaped me. There aren’t many people about whom I can say that. It was as much a thrill for me to talk with Randy after the concert as it was to listen to all of you playing such great music. I can’t express how much I valued that Randy took the time out of his schedule to just chat with me and my wife.
In our post-concert talk, Randy mentioned that he was working on a museum of/for Burl Ives. If there is any sort of email list for updates on this, I would gladly sign on to it.
Please feel free to convey my thanks to Randy and to all the members of The New Christy Minstrels for the great concert and for continuing the work of bringing great music to the world.
Thank you and sincerely,
RESPONSE FROM RANDY SPARKS
Thanks much, Daniel. YOU are, of course, the reason we make the effort to get here and there across the country. We meet people like you at just about every show, and what a thrill that is for me. You have to know that singing into a microphone to make a record or entertaining a radio audience…or even performing on TV is not quite as thrilling as entertaining people in the seats. Thanks for being there, and a special thank you for being so kind in your review. It’s so special that I’m sharing your message with Tom Pickles, our group historian. He’s the one in charge of putting together the new CD of oldies.
The older I get the more I become aware that I’m using up resources that rightfully belong to younger people, and I’ve decided to make a special effort to earn my keep. I have been a songwriter all my life, and I’m still at it, but now I have the time to do it better, and almost continuously. What I create nowadays is old-fashioned music, of course, but what’s wrong with that? I’ve heard what the youngsters are calling ‘music,’ and music it AIN’T!
P.S. Becky Jo, please forward this message to Daniel, as I don’t see an e-mail address.
There’s a scrap of wisdom in the Bible that I have always regarded as truth, and I’ve made an effort to follow its guidance. I don’t recall the exact wording or where it’s to be found, but it has validity for me. Roughly, it says: ‘Allow any cheering for yourself to be done by others.” I’ve done that all of my adult life, but now that I’m nearing the end of my game, and as the world seems to have become so much more competitive, I’m thinking that I should perhaps speak-out. I still have a few dedicated fans in my cheering section, but so many of the ones who were the most sincere and loudest in their praises have gone away to that Great Hootenanny In The Sky, and the younger ones that are still here tend not to know how really cool I am.
In 2007, when I had finally put together what I considered to be a valid reproduction of The New Christy Minstrels, vintage 1962-’64, we were about to perform in a wonderful venue near downtown Los Angeles, Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts, and we’d never been there before, so I began to worry about drawing a big-enough crowd. ‘What would happen if nobody shows-up,’ I asked myself. Then I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to ask for help.’
I knew that one of the waitresses at Ledbetter’s, my folk music nightclub (rehearsal hall with an audience) on Westwood Blvd. in West LA had gone on to become very important as a press agent for Hollywood stars, so I envisioned hiring her for a few weeks to help by getting our name, ‘The New Christy Minstrels (STILL under the direction of Randy Sparks)’ in the paper. I wrote to her via e-mail, and she said in reply, ‘You can’t afford me.’ Then she told me how well-paid she is, and I was in total agreement. I COULD NOT afford her. Then she said she wanted to help, and I was open to her advice. ‘It’s about your bio,’ she wrote. ‘Nobody wants to read the same old boring storyline, and I think you should skip all that…just sit-down and make a list of the things in this life that happened to you that maybe didn’t happen to anybody else. You ought to be able to think of at least ten, I would think.’
I did as she suggested, and what fun that was, reliving some of the wild adventures. Wow! I quit at more then a hundred.
I found that I didn’t need her radical promotional device back then, as we were very nearly sold-out weeks in advance, so I’ve kept the list I made in my computer, and it’s even grown over time. Now, rather than seemingly waste the effort in collecting all this data, I’m feeling the need to share. I’ve also found that the basic idea is helpful in dealing with younger people who have no idea what The New Christy Minstrels entity is all about. It helps a lot to say, ‘Kenny Rogers came out of our group.’ How much cooler do we really need to get?
I’m not going to mention ALL of the items on my personal list of bragging rights, nor have I been able to accurately place them in order of importance, but here are some…
Discovered and named John Denver (against his will, and his daughter recently thanked me that her name wasn’t Deutschendorf). He lived rent-free with my family his first year in showbiz. Recorded him for Capitol Records long before he recorded for RCA.
Steve Martin became a stand-up comic on my stage (I had hired him as a banjo player) in just 34 weeks.
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition came out of The NCM, and I gave them their first job as The First Edition. Kenny was just a bass player back then, not even leader of the group.
Invented The New Christy Minstrels (on paper) in 1961, thereby creating the very first BIG FOLK GROUP. Got the act on record and on stage in 1962, won a GRAMMY for our very first album.
Working as ‘The New Christy Minstrels, still under the Direction of Randy Sparks’ in hundreds of major concerts in the past ten years, we’ve never performed anywhere without receiving at least one STANDING OVATION, and sometimes it’s downright embarrassing. Full-grown people ought not to act that way. What ever happened to polite applause? (No, DON’T QUIT)
Several later-on-important performers got their start with me: Michael Martin Murphey, Michael Johnson, The Hagers, Gary Mule Deer, Richard & Karen Carpenter (they were members of a group billed as The Spectrum, their first job), Michael Nesmith (sent him on the interview for The Monkees), Barry McGuire, of course, Dolan Ellis (Official Balladeer of Arizona for the past 150 years), Gene Clark (later of The Byrds), The Back Porch Majority (originally The NCM ‘farm-team’), George McKelvey (big in Denver forever), etc.
Wrote JFK’s favorite song, ‘Last Farewell,’ and that earned us our first invitation to The White House. Also wrote Hi Jolly, the Official town song of Quartzsite, Arizona.
Discovered by Bob Hope (at The Blue Angel in NYC), toured with him.
Was Burl Ives’ writer & opening act in concert for more than thirty years, and he was my dearest friend.
There’s a dentist in Cincinnati, OH, Brad Monti, who loves my song ‘Today’ so much that he has the lyrics written on the ceiling of his office (“this,” he says, “for the benefit of the patients in the chair, looking up”). My words reportedly helped him through some hard times, and he’s into sharing the potion.
Owned a huge cattle ranch with Tennessee Ernie Ford, and worked with him quite often. He invited me to his TV show one day, but this time I didn’t have to bring my guitar. “This is for you,” he said, “not for me. My guest today is Colonel Sanders, and he’s going to personally cook chicken for me. I want him to cook chicken for you too.”
My trio (RS3) was the first folk act to work the Vegas strip.
Gave Tony Bennett his first (and likely only) guitar lesson.
‘Mama Cass’ Eliot and David Crosby still owe me money.
Was Phyllis Diller’s opening act the first time she ever walked onstage, anywhere.
Served as Maya Angelou’s opening act and bongo player.
Was Lenny Bruce’s opening act, and he became one of my dear friends, but never bothered me with his many problems.
Was Jonathan Winters’ long-time friend and opening act.
Still married to the same old woman (our 56th year, and counting). She’s still looking good, but of course, my eyes aren’t what they used to be (that’s a joke between us, okay?)…