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?)…