The New Christy Minstrels
UNDER THE DIRECTION OF RANDY SPARKS
A real-live Blog from Randy Sparks, one-and-only FOUNDER of The New Christy Minstrels. Ive been bothered lately by having to tell younger people who I am. Yes, I know from my reading of the Old Testament that it’s not cool to toot your own horn, that any positive statements ought to come from others, but what happens when the few people who consider me a hero are not heard from recently? Here goes…
When my restored group and I were contracted to perform at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, back in 2007, I quite suddenly developed a fear that we’d have too many empty seats. That would be embarrassing. This was the big-time, and tickets were fifty-bucks a pop. Would there be enough seniors with that kind of spending money, people who remember us fondly? It was worrisome enough that I reached-out to an ex-employee of Ledbetter’s, my rehearsal hall with an audience on Westwood Blvd. She’d been a waitress there more than forty years earlier, but had gone on to become a Hollywood press agent, a ‘flack’ of much acclaim, and I supposed that she might be of help in spreading the word. I wrote to her, and her reply was: ‘You can’t afford me.’ When she explained that her fee was four-thousand dollars a month, just for helping to get celebrities’ names in the newspaper and trade publications, I fully agreed. I could not afford her, but she had some sage advice, and it was free: ‘Don’t burden your audience with the usual showbiz bio…it’s boring, and people don’t have time for that. Sit down and think of things that have happened to you that wouldn’t necessarily happen to anybody else. You ought to be able to come-up with ten or twelve, and that should be your bio.’
I did as she suggested, and quit after I’d reached a hundred such ‘claims to fame.’ I’ll list a few…not necessarily in order of importance…
Invented The New Christy Minstrels.
Sent Michael Nesmith to the ‘cattle call’ for a new group named ‘The Monkees.’
Colonel Sanders personally cooked chicken for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Minnie Pearl and me.
Became only the second performer to walk-off The Ed Sullivan Show (the first being Frank Sinatra, who personally congratulated me…”That sonofabitch,” he said!).
Discovered Henry John Deutschendorf, gave him his start in music, and named him ‘John Denver.’
Steve Martin became a stand-up comic on my stage in just 34 weeks; I’d hired him as a banjo-player. When I met with one of my long-time personal heroes a few weeks ago, there was some question about this claim, as Steve had worked for Bob Stane at the Ice House between Disneyland and Ledbetter’s, doing his “failed magic” act, but we were a proactive institution, and I served as his eyes and ears in the audience much of the time. We walked up and down Westwood Blvd. after most of the shows early-on, discussing what went right and what went wrong, making use of all that I’d learned being tutored by Mort Sahl and Jonathan Winters. I’d also audited every comedy meeting between Bob Hope and his genius writer, Mort Green, while on tour. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Gave The First Edition (including Kenny Rogers on bass) their first exposure as a group. They’d come out of the group that I had invented: The NCM.
My late, long-term wife (56 years) was Diane Jergens, the song & dance actress, and we were BOTH DISCOVERED BY BOB HOPE, she as a child in Minesota, and I at the age of 25 at The Blue Angel in New York City…does that happen to other people?
By the way, the title of my book shall be ‘I’m Still Here.’
I would like to pass on some info to Randy regarding an old friend but I cannot find any contact info. We had my dad’s memorial this last weekend and during a slide show there was a picture of my parents with Burl Ives and Randy.
I’ll leave my email address in the area below and I can pass on more info that way.
I am VERY glad you are STILL HERE!!! I have a short ‘bucket list’, & seeing you is on that list!!! Please come to Grand Rapids, Michigan very soon!
I have been playing “Today” over and over again for about a week. It goes back to my childhood and brings tears to my eyes. Such a powerful song! Thanks for writing it and for just being you. The New Christy Minstrels touched me many years ago and they are touching me again.
God bless you. If you tour again and are nearby I’ll be there!
Carry on, Randy.
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