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.