The Sparkletones still sparkle
“I feel like I just witnessed history!” proclaimed local journalist for the Spartanburg Herald Journal Dan Armonaitis at the CD release party for Millbilly Blues at Hub-Bub’s The Showroom recently after opening band The Sparkletones set.
I shook my head with a hearty grin in agreement that history was just unfolded in front of us. The thing is The Sparkletones are one of first important rock and roll bands in the rich history of the town. In the year of 1956 the group were only pre-teens ranging from 13 to 16 forming what would be billed sometimes as Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones. Joe Bennett, Wayne Arthur,Howard “
Sparky Childress and Jimmy Denton attended Cowpens High School and they would form what later would be a rockabilly hall of fame quartet that changed cultured forever. After winning first prize at a contest that had Bob Cox a talent agent for CBS who was in charge of the auditions was convinced that the group would be a huge success quit his job at CBS to manage the young group. He flew them to New York where they signed with ABC-Paramount and recorded a single “Black Slacks” remained on the U.S. charts for over four months (a rarity at that time), peaking at #17 on the Billboard Top 100 late in 1957. The band was formed over just a year from the release of the hit single and now were one of the forefathers of American Rock and Roll music. Bill Haley and The Comets had just released with “Rock around the clock” and now The Sparkletones were right smack dab in the middle of a new genre of music that would shift culture forever. The origin of the bands name also changed the historical music town and gave it a nickname that to this day has stuck that being “Sparkle City”.
After appearing on Ed Sullivan and playing gigs over the USA the fans would discover the The Sparkletones were from Spartanburg and assumed that how the name came from. The truth is that it was suppose to match the flashy sequins on the vests and clothes the group wore. The term “Sparkle City USA” was born and to this day many of the towns citizens call it that still. The single Black Slacks was shining higher than the closets of the forefathers of rock and roll now. Upon recording the single the producer Don Costa felt the song had potential but was lacking something. This lead to beginning harmony of Black Slacks and was laid down in just a few takes. The rest was history as the youngsters now where all over television variety shows and pop magazines in high demand. During a 1957 in Las Vegas Elvis Presley visited the guys in the dressing room giving the rockabilly upstarts quite a thrill in their young lives. The singles keep coming as they toured and were on such shows as American Bandstand, The Nat King Cole Show and Ed Sullivan. They were on the cutting edge of a new sound of Rockabilly and fans were loving it all. Fast forward to the future Joe Bennett becomes ill and chooses Randall Lark to replace him in the group. Joe went on to teach guitar to countless others in the city and I recall many people saying that Joe Bennett taught me to play the guitar. He is deeply loved and respected in the community of Spartanburg and Beyond. Royalties still accrue from the Disney movie Rescuers Down Under where the company used the Black Slacks single in the film. The Sparkletones have made a triumphant return to the public eye of recent and shared sold out shows with Millbilly Blues at Hub-bub’s The Showroom and The Chapman Cultural Center. I was in attendance for both of these shows and the group sounds crisp and sharp as ever. They were recently the new additions to Spartanburg Music Trail down town which is a audio/visual homage to musicians who were trailblazers in music hailing from this historical city. Being a 34 year man it was cool to witness the band come full circle with this concerts and find it really neat that the music that my parents along with grandparents spoke of long ago is still alive and very much relevant today. Yes history is made and still being made. God Bless and long live The Sparkletones!