Friday, June 24, 2011

Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones

Hey Kent -
Have you ever covered Joe Bennett on your site? They are from my home town of Spartanburg, South Carolina. They were family friends. 
Joe played with three of my first cousins in a band before the Sparkletones. I did a story on them a few years back for Discover Record Magazine, the spin off from Goldmine.
While in the Air Force, Joe played in a band in Italy backing local musicians with Mickey Hart, the drummer from The Grateful Dead.
When they got out, Joe moved out to California to try and start something with Mickey, whose dad owned a music store.  Joe didn't like what was going on and re-joined The Air Force.
Mickey Cooksey   
I don't recall running anything specifically on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones ... but if you'd like to submit a piece (or an edit of your "Discover" piece), I'd be happy to run it.  Bennett, of course, is best remembered for his 1957 Top 20 Hit "Black Slacks" (#17, 1957).  He just missed making The Top 40 a second time with his follow-up release, "Penny Loafers and Bobby Socks", which stopped at #41 a few months later that same year.  (kk)

I wanted to make a comment concerning the group Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones.
The first 45 I got as a kid was BLACK SLACKS. Always did like the follow-up, too, PENNY LOAFERS AND BOBBY SOCKS. They had one or two other records for ABC Paramount as well as Paris Records later on. In 1958 they had a song called COTTON PICKIN' ROCKER.  Sometimes I referred to that one as the "Hiccup" song. If you have never heard it, take a listen if you can ... then you will know why.
Nope ... not familiar with that one ... but our FH Buddy Tom Diehl tracked it down for us so we can ALL enjoy it!  Watch for Mickey Cooksey's article on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones ... coming SOON to Forgotten Hits! 

And, speaking of Tom Diehl ...

One time my dad was visiting my grandfather in Sarasota, Florida, and they went and saw a magician named Vince Carmen and my dad was chatting with him afterwards and Vince told my dad that he was a member of this group and had been on American Bandstand with them, but that he didn't use his real name when he was with the group.  I've questioned that ever since my dad told me the story and I'd love to know if there was ever a guy by that name in the group, either recording or touring.
Tom Diehl
Problem is, WHAT name?!?!?  If he used a DIFFERENT name while playing with the band, how would we know who Vince Carmen was?  Nevertheless, I posed your query to Mickey Cooksey, who wrote the excellent piece posted below ... let's see if he can do a little digging!  (kk)

Hey Kent,
Here is the run down ... The original band consisted of Joe Bennett, Jimmy Denton, Howard "Sparky" Childress and Wayne Arthur. They signed to the ABC label ... and that is the band did all the TV shows in the fifties. Except for the Ted Mac show, same band, but in the beginning they had a girl lead singer.
Gene Brown joined later when Howard Childress left the band. 
Later on in the sixties there was another version of the band with Jimmy Denton and Howard Childress called The Sparkletones with two replacement musicians that I do not know, but they were local only and were on the local TV station every Saturday from 4:00 to 4:45.  I have an ad from the local paper with a picture of this version of the band but I do not recognize the other two musicians. The two main Sparkletones were missing from this version, Joe Bennett and Wayne Arthur. I can't say Vince was not in this version, but he was not on The Dick Clark show as that was the original band.

I have all the video from the TV shows except Dick Clark.  Joe said they were able to get copies for all the other shows but Dick would not let them have copies of the Band Stand Show.
Oh, by the way, Jimmy Denton the drummer opened the first Honda Motorcycle Dealership in Spartanburg in the sixties.  I bought my first Honda from him.

While I can't state it definitively, this sounds like a "no" to me!  (lol)  While "magician" and "musician" may SOUND alike, I'm thinking this guy was NOT a Sparkletone during the  American Bandstand Era.  (Wouldn't be the first time we've run across these kinds of claims!)  kk

Below is Mickey Cooksey's excellent piece on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones, first published in "Discover Magazine" a few years ago ... and now gracing the pages of Forgotten Hits.  (Thanks, Mickey!)  kk

I remember a time in my childhood days when three of my first cousins -- Ronnie, Jerry and Priscilla Cooksey -- were playing in my Uncle Adale's backyard with someone who was to become important in the music industry, Joe Bennett of Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones fame. Before their take-off to acclaim in January of 1957, they would perform on a stage built by my uncle in his backyard. Their first taste of popularity came as they began to attract quite a few people, whose cars would crowd the streets on weekends, all coming to catch a glimpse of the group in action. 

When Joe and the boys first signed with ABC Paramount and recorded "Black Slacks," it lacked the "br-r-r-r" it became famous for. In the process of recording, producer Don Costa (who went on to become orchestra leader for Frank Sinatra) decided the song needed a gimmick, something catchy. While the guys were clowning around in the studio, they turned to each other and blurted out "br-rr-r." The rest is history.

After recording "Black Slacks," the group embarked on the "tour of all tours." ABC Paramount, who owned a string of movie theaters across the country, sent the Sparkletones on a 32-theater tour as the opening act for the movie "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." They packed their equipment and the movie reels into a car and hit the road; the movie would play all day and during the evening, they would put on two performances between showings.  After "Black Slacks" began climbing the charts, Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones began making television appearances.

Asked who his influences were in music, Bennett said that when he was a child, his mother carried him to the State Theatre to see Little Jimmy Dickens, who at the time had a hit with "Take An Old Cold Tater and Wait." One of the guitarists with Dickens' band, "Spider" Wilson, played twin leads on each song, and inspired Joe to begin playing guitar.  Also making a mark on young Bennett was Buddy Emmons, who played jazz on a steel guitar.

During the high point of their career, Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones traveled extensively, appearing on such television shows as Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour," "The Nat King Cole Show," and, on two occasions, "The Ed Sullivan Show."
In November of 1957 for their televised appearances they performed "Black Slacks," and in March of 1958 "Cotton Pickin' Rocker" was their song of choice. Bennett says their best televised performance was on Nat King Cole's show.
Click here: YouTube - The Sparkletones 1956 on The Nat King Cole Show
(This clip is incredible ... SO much fun to watch these "youngins" up there doing their rock-a-billy best!)  kk  

One of the Sparkletones, Howard "Sparky" Childers, enjoyed dancing onstage while playing guitar. Bennett said that "Often, Sparky would be playing rhythm guitar and dancing, and then when we'd go offstage, people would run up to the guys and say to Sparky, 'man, you sure can play that guitar,' while in reality it was Joe who had actually played all the leads."
By 1958, Paramount was cleaning their roster of performers no longer in the spotlight, only keeping big name acts such as Danny & the Juniors. By early 1959, the rigorous touring was taking a toll on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. Howard "Sparky" Childers dropped out of the band first and returned to high school, followed shortly by Jimmy Denton. Original manager Box Cox left also, as he was taking on other groups and moving in a different musical direction.  Joe Bennett and Wayne Arthur decided to stick it out because they felt they still had many songs to write and wanted to pursue their dream.

Taking what little money they had, they caught a train to New York City, accompanied by only one acoustic guitar. Checking into the King Edward Hotel, they immediately began looking up record and publishing company numbers. After many dead-ends, they convinced Jack Gold at Paris Records to listen to them. Gold said he'd take them on and signed Joe and Wayne to a contract.

In 1959 they released two singles, "Bayou Rock" / "Beautiful One," and "Boys Do Cry" / "What the Heck." 

In 1960 they put out "Are You From Dixie" / "Beautiful One," and "What the Heck" / "Softly."  
Unfortunately, fame similar to the success of "Black Slacks" eluded them, and in 1960 Paris Records terminated their contract.

Joe decided to enter the Air Force, where he met Mickey Hartman, a drummer. Their first Air Force assignment was in Spain, where they began doing studio work and backed up some of Spain's top recording artists, including Carina. The duo also recorded solo work on the Hispovacs label under the names of Joe and the Jaguars and The Jaguars.

When discharged from the service, Joe returned to Spartanburg, S.C., taking a job at Dan Clark's Music Store teaching music. Six months later Mickey Hartman (he'd now changed his last name to Hart) called, asking Joe how things were. "Slow" was the response. Mickey told Joe his father owned a music store in San Carlos, California, and asked Joe to move out there to work in the business with him so they could get something going together again. Joe moved to California but things didn't work out, so he re-enlisted in the Air Force. Mickey Hart went on to become one of the drummers in the Grateful Dead.

Joe volunteered for a tour of duty in Viet Nam, and was stationed there in December 1966. His base commander took him off night duty when he discovered he was a musician, so he could perform. Bennett put together a band called The Cousins, playing at NCO clubs.

In December, 1967, Joe began a tour of duty in Berlin, Germany, putting together a new band called The Brass Doors. They performed constantly during his time overseas.  Upon returning to the states and Shaw Air Force base, Bennett was released from the Air Force and went back into teaching music.

About a year later he moved back to Spartanburg, S.C., working with Randall Lark and John D. Brooks, formerly of The Chessmen (they'd backed up Bo Diddley, Freddy Cannon, the Clovers, and Little Anthony & the Imperials.)  By the late '70s, Joe was again working for the government, as an Air Traffic Controller, spending most of his time in Alaska for the next decade. On December 17, 1981, the Centennial for Spartanburg was celebrated, their 150th, and the Chamber of Commerce asked Bennett to write a song for them. He did, it's entitled "Caroline Clay" and was released through the Chamber on 45 rpm.

Joe left Alaska in November of 1992, returned once more to Spartanburg, and for the third time began teaching music, this time for Smith's Music Company. In January of the following year, Gary Henderson of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal wrote a big article entitled "Remembering the Sparkletones," which sparked local interest in the originals members of the band and their history. Continuing to garner publicity, in October of 1993 the public television station based in Spartanburg aired a documentary on Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones.  Two days later, on the 9th of October, the original Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones performed live for the first time in 35 years, at the annual Polk Salad Festival. Recently Joe has written two new songs, "Bubba Is A Good Ole Boy" and "Bubba and the Long Boys," and is hoping for release with MCA.

Joe Bennett continues to teach music, performs live and writes songs. His most recent album is Gone to The Country.

Discography -
ABC Paramount 9837- Black Slacks / Boppin' Rock Boogie  (7/57)
                      9867 - Penny Loafers & Bobby Socks / Rocket   (11/57)
                      9885 - Cotton Pickin Rocker / Dig You Baby (1/58)
                      9929 - We've Had It / Little Turtle (6/58)
                      9959 - Late Again / Do The Stop (10/58)
                      10659 - Run Rabbit Run / Well Dressed Man  (5/65)

Paris 530 - Bayou Rock / Beautiful One  (--/59)
        537 - Boys Do Cry / What The Heck  (--/59)
        542 - Are You From Dixie / Beautiful One  (--/60)
        546  - What the Heck / Softly  (--/60)

Top Rank 2017 - The King Is Coming Back / Come Back Baby (11/59)
(Although credited to Billy and Eddie, it's likely this record is performed by Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones)*
(NOTE:  Discography reprinted from John Blair's "Introduction to Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones in the August, 1981 issue of Goldmine)

The Sparkletones were: Joe Bennett, lead guitar and vocals; Irving Denton, drums; Wayne Arthur, stand-up bass; and Howard Childress, rhythm guitar. 

*note from Mickey Cooksey: In reference to the Top Rank single, #2017, referred to at the end of John's discography. "The King Is Coming Back" was written by Joe Bennett, C. Bennett and G. Brown. The truth of the matter is the recording artists really were Bill and Eddie [whoever they were], and the song was written for Southern Music. Jack Newman was the publishing representative and the song was written for him. He then took the song to Bill and Eddie to record.

By the way, Joe Bennett is still out there rockin'!  Here's a link to his website:
Click here: Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones:: The Official Website

In fact, we heard from Joe regarding today's special tribute piece! 

Hello Forgotten Hits and all your fans.  
I'm Joe Bennett from Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. Thanks for having us as your guest today. 
All the original members of Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones are still alive and performing.  We just performed The Viva Las Vegas Show at The Orleans in Vegas, April 22, 2011.  
I am a guitar teacher at Roper Music in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Drop by to see me if you ever come this way.   
Hope you get a chance to visit my web site  and drop me a line.  
The biggest highlight of my Air Force career was meeting and performing with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.  He became and still is a great friend for over fifty years now,  and is one of the world's greatest and most knowledgeable percussionists.
One of the greatest moments of my Sparketones touring was when Elvis Presley attended our show in Vegas at the Royal Nevada Hotel.  After our show he came back stage and knocked on our door.  He came in for a visit and a photo shoot with us.  Another great moment was during a visit to my manager, when I was an artist for Paris Records.  I got to meet Buddy Holly and get his autograph in the waiting room because we shared the same management agency in New York City.
Black Slacks, our biggest seller, was featured in Disney's Rescuers Down Under.  My wife just recently purchased a DVD copy of it at Wal-mart for our grandchildren!
We started our Sparkletones career as major label artists with performances on The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour,  ABC Parmamount Movie Tour, thirteen weeks in Las Vegas, which included The Nat King Cole Show, a recording session in LA, The Ed Sullivan Show Twice, Alan Freed Tours, American Bandstand several times, and numerous other shows throughout US and Canada. 
The most recent overseas tours included England twice and Germany.
Joe Bennett
And thank you, Joe, for passing this along!  (kk)