Sunday, September 28, 2008

The New Christy Minstrels and Gimme a "K"


The New Christy Minstrels (L–R): Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, Becky Jo Benson, Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, Clarence Treat

Back in the early 60s, The New Christy Minstrels were essentially my introduction to music. I didn't know folk music from classical, or rock n' roll from jazz, but I knew I loved the stuff on those New Christy Minstrels albums. Over the years, I've never lost an ounce of my appreciation for them, and if anything, I enjoy that music now more than I ever did. I still have all the original 33-1/3 LPs that my parents owned, and I also have the relatively recent CD issues of most of their albums. Off and on over the years, I've mucked about playing guitar and singing, and the one group whose music I could pretty much nail (insofar as an individual could do so) was the New Christy Minstrels.

In the early 60s, as music made fairly radical new strides with the British rock invasion, for many, it was easy to forget the significant contributions of contemporary folk groups, such as the New Christies, the Brothers Four, the Kingston Trio, the Journeymen (co-founded by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas), and more. Of them, the New Christies had the biggest following and the most longevity — and they launched musical careers for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and others. And who can forget Barry McGuire's "The Eve of Destruction," which was one of those songs that trespassed into that weird netherland between brilliance and unlistenable claptrap?

Dozens and dozens of individuals came and went during the history of the New Christy Minstrels, all under the direction of their mastermind, Randy Sparks. But for their first several albums, there was a core group of musicians and singers that gave them an unmistakable identity, and that was the group that I fell in love with as a kid, and that I'm still in love with today. Besides Randy Sparks and Barry McGuire, they included Gayle Caldwell, Dolan Ellis, Barry Kane, Jackie Miller, Art Podell, Larry Ramos, Clarence Treat, and Nick Woods.

Despite their longevity, the New Christies, as far as I knew, had all retired at some point during the past couple of decades, and I know a number of them have passed on. So imagine my delight when I discovered, a few short years ago, that several of the founding members had gotten back together and occasionally played at various venues around the country. In fact, if you had ample house space and could guarantee a number of attendees, they'd come and stay at your place and play and sing in your living room.

And now they're touring again.

So last night, Mrs. Death and I packed up our GPSrs and went down to Albemarle, just a ways south of here, and went to see The New Christy Minstrels play a three-hour show at the Stanley County Agri-Civic Center. We left plenty early and went geocaching all the way down, snagging several finds at some very neat and scenic locations (see the haunted house below). We had a good dinner at a little seafood restaurant, and then arrived at the civic center. I had expected maybe a medium-sized crowd, composed largely of people a bit older than I; well, most of the attendees were a bit older than I, but there was a fairly massive number of them. The parking lot was full, and the auditorium was packed, but Mrs. Death and I were lucky enough to get seats right in the center, in the ninth row, which was damn near a perfect spot. Four of the original members (Randy Sparks, Jackie Miller Davidson, Dolan Ellis, and Clarence Treat), were joined by relative newcomers Eddie Boggs, Buffalo Bill Boycott, and Becky Jo Benson, all of whom showed that Randy Sparks can still grab some of the finest musical talent there is to grab. They played mostly my old favorites, and they sounded as good as they ever did. No creaky, groaning bodies and voices here — just as much vigor and enthusiasm as I would have expected from a troupe of thirty-year-olds. At the opening and between songs, Randy Sparks proved himself an all-around entertainer, relating all kinds of anecdotes about the musicians, the group's history, and the times whence they sprang.

After the show, much to my excitement, we got to meet the group, as they came out to the lobby to sign autographs and chat. Those folks have no idea how much the experience meant to me. Or maybe they do. I'm sure that, especially among people in my age group, my appreciation of the New Christies is not unique.

When Mrs. Death and I hit the road again, we made short work of about a dozen geocaches in Albemarle, most of which were named "Gimme a [insert letter of the alphabet here]." About the time we finished up (around 1:00 AM), a thick, blinding fog enveloped everything, and driving back to Greensboro, we felt like we were right in the middle of The Mist. Hell, for all I know, we were surrounded by monstrous critters all the way home, but we were fortunate enough not to be accosted. We pulled in our driveway about 2:30 AM, exhausted but still kind of giddy.

I haven't blogged much lately, or posted any writing news, because there have been some outside issues that have consumed virtually all of my attention for some time now. Not the kind of thing I care to blog about. But last night, the world was good; the show was exhilarating, and the caching got my blood fired up.

The haunted house was an extra freebie.

2 comments:

Gayle Caldwell said...

Fascinating, Mark: I just read your comment on the New Christy Minstrel page. I was an original member and recorded six albums on Colombia records with them.

No, I am not retired or dead. Continue working as a professional musician. As a composer I've had many songs recorded by artists such as Frank Sinatra ("Cycles" was first recorded by him on his album of the same name. "Wandering," another of my compositions, was also included.

I journeied to travelled to sing with the NCM's four times in 2007 when practical and feasible.
However, I just recorded, and it has been released, a CD, "All Is One." Nine of the 12 compositions are mine; I sing and play piano on all....with some "sweetening by some excellent musicians. "Cycles is included. Check out my website: http://gaylecaldwell.org. I won't complain if you buy one.

Guess you have my personal e-mail (caldwell@mcn.org) via your blog
I wish you a fine 2009.

Gayle Caldwell

Mark Rainey said...

Hi Gayle,

Thanks for checking in here. I had just recently discovered your Web site -- right after I saw the NCM show, as a matter of fact. Glad you're still very active with your music. It would have been a pleasure to see you perform with the group; who knows, maybe yet...

I'll check out your new recordings, for sure. Thanks for posting!