1961: The New Christy Minstrels

 Nov, 19 - 2013   no comments   1960s Music


The New Christy Minstrels are an American folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961.  They recorded over 20 albums and had several hits, including “Green, Green”, “Saturday Night” and “Everybody Loves Saturday Night” (two different songs), “Today”, “Denver”, and “This Land Is Your Land”. Their 1962 debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award and sat in the Billboard charts for two years.

Presenting The New Christy Minstrels

Presenting The New Christy Minstrels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The group sold millions of records and were in demand at concerts and on television shows.  They also launched the musical careers of several musicians, including Kenny Rogers, Larry Ramos, Gene Clark, Kim Carnes, and Barry McGuire

the New Christy Minstrels began with Randy Sparks, a singer/guitarist who started out in the late ’50s mixing folk and folk-style songs with Broadway material. He was leading his own trio by the start of the new decade, and saw the possibility of putting together an ensemble of ten voices, big enough generate a major sound but retaining the basic texture of a folk trio. He combined his own trio with the Inn Group — which included a young Jerry Yester — and added four more members, including Dolan Ellis and also Art Podell, who had been part of the duo Art & Paul. The group name came from Christy’s Minstrels, a 19th century performing institution founded by Edwin Pearce Christy (1815-1862).

Their debut album, Presenting the New Christy Minstrels: Exciting New Folk Chorus, was released by Columbia Records in 1962. It won a Grammy Award and peaked at number 19 in a two-year run on the Billboard charts. The group also scored a minor hit that same year with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” With help from two new managers, George Greif and Sid Garris, the group was booked onto The Andy Williams Show for the 1962-1963 season. And it was then that the original lineup deconstructed — fully half the group left, and the first round of replacements arrived, including Barry McGuire and Barry Kane; jazz-pop vocalist Peggy Connelly (soon replaced by Gayle Caldwell); singer/banjo man Larry Ramos; and Clarence Treat on upright bass. This version of the New Christy Minstrels immediately won over critics and audiences alike, beginning with an engagement at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in the summer of 1962.

The new lineup made its recording debut with the concert album In Person. In the spring of 1963, the group recorded an album, Ramblin’, which was highlighted by a McGuire/Sparks collaboration called “Green, Green.” McGuire had originated the song, which was completed with Sparks’ help, and the recording was embellished by the presence of a memorable 12-string guitar riff provided by Nick Woods. It was the performance by Barry McGuire on lead vocals, however, that seemed to most capture the public’s interest, and “Green, Green” peaked at number three, the first hit single by the group.

Sparks, Greif, and Garris were earning huge amounts of money. The other Christys were all on salary, however, and while that did rise with the burgeoning concert work, the members realized that they could only earn a fixed amount. Ironically enough, the first member to exit was Randy Sparks himself, who bowed out of performing on-stage with the Christys in May of 1963. His exit precipitated the next break in the ranks, when he chose McGuire as de facto leader on-stage. This decision rankled Ellis, who quit soon after. Gene Clark, later of the Byrds, passed through the group’s lineup in 1963-1964. Meanwhile, Jackie Miller and Gayle Caldwell left to form the duo Jackie & Gayle, before Caldwell went solo. They were replaced by Karen Gunderson and Ann White, and Clark was succeeded by Paul Potash, Podell’s ex-partner in Art & Paul.

Live from Ledbetter’s The group’s Live from Ledbetter’s album, recorded in 1964, showed a still vital ensemble, even as the folk music world around it was moving in a more confrontational direction under the influence of figures such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. The group carried on successfully, with an extended engagement on the ABC folk music showcase Hootenanny, which got the Christys their own summer replacement series.
McGuire exited the Christys in early 1965, and that marked the end of the original conception of the group. Garris and Greif now saw the Christys as more of a variety act, doing pop tunes and even comedy. The members who came aboard now included the comic duo of Skiles & Henderson, whose skits became part of the act. Nick Woods left in September of 1965, and Larry Ramos quit in January of 1966 to join the Association, and was replaced by Mike Settle. A later round of replacement members included Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and Karen Black. When Settle unsuccessfully tried to move the group back toward a folk sound, he and fellow members Terry Williams and Thelma Lou Camacho, along with Rogers, quit to form the First Edition. Black later emerged as an actress, while Carnes became a major pop/rock star in the ’80s.

The group became inactive in 1971, but by 1978 a new version of the Christys was working at resort hotels. In the intervening years, some ex-members retired from music and a few, including Woods and Clark, passed on, but the appeal of the group lingered. Sparks moved to Northern California with his second wife, the former actress Diane Jergens, and wrote plays, ran his song publishing business, and worked with his fellow postwar folkie Burl Ives for a long time as well. He licensed the name from his ex-partners and went out leading a version of the New Christy Minstrels. the Christys’ early-’60s image also provided part of the inspiration for some of the humor in the 2003 Christopher Guest movie A Mighty Wind. Sparks was part of two reunion events involving the surviving classic Christys members, which led to the recording of the album Recycled: What’s Old Is New! As of 2010, Sparks was still leading a version of the group, which included Dolan Ellis.

  • Folk Revival
  • Folk-Pop
  • Early Pop/Rock

1960s – 2010s

  • Christine Andreas (joined 1971), later broadway performer
  • Peter Apo   (joined 1961)
  • Hal Atotte   (joined 1961)
  • Keith Barbour (joined 1967)
  • Karen Black (joined 1967), actress (d. 2013)
  • Doug Brookins    (joined 1963)
  • Bob Buchanan    (joined 1965)
  • Gayle Caldwell (joined 1962), wrote the song “Cycles” (d. 2009)
  • Thelma Camacho (joined 1967), later cofounder of The First Edition
  • Kim Carnes (joined 1966)
  • Gene Clark (joined 1963), later with The Byrds (d. 1991)
  • Billy Cudmore   (joined 1961) d.
  • Peggy Connelly (joined 1962) (d. 2007)
  • Eric (Dennis) Cosh   (joined 1965)
  • Mike Crowley   (joined 1963) d.
  • Karol Dugan   (joined 1961)
  • Dave Ellingson   (joined 1961)
  • Dolan Ellis (joined 1962), currently performing
  • Rusty Evans   (joined 1965)
  • John Forsha   (joined 1961) d.
  • Karen Gunderson   (joined 1964)
  • Linda Hart (joined 1971), later broadway performer
  • Pete Henderson (joined 1965), of Skiles and Henderson, currently performing
  • Connie Holiday   (joined 1965)
  • Mark Holly  (joined 1966)
  • Kiyoko Ito  (joined 1966)
  • Barry Kane (joined 1962), later in a duo, Barry & Barry, with McGuire
  • Ede Mae Kellogg   (joined 1966)
  • Monica Kirby  (joined 1966)
  • Rex Kramer (joined 1968), longest touring member, played in a Command Performance for the Queen of England
  • Barry McGuire (joined 1962), later performer of the hit song “Eve Of Destruction”
  • Michael McGinnis  (joined 1966)
  • Roger McGuinn (Jim)    (joined 1962)
  • Terry Anne Meeuwsen (joined 1970), later Miss America and 700 Club host
  • Jackie Miller – Davidson  (joined 1961)
  • Robbie Mills   (joined 1961)
  • Peter Morse  (joined 1966)
  • Tracy Newman    (joined 1962)
  • Charlie Oyama   (joined 1961)
  • Sue Pack  (joined 1966)
  • Art Podell   (joined 1962)
  • Paul Potash   (joined 1963)
  • Larry Ramos (joined 1962), later with The Association at their peak
  • Kenny Rogers (joined 1966), later cofounder of The First Edition, and solo artist
  • Mike Settle (joined 1966)
  • Dick Shirley   (joined 1961)
  • Bob Skiles   (joined 1965)
  • Susannah Sofaer   (joined 1963)
  • Randy Sparks Founder 1061
  • Baxter Taylor (joined 1962) formerly of The Wayfarers Trio with Mason Williams
  • Bill Teague   (joined 1965)
  • Terry Tillman   (joined 1961)
  • Clarence Treat    (joined 1962)
  • Terry Wadsworth   (joined 1962) d.
  • Mike Whalen    (joined 1965)
  • Ann White (joined 1963), later with The Love Generation
  • Terry Williams (joined 1966), later cofounder of The First Edition
  • Nick Woods   (joined 1961) d.
  • Jerry Yester (joined 1961) brother of The Association’s Jim Yester
  • and many more
  • Presenting The New Christy Minstrels (aka Exciting New Folk Chorus) (1962)
  • The New Christy Minstrels In Person (1963) (live album recorded at The Troubador, Los Angeles)
  • The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! (Legends and Nonsense) (1963)
  • Ramblin’ (1963)
  • Merry Christmas! (1963)
  • Today and Other Songs from ‘Advance to the Rear’ (1964)
  • Land of Giants (1964)
  • Quiet Sides of the New Christy Minstrels (1965)
  • The New Christy Minstrels Sing and Play Cowboys and Indians (1965), however, recorded in 1964
  • Chim Chim Cher-ee and Other Happy Songs (1965)
  • The Wandering Minstrels (1965)
  • In Italy…In Italian (1966)
  • New Kick! (1966)
  • Christmas with the Christies (1966)
  • On Tour Through Motortown (1968)
  • Big Hits from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (with Arthur Treacher) (1968)
  • You Need Someone to Love (1970)
  • The Great Soap Opera Themes (1976)
  • Live from Ledbetter’s (1999), however, recorded in 1964
  • Merry Christmas, Volume II: 42 Years Later (2005)
  • Recycled: What’s Old Is New (2009)
  • Angels We Have Heard on High – Traditional
  • Casey Jones – Randy Sparks
  • Chim Chim Cheree – Robert B. Sherman / Richard M. Sherman
  • Denver – Randy Sparks
  • Elijah Rock – Traditional
  • Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings feat. Kenny Rogers / Mike Settle / Michael McGinnis / Peter-John Morse / Terry Williams / Mark Holly / Dave Ellingson / Sue Pack / Monica Kirby – Mickey Newbury
  • Green Green – Randy Sparks / Barry McGuire
  • Guadalajara – Pepe Guízar
  • Julianne
  • Liza Lee – Randy Sparks
  • Navajo
  • O Bambino (One Cold and Blessed Winter) – Remo Capra
  • Parson Brown (Our Christmas Dinner) – Randy Sparks
  • Ramblin’
  • Saturday Night – Randy Sparks
  • Silly Ol’ Summertime
  • Sing Hosanna, Hallelujah – Randy Sparks / Nick Woods
  • Stormy – Randy Sparks
  • Tell It on the Mountain – Randy Sparks / Nick Woods
  • The Dying Convict – Randy Sparks
  • They Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Around
  • Today – Randy Sparks / The Clarks
  • We’ll Sing in the Sunshine – Gale Garnett

  • Columbia

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