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The “Sparkles”

The Heart Beats

The String-A-Longs

History of The String Busters & Don Allen and the Sunset Ramblers


The “Sparkles”

From 1957 to 1972 the “Sparkles were the most popular rock group in the Western half of Texas and this is their story.

   The “Sparkles originated in Levelland, Texas in 1957. Started by Stanley Smith along with a couple of brothers named Jesse and Guy Balew. The group line up of the original “Sparkles” was Carl Huckaby - guitar, Johnny Waller - piano, Gary Blakley - drums, Bob Donnell - bass, Stanley Smith - guitar, and Jesse and Guy Balew - sax and vocals. After this group broke up for a little while and reformed with Gary Blakley - drums, Charlie Hatchett - guitar, Stanley Smith - Guitar, and Bob Donell - drums.

   Charlie Hatchett found out he could make more money with his own group so he split off and started his own group, “The Raiders”, in Lubbock, Texas at Texas Tech and they used to go down to Austin, Texas to play. When Charlie left he took Gary Blakley, the drummer with him. That Is when Harold “Lucky” Floyd and Bobby Smith Joined the group. The group consisted of “Lucky” Floyd - drums, Bobby Smith - bass, Stanley Smith - guitar, and Donnie Roberts - guitar. That is when the group started getting real popular. Howard Ragland would book them at two hundred and fifty dollars a gig.

   One  time  Howard  let  the band  go  to play a gig by themselves,  the first time Howard did not go, Donnie Roberts got the check for the job in an envelope and he steamed it open to see how much Howard was getting, The check was for three hundred dollars and the band members were just getting twenty dollars each. So that left Howard with two hundred and twenty dollars. That was good money in 1962 and 1963, which Howard was getting every night the “Sparkles” played. So the group decided to leave Howard Ragland and they were all scared to death, because they were all friends with him. Then the band started doing better.

50s_the original sparkles

   “Lucky” and Bobby wanted to go to California and cut some records, but they could not get Donnie and Stanley interested in the writing end of it and really trying to make it big. So they split up and “Lucky” and Bobby got Louie Holt and Gary P. Nunn in the group. Jimmy Marriott also came in on drums, so they had two drummers, and “Lucky” Floyd would go out front and sing. In those days a lot of bands had two drummers.

The Sparkles -L-R Loui Holt, Jimmy Marriott, Bobby Smith, Lucky Floyd, & Gary P. Nun

   “Lucky” Floyd and Bobby Smith wrote “The U. T.” which was recorded in a garage in Clovis, New Mexico (not Petty Studios) on the way to a gig. It came out on the “Caron” label in c.1962. The “Sparkles” “Hickory” record label releases, “The Hip”, “Oh Girls, Girls”, “Something That You Said”, “Daddy’s Gonna Put The Hurt On You”, and “Jack And The Beanstalk” were all recorded in Odessa, Texas at Tommy Allsup’s Westex Studio. “No Friend Of Mine” was recorded in a small studio in Big Spring, Texas. “First Forget”, “Hipsville 29 B. C.”, and “I Wanna Be Free” were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. All of their later recordings were also recorded in Nashville.

   Then Louie Holt and Gary P. Nunn decided to leave the Band. That is when “Lucky”  Floyd  and  Bobby Smith decided to go to California, because that was where it was at, at the time. That is when Al Perkins got with the “Sparkles” and Lucky and Bobby changed their name to the “Pearly Gate”. They did a television show in California called “Judd For The Defense

The Sparkles as Pearly Gate

left to right: Louie Holt, Jimmy Marriott, Bobby Smith, “Lucky” Floyd, and Gary P. Nunn

When they did the show, Tommy Smothers wanted to manage them, but the person they had would not let them go, so they came back to Austin, Texas and started the “Sparkles” again. That is when the guy who played lead for John Denver, “Steve Weissberg”, was with them. That was around 1970 or 1971. Then “Lucky” Floyd got a call to go back to California and play with “Red, Wilder, and Balew” on their album. So he went to do this.

   The “Sparkles” lasted about fifteen years, from 1957 till 1972 or so. All of the different line ups were good groups. But the group that created all the interest was the group that recorded “Hipsville 29 B. C.” and “No Friends Of Mine”. This was the group that consisted of Gary P. Nunn, Louie Holt, Bobby Smith and two drummers, Harold “Lucky” Floyd and Jimmy Marriott.

The “Sparkles” as “Pearly Gate”

“Sparkles” Discography

Caron 94 - The U. T. / He Can’t Love You

Hickory 1364 - The Hip / Oh Girls, Girls

Hickory 1390 - Something You Said / Daddy’s Gonna Put The Hurt On You

Hickory 1406 - Jack And The Beanstalk / Oh Girls, Girls

Hickory 1443 - No Friend Of Mine / First Forget (What Has Made You Blue)

Hickory 1474 - Hipsville 29 B. C. / I Want To Be Free

The Sparkles
The Sparkles last line-up

The “Sparkles” - The last line up

Lucky Floyd of The Spsrkles

“Lucky” Floyd with a lucky fan

“The Heart Beats”

   The Heart Beats were an all female garage rock band that hailed from Lubbock, Texas and were founded around 1966. Linda and Deb were taking drum and guitar lessons in the same class as Deborah and Jeanie. That’s how they met in 1966. They were taught as a band, so they had a slight advantage at their ages (twelve to fifteen years old). They called themselves “The Heartbeats” in the music class. They were led by drummer and lead vocalist Linda Sanders, along with younger sister Debbie Sanders on guitar, Debbie McMillan an bass guitar, and Jeannie Foster on guitar and keyboard. The Sanders’ mother Jeanne Sanders became the band’s  manager, supervising them closely to maintain in appearance and reality a group of decent, wholesome young girls. The Heartbeats played music for two years prior to appearing on “Happening 68”.

Heartbeats 001

   Mrs. Sanders sent off a demo tape to Happening 68. The Hollywood show liked what they heard and even better it was a rarity to have a all girl group perform on the show. The Heartbeats were asked to perform twice on 68” (recorded in August 1968 and aired September 1968). They were great, of course, and beat out all the other bands.

   After the bands success on Happening 68 they were getting numerous gigs. They opened foe Glen Campbell at the Municipal Auditorium in Lubbock in 1969. They went to other surrounding cities, but not too far  because Deborah was 13 and Linda was 14, and still  in

high School. Everyone wanted to release a new single to promote the girls. The song was “Crying Inside” sent to them by Robin Hood Brians Studio. It was a “Mouse and The Traps” song that did not do very well, so Robin Hood thought it might work better with a girl group. Robin Hood directed the band how he wanted it done. The song was done in an eight hour session. “Cryin’ Inside” (co-written by the legendary Texas singer-songwriter Ronnie “Mouse” Weiss) was a minor hit for the band. They would record two more sides, “Everywhere” and “Satisfied”. This time the songs were done in  Norman Petty’s Studio in Clovis, New Mexico in the latter part of 1969.

   Linda would marry her music that had taught The Heartbeats in 1970. Tragically a year later in 1971 he was killed in a car crash. The Norman Petty single while recorded in 1969 was made into a record after he had passed away. He had co-written both songs.

   The Heartbeats were at the time one of just a few all female rock ‘n roll bands anywhere in the world. They attracted nationwide attention in the summer of 1968, when they won the battle of the bands on the popular ABC-TV variety show “Happening 68”, hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Their winning performance was a cover version of the “Outsiders’” song, “Time Won’t Let Me”. Mrs. Sanders turned down a recording deal with ABC Records because she wanted her daughter to stay in school. Although they never signed  a  national recording contract,  the Heartbeats became  a popular regional attraction, and they stayed together until the 1980s. They released a few independent singles over the years. Songs which included “Cryin’ Inside”, “Poor Side Of Town”, “Satisfied”, Everywhere”, “You’re Always Around”; “Time Won’t Let Me”, and “Choo Choo Train.

heartbeats0003_small heartbeatspromo_small
The Heart Beats

The String-A-Longs

   The String-A-Longs were an instrumental group from Plainview, Texas, produced by Norman Petty on Warwick Records. Consisted of Richard Stephens on lead guitar, Keith McCormack and Jimmy Torres on rhythm guitars, Aubrey de Cordova on bass guitar, and Don Allen on drums. Their biggest hit single was their first “Wheels”, in 1961 (released in 1960). The tune peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was number 8 single of 1961 according to Billboard. The song reached number 8 in the UK Singles Chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a golden record. There were several cover versions, including Joe Loss (“Wheels Cha-Cha”) and Billy Vaughn. The String-A=Longs followed up “Wheels” with “Brass Buttons” (U. S. #35), “Should I”, and “Replica”. In 1961 thet moved to Dot Records: they released Wide World Hits on Atco in 1968.

Below is an Article sent to me by Katy Werner. Thanks for the article.


String-A-Longs are coming home

By NICKI BRUCE LOGAN - Herald Lifestyles Editor - Posted Sunday, July 25th, 2010

   Former Plainview High School students in town for the All School Reunion will have the chance to renew memories of Plainview’s first rock ‘n roll band when the String-A-Longs are honored with a reception at 10:00 a.m. Saturday at the Museum of the Llano Estacado. A mock-up of the plaque featuring the quintet, to be installed on the city’s Walk of Fame in front of the Fair Theater, will be unveiled by Mayor John C. Anderson followed by career highlights given by Rodney Watson,  director of the museum and chair of the Walk of Fame committee. He also will reveal the group’s niche in the museum’s Hall of Fame.

   The String-A-Longs will join Jimmy Dean, Jim Clark, Terry Cook, Pete and Nelda Laney, Claude Hutcherson, Wilda and Harley Redin, and Bob Dorough on the downtown sidewalk. “We are in the process of redesigning the sidewalk where we have the Walk of Fame,” Watson explains, adding that the committee, which includes Danny Andrews, Jack Oswald, and Nicki Logan, wanted to announce the selection while the band members were in town for the All School Reunion. Watson says he is still working on the group’s display in the museum. “It’s a work in progress,” he says, “I’m in the process of adding memorabilia as it comes in. Between the five of them, we should get a good number of items for their display.” Watson received a guitar from Aubrey de Cordova last fall along with publicity clips, autographed photos, and other items that featured the band during their heyday in the 1960s.

   The String-A-Longs featured Keith McCormack, rhythm guitar and vocals, Aubrey de Cordova, bass guitar, Richard Stephens, lead guitar, Jimmy Torres, rhythm guitar, and Don Allen, drum. Their biggest hit, an instrumental titled “Wheels”, climbed to Bilbords No. 3 slot in 1961.

   The band was formed under the name “Patio Kids” in 1956 by McCormack, Stephens, and de Cordova. The Plainview High School classmates grew into a quartet with the addition of drummer Charles Jay Edmiston and, in early 1957, re-christened themselves the “Rock ‘N Rollers” with the arrival of another guitar player, Jimmy Torres.

   McCormack’s mother, Glynn Thames, paid for the group’s first session at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Those tapes were subsequently sold to the Imperial record label, but didn’t get much play.

   When Edmiston reportedly left the group for military school, he was replaced by Allen. The group then changed it’s name to the “Leen Teens” and recorded “So Shy” and “Dreams About You”, which also met with little success on the Imperial label. The guys signed a contract with Norman Petty, who became their manager and changed their name to the String-A-Longs.

Their successful recording “Wheels” has a memorable history.

Jimmy & The Lean Teens

   On the way to Clovis, New Mexico for a recording session McCormack became hoarse and couldn’t sing, so the group recorded an instrumental that would become their biggest hit. Torres said the group recorded two instrumental songs that day. Several versions exist as to the history of the title to their biggest hit. One is that the song originally was titled “Tell The World” until Petty accidentally switched labels and reversed the song titles. The other version is that the labeling error occurred at Warwick Records when the labels were affixed to the wrong sides of their 45s. Regardless, “Wheels” became a tremendous hit.

   “Our version alone sold 7 million copies worldwide and we didn’t get a dime because Warwick went bankrupt,” McCormack told the Herald. “That kind of thing happened a lot back then.” Speaking in 2004, Torres said “Warwick took out bankruptcy in 1962 owing the band $700,000 which would be equivalent to about $7 million now.” The String-A-Longs’ case against Warwick langin court for years before it was finally dismissed.

   After the group’s initial success with “Wheels”, which was later backed with the vocal “Am I Asking Too Much”, they released another Top 40 Hit, “Brass Buttons”, followed by “Should I”, which topped out on Billboard at No. 42. A series of singles as well as the album, “Pick-A-Hit” featuring “Wheels”, followed before Warwick went under. According to various online biographies, over the next four years the group released another ten singles and two albums in the United States and six singles, three extended-play records and one album in the United Kingdom. After switching to the Dot label, the group released such songs as “Twist Watch”, “Replica”, and “Myna Bird”. They also appeared on several major television programs and toured or played with many of the top performers of the day, including Del Shannon, The Shirrells, The Everly Brothers, Marty  Robbins, and Roy Orbison. Their final title was c.1965, “Caravan”.

   While Allen acknowledged that Norman Petty was truly masterful in the recording studio, he said he was not a trustworthy manager. “Some really great sounds came out of that little studio in Clovis, but every time he booked us on a tour or performance his percentage seemed to go up and ours would go down. We’d be gone for weeks and have little or nothing to show for our trouble”. In a “Looking Back” feature written by Doug McDonough last year, Allen said the group became increasingly disheartened by the long grueling tours and corrupt nature of the business. “Often we wouldn’t get a dime for all our work. We appeared on ‘American Bandstand’ with Dick Clark three times and were supposed to get about $10,000. All we collected was about $125”, he said.

   The straw that broke the camel’s back was a booking in Atlantic City where the exhausted band arrived only to find that their hotel rooms had been given away. “We wound up with one room for the entire group and our entourage”, Torres remembered. “We ended up sleeping piled up on the floor and leaning against walls”. He adds that after that night, “Some og the guys just wanted to go home and live like normal people. Not getting paid and then having mess-ups like that one just put us over the edge”.

   Richard Sthephens left music behind for a career in real estate. Aubrey de Cordova finished college and found success with a San Angelo telephone company. Jimmy Torres continued to perform throughout the 1960s and returned to the music scene after a few years. Keith McCormack remained in the music business, performing for a time with Torres and writing music, including the huge 1963 hit, “Sugar Shack”. Don Allen went into construction.

   Since 1965, the String-A-Longs got together once, playing to a nostalgic audience at the Clocis Music Festival in 2006.

The Stringbusters to Don Allen and the Sunset Ramblers

by: Hank Newman   in article in Harmon History

   The band was formed in January or February 1953 by S/Sgt. Jack Johnson from Indiana. The band consisted of Don Allen from Lubbock, Texas on steel guitar, Bobby Bailey from Groveton, Texas, rhythm guitar and vocals, Hubert Parker from Oregon on drums, Hank Newman from Columbus Georgia on piano and Jack Johnson bass.

   The band was called “Jack Johnson’s Stringbusters”. The band remained intact  1953 and most of 1954 when Jack and Don rotated back to the states. M/Sgt Hank Keomalu from Hawaii replaced Jack on bass and Eugene Davidson from Columbus Mississippi replaced Don.

   The group won the Northeast Air Command’s talent contest held at the Harmon theater and got to go to the Tops in Blue talent contest held at Scott AFB, Illinois. We did not win but were happy to run into Don Allen competing with a band from Washington, DC. We also met Jerry Van Dyke who was competing in another category. After returning to Harmon it was time for Bobby Baily to Leave being replaced by Bill Stark. I played with the band until around the end of 1954 when I left the Stringbusters and formed a band called “The Western Ramblers”. The band consisted of Hank Newman on piano and vocals, Y. J. Allen from Chattahoochee, Florida on steel guitar, Jerry Clark from Louisville Kentucky on bass, Bill Walker on drums, and James Case hometown unknown on lead guitar.

   My band played together for about a year including playing for my wedding reception (without me of course) in Stephenville Crossing where I married Gretta McIsaac, my bride for fifty years now. In December 1955 we went back  to the states, “The Western Ramblers” disbanded. Y. J. Allen went to play with the “Stringbusters” who had hired a local named Larry Gaudet on lead guitar. I believe the band went on for another year or so and hiring well known “Boxcar Willie” during that time. Three of the “Stringbusters moved to Lubbock, Texas in 1962, Don Allen, Bobby Bailey, and Hank Newman. Don hired four more musicians and formed the “Sunset Ramblers”. We were quite successful playing mostely after rodeos in West Texas. We Played what is called battle dances (one band plays half the job then the other finishes) with Hank Thompson, Bob Wills and Johnnie Lee Wills. We did this until the band broke up in August 1966. I moved back to Columbus Georgia.

   In 1967 we moved to Jacksonville, Florida where we’ve been ever since. We are reyired with three wonderful children and three granddaughters and one grandson with another grandson due in October. I am still in touch with Don Allen and Babby Baily. Also Y. J. Allen who recentely told me the “Stringbusters” still existed and was a rock group (woe is me) just kidding. Thats about it for the “Stringbusters”. Anyone remembering me, I’d like to hear from you.

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