Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones

Introduction to Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones

The Sparkletones were an American rock and roll and rockabilly combo, sometimes dubbed as Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. They formed in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the mid-50s music scene by Bennett, Howard Childress, Irving Denton and Wayne Arthur – they were only under 18 years old at that time. CBS talent scout Bob Cox discovered the boys and eventually became their full-time manager, flying the band to New York where they got signed to ABC-Paramount. The group’s first single was “Black Slacks,” written by Bennett and Denton with Paul Anka providing the (uncredited) backing vocals. It became and remained their biggest hit, staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for astounding four months, and breaking into the Top 20 in late 1957. The Sparkletones followed this up with “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox”, which just missed the Top 40 in early 1958, but their next singles failed to chart. When their first contract expired, the Sparkletones later moved to Paris Records and released a total of four singles – only “Boys Do Cry” only charted at #105 in 1959. The band experienced some lineup changes before they finally split in 1961. The band would occasionally reunite and perform well into the new millennium. MCA Records issued a compilation in 1980 and that sparked a revival of interest for the band, leading to European bootleg CD’s in the 1990s. The Sparkletones are now members of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Short career summary on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones

The Sparkletones (or sometimes designated as the Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones) were a group of teenaged rockers who first met together in 1956. The young rock and roll combo  consisted of Joe Bennett (vocalist, lead guitarist), Howard Childress (rhythm guitarist), Wayne Arthur (bassist) and Jimmy Denton (drummer). They all attended Cowpens High School in Spartanburg. By 1957, they joined an audition which was organized by CBS’ talent scout, Bob Cox, and took place at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. Luckily, they won the first prize and later, Cox resigned from CBS to manage the group.

The Sparkletones inside the recording studio and their split-up

Later in 1957, the Sparkletones flew to New York along with Cos to try their luck in the music business, and got signed to ABC-Paramount. They had their first recording session with the legendary Paul Anka who had been also in the studio to do some cuts. Eventually, Anka joined the young rock and roll combo in the recording of the track “Black Slacks.” Although Anka contributed some backing vocal duties, he was given no credits to the song. The said song was later released as a single and became a local favorite at first, and then became a national hit.  It reached #17 on the US pop charts and enjoyed its stay for four months. With the single’s success, the group was able to embark on a tour nationwide and appeared on several TV programs like American Bandstand, The Nat King Cole Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.

The follow-up single was released in early 1958 which called “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox.” It charted modestly at #42 pop. The band released numerous singles in 1958 alone: “Cotton Pickin’ Rocker,” We’ve Had It,” “Late Again,” “Run Rabbit Run,” were all commercial disappointments. Their record contract on ABC-Paramount expired the following year and the group switched to Paris Records, where they issued the song “Boys Don’t Cry,” a minor hit.

Personnel shifts occurred during the late 1950s. Childress left the group and was replaced by Gene Brown. It was followed Denton’s departure and he was replaced by Donnie Seay. Nonetheless, The Sparkletones did not stay long and disbanded on 1961. Joe Bennett stayed in the business but as a publisher and a teacher while Childress switched to country music. In 1980, MCA Records issued a compilation of The Sparkletones and in the 1990’s, a bootleg album was released around Europe. In 2000’s, the group had several reunion shows in their hometown.