#9: Green, Green by the New Christy Minstrels

City: Calgary, AB
Radio Station: CFAC
Peak Month: August 1963
Peak Position in Calgary ~ #2
Peak position in Vancouver ~ #19
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #14
YouTube: “Green, Green
Lyrics: “Green, Green

The New Christy Minstrels were a folk group formed by Randy Sparks in 1961. Randy Sparks was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1933. He was singing at the Purple Onion in San Francisco by the mid-50s. He released two solo albums in the late 50s. He sang over the opening credits for the 1958 movie Thunder Road, the film’s theme song. Sparks combined his trio with the Oregon quartet the Fairmount Singers, the Inn Group (singers John Forsha, Karol Dugan and Jerry Yester), banjo player Billy Cudmore, folk-blues singer Terry Wadsworth, folk singer Dolan Ellis and singer/guitarist Art Podell.  In 1962, the group released their debut album titled Presenting the New Christy Minstrels. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Chorus in 1963. In 1962, the group had a minor hit with “This Land Is Your Land”, which stalled at #93 on the Billboard Hot 100. Jerry Yester left the group and in time joined the Lovin’ Spoonful.

In 1963, Randy Sparks founded the Back Porch Majority. And in 1963, the New Christy Minstrels recorded several more albums, including Ramblin’. In addition to Randy Sparks, the other nine members of the New Christy Minstrels on the Ramblin’ album were as follows:

Barry McGuire was born in 1935 in Oklahoma City. After working as a commercial fisherman, and then becoming a journeyman pipe fitter, McGuire got a job singing in a bar. In 1961, he released his first single called “The Tree”, which was not a hit. McGuire formed a duo with Barry Kane called Barry & Barry. They performed original folk songs at The Ice House, a small folk club in Pasadena (CA) before moving on to The Troubadour in Hollywood in the spring of 1962. There they joined the New Christy Minstrels. In 1963 McGuire’s single “One By One” was a Top 30 hit in Calgary.

Jackie Miller was born in 1937 and was married to Randy Sparks while she was part of the group.

Gayle Caldwell 
was born in 1941 in Eugene, Oregon (birth name: Judith Gayle Geddes). In 1962 she was a featured soloist in a show at the Coronet Theater when she was invited to join the New Christy Minstrels. But in 1963 it was learned that Gayle had a daughter named Michelle.

Nick Woods 
was born in Tulare (CA) in 1938. In 1962 he was part of a folk group named The Randy Sparks Three.

Barry Kane
was born in the late 1930s, and formed Barry & Barry with Barry McGuire in 1961. In 1962 the duo released an album titled Here and Now. 

Dolan Ellis 
was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1935 on his parents farm. He moved to Arizona in 1959 and worked as a cameraman at KOOL-TV in Phoenix. He became a featured folk act at Portofino coffee house in Scottsdale, AZ. Randy Sparks heard about Dolan and asked him to join the New Christy Minstrels.

Art Podell
was born in the mid-1930s. By 1958 he was performing in Greenwich Village as part of a folk duo named Art & Paul (Potash). The duo were the first to record “Puff The Magic Dragon” in 1961, a year before Peter, Paul and Mary. The duo headed to Los Angeles and when Randy Sparks heard them he asked Art to join the New Christy Minstrels. (Paul Potash later joined the Back Porch Majority formed by Randy Sparks, and was briefly also with the New Christy Minstrels).

Hilario D.LarryRamos Jr. was born in Waimea, Hawaii, in 1942. His heritage was Filipino, Chinese and Spanish. At the age of four he learned to play the ukulele as he sang “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”. In 1949, at the age of seven, he won a music contest on The Arthur Godfrey Show. In 1950 he played and sang in the 1950 film Pagan Love Song. In 1955 he toured in the musical production of The King and I. He was hired after his audition to join the New Christy Minstrels. But after a delay as the producers for The Andy Williams Show, who had hired the New Christy Minstrels as a backing band, were concerned that Ramos would be the only non-white member of the group.

Clarence Treat graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1961.

The liner notes for Ramblin’ tell about the New Christy Minstrels.

We of the Christies are well informed on the subject of this album. Many months ago, before any of us had enjoyed the kind of success we have shared collectively, each of us might have been correctly classified as a kind of rambler.  Together we found a winning formula for entertaining people, and for a while it looked as though we were going to be settling down.  There were the days of breaking-in the act at the Troubadour in Hollywood and the hectic-but-fun days of doing the Andy Williams Show week after week.  We nearly became homebodies, at least those of us who call Los Angeles home.  Then, once again, we took to the open road…this time to meet the demands of a busy concert and personal appearance schedule.

There exists an unwritten law that if there is to be an exchange of emotion between singer and audience, there must be understanding of the emotion expressed.  This album carries that kind of understanding.  It was recorded in the last week of a lengthy stay at New York’s famed Latin Quarter – a time for all of us when the word ‘home’ took on new meaning. We were truly singing emotion, not just words in songs.

At this writing, having just returned from performing at Harold’s Club in Reno, filming a documentary short at the Salton Sea, and recording the title song for MGM’s “Wheeler Dealers,” we’re on our way again…this time to Houston, Denver, San Diego and Honolulu. Yes, it’s true that folksingers understand the ‘Wanderin’ Song’…at least we do.

From the album came the single “Green, Green”.

Green, Green by the New Christy Minstrels
“Green, Green” was written by Barry McGuire and Randy Sparks. “Green, Green” is an example of a wandering song in the folk genre. It tells the tale of a restless soul who rambles without a specific destination, any way the wind blows. From the day the guy was born he told his Mama “don’t you cry when you see I’m gone.” As an infant he has this inner knowing that no woman is ever gonna make him settle down. However, he’s “a good lovin’ ramblin’ man,” so as he rambles on he has plenty of romance on the way. He’s also determined to not be under anyone’s thumb. No boss, or person in a position of authority is “gonna tell me how to spend my time.” It appears he lives outside the regular economy, and his Plan B is “Say buddy, can you spare me a dime.” As well, he is a rambler, a wonderer, with no fixed address:

Yeah, I don’t care when the sun goes down
Where I lay my weary head.
Green green valley or rocky road,
It’s there I’m gonna make my bed.

His whole orientation is the outdoors, to be “on the far side of the hill…where the grass is greener still.”

“Green, Green” peaked at #2 in Calgary, #3 in Pittsburgh, Sarasota (FL), and Montreal, #4 in Oceanside (CA) and Milwaukee, #5 in Chico (CA) and Kansas City (MO), #6 in Duluth (MN) and Kalamazoo (MI), #7 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Boise (ID), and Washington D.C., #8 in Denver, #9 in Seattle, San Diego, and #10 in Sacramento (CA), Chicago, Hamilton (ON), and Arlington (VA).

In 1964, “Green, Green” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Folk Recording and Best Performance by a Chorus categories. “Green, Green” has been covered by Cliff Richard, Brian Hyland, Glen Campbell, Johnny Rivers and Eddy Arnold. It has also been covered by recording acts in Japanese, Czech, French and German.

Later in ’63, the group had a Top 30 hit with “Saturday Night”. It reached #14 in Hamilton (ON) and Kingston (ON), #15 in Toronto, and #17 in Montreal, Moose Jaw (SK) and Calgary.

Late in 1963 it was learned that Gayle Caldwell had a young daughter named Michelle with her boyfriend Russ. When the New Christy Minstrels embarked on the concert trail, the business managers told Gayle in no uncertain terms to keep the fact that she had a daughter a secret. The public would judge her too young to have a child, and she must not do anything that would jeopardize the group’s squeaky clean image – or she’d be fired on the spot. On top of that, her relationship with Russ was falling apart. By early 1964 she decided to leave the group, after they performed at the White House. She was part of the singing duo, Jackie & Gayle. She wrote “Cycles” which was recorded by Frank Sinatra. She appeared on one episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. She recorded her own album and continued to write songs. She died in 2009.

In 1964, Randy Sparks composed the score for the Civil War spoof Advance to the Rear. aFrom the score came the hit single “Today”. It peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, #10 in Winnipeg, #13 in Montreal, and #15 in Hamilton (ON).

In 1965, the group recorded “Chim Chim Cheree” from the film Mary Poppins. It reached #81 on the Billboard Hot 100. And in 1968 their recording of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” stalled at #114 below the Hot 100.

Barry McGuire left the Christys in January 1965, after recording the album Cowboys and Indians. On the 1965 album Chim Chim Cher-ee, McGuire sang on the title cut. In July 1965 Barry McGuire released a single titled “Eve Of Destruction”. It shot to number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, Toronto, Winnipeg (MB), and Vancouver (BC). McGuire released over a dozen more singles, but failed to repeat his success with “Eve Of Destruction”. He later appeared in the 1967 movie The President’s Analyst and the 1971 movie Werewolves on Wheels. As well, in 1968-69, McGuire was in the caste for Hair on Broadway for a year. In 1971 he became a born-again Christian.

Jackie Miller left the New Christy Minstrels in 1964 and formed the duo Jackie & Gayle. They were not successful commercially. She appeared alongside Sonny & Cher in the 1965 flick Wild On The Beach.  In 1966, she appeared in the teen flick Wild Wild Winter alongside Jay & the Americans, the Beau Brummels, and Dick and Dee Dee. She left Randy Sparks and later married singer John Davidson.

Barry Kane left the New Christy Minstrels in 1965. Fellow bandmate, Art Podell, recalls “In 1975, Barry asked me to join him on stage at the Wilshire-Ebel Theater where he performed a program of Russian folk songs backed by the L.A. Balalaika Orchestra. We sang a few of the old songs together and Barry was magnificent in his singing of several gypsy songs.” Podell mentions that Kane became a “family man” working at a 9 to 5 job. Kane died in 2013.

Larry Ramos left the New Christy Minstrels in 1966 after the birth of his twin daughters. In 1967 he was asked to join the Association. He sang lead vocals on their hit singles “Windy” and “Never My Love”. He continued with the Association until 1975, and returned to perform with them from 1979 to 2014. He was diagnosed with melanoma and died later in 2014.

In 1966, Dolan Ellis left the New Christy Minstrels and returned to Arizona. He became the official balladeer for the state of Arizona, and has been for over 55 years. As state balladeer, Dolan Ellis has written over 300 songs for the state of Arizona. 1996, Dolan Ellis founded the Arizona Folklore Preserve.

During the 1960s, the New Christy Minstrels had concert dates in Canada in Montreal, Saskatoon (SK), Toronto and Winnipeg (MB).

In 1970, the New Christy Minstrels performed during Super Bowl IV at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. They were introduced as “young Americans who demonstrate—with guitars.” Nick Woods left the New Christy Minstrels in 1965 and died in San Diego in 1972.

Other members of the changing lineup in the New Christy Minstrels have included Gene Clark (who went on to join the Byrds), Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Kenny Rogers (who later formed the First Edition), Kim Carnes (who had an international hit in 1981 titled “Bette Davis Eyes”), Keith Barbour (who had a minor anti-war hit in 1969 titled “Echo Park”), Bill Zorn (who later became a member of the Kingston Trio), and John Wilkinson (who later became a rhythm guitarist for Elvis Presley in live concerts).

At the age of 90, Randy Sparks continues to perform. Art Podell continues to perform and writes articles for Folkworks.org with his column Wall Scrawls. For many years he has hosted the show “Roots Music and Beyond” on KPFK 90.7FM – Los Angeles, a station that is part of the Pacifica radio network.

December 30, 2023
Ray McGinnis

Tony Sauro, “Love of music remains strong for Randy Sparks: New Christy Minstrels to perform Saturday in Lodi,” Record.net, July 24, 2019.
The New Christy Minstrels Ramblin’: Original 1963 Liner Notes,” Album Liner Notes.com.
New Christy Minstrels – Story,” newchristyminstrels.com.
Art Podell, “Barry Kane – Confessions Of A Gypsy Minstrel,” folk works.
Larry Ramos / 1942-2014,” Star-Advertizer, Honolulu, HI, May 5, 2014.
Gayle Caldwell,” gayle caldwell.org.
The Balladeer – Dolan’s Story,” Dolanellis.com.
Columns – Art Podell,” Folkworks.org.
Art Podell, “Everybody Loves Saturday Night,” folkworks.org.
Steve Wagner, “Art Podell: From The Village To The Canyon, A Songwriter’s Journey,” American Songwriter, 2014.

Green, Green by the New Christy Minstrels
CFAC 960-AM Calgary (AB) Top Ten | August 24, 1963

One response to “Green, Green by the New Christy Minstrels”

  1. Tom Locke says:

    Barry McGuire was the most remembered member of the group. Great harmonies.

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