The Sparrows (band)

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The Sparrows
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Rock
Years active 1965–1967
Labels Columbia
RCA Victor
Associated acts Steppenwolf
Jack London & The Sparrows
Past members See Band members section

The Sparrows was a Canadian blues rock band that existed in the 1960s and had evolved out of Jack London & The Sparrows. Notable for being the first group to break out musician John Kay into the mainstream, the Sparrows later morphed into the popular heavy rock group Steppenwolf.

Early years[edit]

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Dennis Edmonton, drummer Jerry Edmonton and bass player Nick St. Nicholas had all played together in Toronto “British Invasion” band, Jack London & The Sparrows between January and July 1965.

When the group separated from singer Jack London, The Sparrows recorded a final single on their own before adding new members, vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player and songwriter John Kay and keyboard player Goldy McJohn.

As the new look Sparrows, the group made its live debut at Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfrid Laurier University) in Waterloo, Ontario during September 1965 and immediately made an impact with its high energy, blues rock sound. The following month, the band supported Gary Lewis & The Playboys at Massey Hall in Toronto and also found regular work at Chez Monique and the El Patio in the city’s Yorkville village.

New York connections[edit]

Throughout the first few months of 1966, the group consolidated its following on the local club scene. Realising that they needed to attract a wider audience, The Sparrows (as the band was now called) attracted the interest of electronics executive Stanton J. Freeman, who became their manager and arranged for a booking at Arthur, Sybil Burton's hot new club in New York. Freeman then flew them to New York so the A&R people at the major record companies could see them perform. The Sparrows were so well received that over the next five months, they commuted back and forth between Toronto and New York. While in the Big Apple, The Sparrows also appeared at the Barge in Westhampton (The Rascals had played there the previous summer) on Long Island and at another New York club, the Downtown.

Recording for Columbia Records[edit]

Producer David Kapralik, later manager of Sly & The Family Stone, was introduced to Freeman by Jerry Brandt (head of Rock & Roll at the William Morris Agency). Freeman brought Kapralik to see and hear the band. He also heard some demos that the group had recorded at Allegro Sound Studios in New York on April 28, 1966. Impressed by the quality of the songs, he assisted Freeman get a recording deal with Columbia Records. On June 25, the group recorded Dennis Edmonton’s “Tomorrow’s Ship”, which was subsequently coupled with the Dennis Edmonton-Nick St. Nicholas collaboration, “Isn’t It Strange” for the group’s debut single.

The single failed to chart on its release. The band returned to Columbia’s New York studios in October and recorded a follow up, the Edmonton brothers’ “Green Bottle Lover”, which was coupled with the Dennis Edmonton-Nick St. Nicholas collaboration, “Down Goes Your Love Life”. Released the following month, the second single also failed to chart.

Sparrow heads for California[edit]

By then, the band had abandoned Canada (and New York) for the warmer climates of California. During November 1966, The Sparrows debuted at It’s Boss in West Hollywood. Shortly thereafter, they moved to San Francisco where they performed at the Ark in nearby Sausalito as well as the Matrix and the Avalon Ballroom (sharing the stage with The Youngbloods and Moby Grape at the latter).

Sparrow (as they now called themselves) continued to commute back and forth between Los Angeles and San Francisco throughout the first six months of 1967, performing alongside The Doors, The Steve Miller Band and many others. During June, Dennis Edmonton announced his decision to go solo and the band recruited American guitarist Michael Monarch in early July. Edmonton subsequently changed his name to Mars Bonfire.

Steppenwolf[edit]

Dennis Edmonton’s departure, however, hastened the band’s decline, and the group split into two factions. Nick St. Nicholas and new recruit Michael Monarch initially formed a new group together called TIME, although Monarch soon abandoned this project and rejoined John Kay, Goldy McJohn and Jerry Edmonton in Steppenwolf. As Steppenwolf, they performed at such venues as Whisky a Go Go.

In 1969, in the wake of Steppenwolf success, Columbia Records put out of its archives supposed but not released in 1967 LP "John Kay & The Sparrows", including previously unknown material (as well as a totally remixed "Isn't It Strange", which makes the 45 the only place to find its quite different original mix).

Band members[edit]

Official Sparrow members
1964
1965
1965–1967
  • John Kay – rhythm guitar, lead vocals
  • Dennis Edmonton – lead guitar, vocals
  • Nick St. Nicholas – bass, vocals
  • Goldy McJohn – keyboards, vocals
  • Jerry Edmonton – drums, lead vocals
1967

Discography[edit]

(As The Sparrows)

Singles[edit]

  • "Tomorrow's Ship" b/w "Isn't It Strange" (Columbia 43755) 1966
  • "Green Bottle Lover" b/w "Down Goes Your Love Life" (Columbia 43960) 1966
  • "Square Headed People" b/w "Twisted" (Columbia 44769) 1967

Albums[edit]

  • John Kay & The Sparrows (Columbia 9758) 1967
  • The Best Of John Kay & Sparrow: Tighten Up Your Wig (Columbia 50344) 1993
  • John Kay & The Sparrows (Repertoire 4878) 2001 (re-issue of 1967 album plus bonus tracks)
  • As backing group on other artists' releases:
  • Molly Camp Sings ..... (RCA Victor 3649) 1966

References[edit]

  • Magic Carpet Ride by John Kay and John Einarson, Quarry Press, 1994.
  • Before The Goldrush by Nicholas Jennings, Penguin Books, 1997.
  • "They Helped To Make Go-Go Big", Toronto Telegram, After four section, December 30, 1965, page 8
  • The Toronto Telegram's After Four section on Thursdays list live dates