Though it had been many years since he called Houston home, it still deeply saddens me to report the Texas Twister himself, guitarist Melvin Sparks left this mortal coil yesterday. Tuesday March 15th 2011, Melvin Sparks passed from complications related to diabetes one week before he was to turn 65 years of age.
If you ask anyone that saw Sparks perform in his early years here in Houston, they all will tell you the same thing. It was always apparent he was destined for great things. He cut his teeth playing alongside as well as studying under the tutelage of the Elder Statesman of Houston soul and jazz, Leon Mitchison. After which Sparks joined Grady Gaines’ The Upsetters Band (Gaines still performs to this day around Houston) where he backed nothing short of a laundry list of some of the greatest singers and musicians the world has ever seen including Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, The Supremes, Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson amongst others.
When soul jazz blossomed in the latter part of the sixties, Melvin found himself taking a keen interest in the then-developing sound. The music, an alchemy of jazz stylings with the gusto and sometimes funkier influences of soul artists like James Brown but minus the restrictive four-four beats. It gave some musicians, especially the prodigal guitarist Sparks an expansive range to maneuver within and it wasn’t long after his relocation to New York that he would become known as both a pioneer and master of the newly-born genre.
Sparks would go on to ink deals with label-titans like Prestige, Eastbound, Westbound and Muse where he recorded seminal genre-defining albums such as Texas Twister, Sparkplug and Sparks!. Quietly, Melvin often would provide the backbone of many soul jazz albums by other artists such as Charles Earland’s Black Talk! And Lou Donaldson’s Everything I Play is Funky on Blue Note, which was far from his last contribution to the label. He’d go on to record enough albums to fill a hundred collections with a virtual who’s who of the jazz world. All the while, he never lost the identity of being a Texan and more directly, a son of Houston.
Sparks played guitar for Caesar Frazier’s Hicky Burr
So may the Texas Twister, Melvin Sparks Rest in Peace, The world is less of a place without you.