Though affiliated with the fertile Texas garage and psych scene of the 1960s by virtue of their underground classic "No Friend of Mine," the Sparkles dated back to 1957 and continued their performing career until 1972, a longer run than virtually any of their Lone Star State contemporaries. Formed in Levelland, the Sparkles were originally comprised of guitarists Stan Smith and Carl Huckaby, bassist Bob Donnell, pianist Johnny Waller, sibling saxophonists Guy and Jesse Balew, and drummer Gary Blakey. They made their first recordings in 1958 for legendary producer Norman Petty, but the session never saw commercial release.
The Sparkles then dissolved, but soon re-formed -- lineup changes were common at this time, but the core roster at the turn of the decade included Smith, Blakey, and guitarist Charlie Hatchet. In 1962 the group recorded its debut single, "U.T." (for "Untitled"), for the tiny Caron label. The record went nowhere, and when Blakey and Hatchet relocated to Lubbock to form the Raiders, Smith formed a new Sparkles lineup from scratch, recruiting singer/drummer Lucky Floyd, guitarist Donnie Roberts, and bassist Bobby Smith. This iteration of the band proved enormously popular on the west Texas club circuit, playing Lubbock clubs like the Music Box and the Swinger -- in 2000, no less than Joe Ely called them "the best rock & roll band in town" in a history of Lubbock music published in Texas Monthly.
After Stan Smith -- the last remaining founding member -- and Roberts resigned circa 1965, Floyd and Bobby Smith recruited guitarists Gary P. Nunn and Louie Holt and drummer Jimmy Marriot to form the definitive Sparkles lineup; with Roy Orbison drummer Larry Parks installed as producer, the group signed to the Hickory label to release the 1966 single "The Hip," a major hit in Austin, where by most accounts they were the most popular act among University of Texas fraternity members. Two more Hickory singles -- "Something That You Said" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" -- followed by year's end, and in 1967 the Sparkles recorded their masterpiece, "No Friend of Mine," an incendiary effort distinguished by Nunn's snarling guitar lead and Floyd's remarkably anguished vocal. (The song was later immortalized via inclusion on the first Nuggets box set.)
After one last Hickory single, "Hipsville 29 B.C.," Nunn and Holt quit the band, and Floyd, Smith, and Marriot soon after relocated to California, rechristening the band the Pearly Gate. According to legend, they were scheduled to perform at a benefit for Robert F. Kennedy the night of his assassination -- they also appeared on the television series Judd for the Defense before returning to Texas and restoring the Sparkles name. Future John Denver guitarist Steve Weisberg played in this final go-round. After Floyd returned to California to join the folk-rock group Red Wilder Blue, the Sparkles finally dissolved in 1972. ~ Jason Ankeny