Sparkle Moore: The Mysterious Rockabilly Pioneer You've Never Heard Of

In the mid-1950s, Sparkle Moore had a strong voice, killer songs, and a really cool look. She was sometimes called the “female Elvis,” but the Omaha rocker born Barbara Morgan wound up having a wildly different career than the King’s. That’s what makes her such a fascinating character.

Whereas Elvis made gobs of money and stuck around long enough to become a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame, Moore released just two 45 RPM singles before settling down to start a family. Neither of her records made the charts, but in a review of the first, 1956’s “Rock-A-Bop,” Billboard wrote, “Gal pulls a female Elvis Presley and belts out a catchy rock and roll ditty with style and drive."

The critic probably didn’t flip the platter to play “Skull and Crossbones,” the far more memorable B side. Addressed to a guy who Sparkle calls “a jinx to my soul,” the jaunty rockabilly jam was a precursor to “Killer” and “Tiger,” the A and B sides of Moore’s second and final single, released in May of 1957.

Written by Sparkle herself, the three songs form a kind of bad-boy trilogy that must have seemed pretty daring at the time. Compare “Skull and Crossbones” to "Will You Willyum,” the signature hit by Moore’s nationally acclaimed contemporary Janis Martin—the most famous “female Elvis”—and Sparkle is practically punk.

She certainly dressed the part. At a time when female singers only wore dresses, Sparkle sported men’s slacks and suit jackets. She was butch on the bottom and bombshell up top, with a platinum blonde pompadour that made her look like Sparkle Plenty, the Dick Tracy character for whom she was named. In a rare 1986 interview with the magazine Kicks, Sparkle remembered how she used to freak people out with her masculine stage wear.

“People would see me when I went to play somewhere, and they’d say, ‘Can’t you wear something more sexy, like a gown?’” Moore said. “And I never would. I always wore a playing suit, and I’d say, ‘This is as sexy as I get.’”

It was plenty sexy—just like her music.

On “Killer,” a showcase for her Elvis-style “hmmm” ad libs and hiccuping delivery, Moore sings, “I was a victim of the killer’s charms / I’m not a victim of the killer’s arms / I took my chance and ignored the alarms.” She tangled with this duck-tailed lothario, gave as good as she got, and lived to tell the tale.

Her performance on “Tiger,” all about a smooth operator who seduces with his record collection, is even stronger. This one ends on a tender note: Just as Moore starts crying about her crush packing up his 45s and going home, her mother reassures her, “Look his way / I think this daddy is a goin' to stay.”

That’s essentially where the story ends. The unreleased ballad “Flowers of My Heart” surfaced years later, but Moore’s discography is basically those four songs, all issued on the Cincinnati indie label Fraternity and subsequently repackaged on various rockabilly compilations.

Moore's career lasted less than two years—just long enough for her to tour with pill-popping rockabilly wildman Gene Vincent; hobnob with celebs like Sammy Davis Jr., who compared her to James Dean; and get booked at the Grand Ole Opry, a gig she had to cancel due to laryngitis. The bio on Sparkle’s official website also claims that she “takes credit for being the first hippie to hit California several years later with a guitar strapped on the side of a Harley,” but since she’s done virtually no press, it’s unknown what adventures she got into in Hollywood. (Interview requests sent through her site's “Contact” form yielded no replies.)

It’s also unclear to what extent Moore chose to walk away from show business to raise a child. For as sexist as the music industry is today, it was even worse in the ‘50s, when female rockers were very much a novelty and women in general were expected to stay home and keep house. It would be great if Moore was totally free to make the decision that was right for her, but the reality was probably more complicated.

Either way, her story didn’t quite end in 1957. In 2010, the same year she was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Moore returned with Spark-A-Billy, a 22-song collection she wrote and self-recorded. With its hodgepodge of styles and homemade digital production aesthetic, the album is a detour from her old sound. Still, it’s nice to know that Sparkle continues to make music, and on her own terms.

10 Fast Facts About Jimi Hendrix

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Though he’s widely considered one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix passed away as his career was really just getting started. Still, he managed to accomplish a lot in the approximately four years he spent in the spotlight, and leave this world a legend when he died on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the musical legend.

1. Jimi Hendrix didn't become "Jimi" until 1966.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle on November 27, 1942 as John Allen Hendrix. He was initially raised by his mother while his father, James “Al” Hendrix, was in Europe fighting in World War II. When Al returned to the United States in 1945, he collected his son and renamed him James Marshall Hendrix.

In 1966, Chas Chandler—the bassist for The Animals, who would go on to become Jimi’s manager—saw the musician playing at Cafe Wha? in New York City. "This guy didn't seem anything special, then all of a sudden he started playing with his teeth," roadie James "Tappy" Wright, who was there, told the BBC in 2016. "People were saying, 'What the hell?' and Chas thought, 'I could do something with this kid.’”

Though Hendrix was performing as Jimmy James at the time, it was Chandler who suggested he use the name “Jimi.”

2. Muddy Waters turned Jimi Hendrix on to the guitar—and scared the hell out of him.

When asked about the guitarists who inspired him, Hendrix cited Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elmore James, and B.B. King. But Muddy Waters was the first musician who truly made him aware of the instrument. “The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters,” Hendrix said. “I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy and it scared me to death because I heard all these sounds.”

3. Jimi Hendrix could not read music.


George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

In 1969, Dick Cavett asked the musician whether he could read music: “No, not at all,” the self-taught musician replied. He learned to play by ear and would often use words or colors to express what he wanted to communicate. “[S]ome feelings make you think of different colors,” he said in an interview with Crawdaddy! magazine. “Jealousy is purple—‘I'm purple with rage’ or purple with anger—and green is envy, and all this.”

4. Jimi Hendrix used his dreams as inspiration for his songwriting.

Hendrix drew inspiration for his music from a lot of places, including his dreams. “I dreamt a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” he explained in a 1967 interview with New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Look’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” (In another interview, he said the idea for “Purple Haze” came to him in a dream after reading a sci-fi novel, believed to be Philip José Farmer’s Night of Light.)

5. "Purple Haze" features one of music's most famous mondegreens.

In the same interview with New Musical Express, it's noted that the “Purple Haze” lyric “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky” was in reference to a drowning man Hendrix saw in his dream. Which makes the fact that many fans often mishear the line as “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” even more appropriate. It was such a common mistake that Hendrix himself was known to have some fun with it, often singing the incorrect lyrics on stage—occasionally even accompanied by a mock make-out session. There’s even a Website, KissThisGuy.com, dedicated to collecting user-generated stories of misheard lyrics.

6. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside-down.

Ever the showman, Hendrix’s many guitar-playing quirks became part of his legend: In addition to playing with his teeth, behind his back, or without touching the instrument’s strings, he also played his guitar upside-down—though there was a very simple reason for that. He was left-handed. (His father tried to get him to play right-handed, as he considered left-handed playing a sign of the devil.)

7. Jimi Hendrix played backup for a number of big names.

Though Hendrix’s name would eventually eclipse most of those he played with in his early days, he played backup guitar for a number of big names under the name Jimmy James, including Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, and The Isley Brothers.

In addition to the aforementioned musical legends, Hendrix also helped actress Jayne Mansfield in her musical career. In 1965, he played lead and bass guitar on “Suey,” the B-side to her single “As The Clouds Drift By.”

8. Jimi Hendrix was once kidnapped after a show.

Though the details surrounding Hendrix’s kidnapping are a bit sketchy, in Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Charles R. Cross wrote about how the musician was kidnapped following a show at The Salvation, a club in Greenwich Village:

“He left with a stranger to score cocaine, but was instead held hostage at an apartment in Manhattan. The kidnappers demanded that [Hendrix’s manager] Michael Jeffrey turn over Jimi’s contract in exchange for his release. Rather than agree to the ransom demand, Jeffrey hired his own goons to search out the extorters. Mysteriously, Jeffrey’s thugs found Jimi two days later … unharmed.

“It was such a strange incident that Noel Redding suspected that Jeffrey had arranged the kidnapping to discourage Hendrix from seeking other managers; others … argued the kidnapping was authentic.”

9. Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees.

Though it’s funny to imagine such a pairing today, Hendrix warming up The Monkees’s crowd of teenybopper fans actually made sense for both acts back in 1967. For the band, having a serious talent like Hendrix open for them would help lend them some credibility among serious music fans and critics. Though Hendrix thought The Monkees’s music was “dishwater,” he wasn’t well known in America and his manager convinced him that partnering with the band would help raise his profile. One thing they didn’t take into account: the young girls who were in the midst of Monkeemania.

The Monkees’s tween fans were confused by Hendrix’s overtly sexual stage antics. On July 16, 1967, after playing just eight of their 29 scheduled tour dates, Hendrix flipped off an audience in Queens, New York, threw down his guitar, and walked off the stage.

10. You can visit Jimi Hendrix's London apartment.

In 2016, the London flat where Hendrix really began his career was restored to what it would have looked like when Jimi lived there from 1968 to 1969 and reopened as a museum. The living room that doubled as his bedroom is decked out in bohemian décor, and a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes sits on the bedside table. There’s also space dedicated to his record collection.

Amazingly, the same apartment building—which is located in the city’s Mayfair neighborhood—was also home to George Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759; the rest of the building serves as a museum to the famed composer’s life and work.

John Carpenter’s Original Halloween Is Coming Back to Theaters This Month

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

From September 27 through October 31, the original 1978 Halloween—directed by John Carpenter and produced by Debra Hill—will be returning to theaters, though it will look a little different. Hypebeast reports that the film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey, helped remaster and restore a copy of the original film, giving this updated version better lighting and effects.

Upon its release on October 25, 1978, Halloween became one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time (it grossed $47 million domestically on a $325,000 budget), and kicked off a decade of copycat slasher films. In 2006, the Library of Congress chose to preserve Halloween in the U.S. National Film Registry. Last year, David Gordon Green directed Halloween, a “sequel” to the original. (Basically, the new Halloween ignored plots from 37 years of Halloween sequels and remakes.)

In 2020 and 2021, two more Halloweens, both starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by Green, will hit theaters worldwide. But between the end of September and Halloween, you’ll have a chance to see one of the greatest horror films of all time in theaters. (While watching you can look out for these Halloween goofs.)

Unlike a lot of classic movie re-releases, however, Halloween will not be shown at big chains like AMC. And the dates, times, and ticket costs will vary among venues, which will include select art house theaters, Rooftop Cinema Clubs, and event centers across North America. To find out if Halloween will be screening at a theater near you, go to CineLife’s site and type in your zip code.

[h/t Hypebeast]

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