Melvin Sparks Biography

22 March 1946, Houston, Texas, USA. A leading session player and occasional recording artist, this New York-based guitarist was one of the leading figures in the soul jazz boom of the late 60s and early 70s. Sparks, whose mother ran a live music venue in Houston, grew up surrounded by the sound of jazz and blues. At the age of 13 he jammed with B.B. King, and while still in high school worked with ‘Big’ Joe Turner and Hank Ballard. Sparks joined the renowned back-up band the Upsetters in 1963, going on to work with, among others, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and the Supremes. In 1967, Sparks moved to New York in order to pursue his jazz career and shortly afterwards joined Brother Jack McDuff’s combo. Spells with Lonnie Smith, Reuben Wilson, and Lou Donaldson followed, with Sparks appearing on several of the latter’s classic Blue Note Records’ recordings.

In the early 70s Sparks joined the in-house Prestige Records band, playing alongside Idris Muhammad and Leon Spencer on most of the label’s classic soul jazz releases as well as releasing three sessions as leader. Sparks was quieter in the following decade, releasing a solitary session as leader for Muse and working with Houston Person and Hank Crawford. The resurgence of acid jazz in the 90s saw the guitarist’s fortunes take an upturn. He played on Ron Levy’s Zim Zam Zoom in 1996, and the following year released the excellent I’m A ‘Gittar’ Player, his first album in 15 years, on the keyboard player’s Cannonball label.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.