As you guys may have noticed, I have been on a bit of a hiatus from writing. This past couple months have been stressful for me and my family. You may have read recently that my grandmother, Prudence Mullins, lost her courageous battle with breast cancer.
Throughout the last ten months of her life, her faith and trust in the Lord only grew stronger, and she was an encouragement and an inspiration to those around her. Her testimony reminds us of one of Mamaw’s favorite songs, which is very fitting around this time of year. Hearing Larry Sparks sing I Just Want To Thank You, Lord at Thanksgiving time seemed a bit more special this year after having seen him deliver this powerful song at Mamaw’s funeral just several weeks prior.
I Just Want To Thank You, Lord was originally recorded by The Marshall Family in the mid-seventies. Judy Marshall wrote the song, and her beautiful voice is always a blessing to hear; The Marshall Family’s recordings are among my favorites in bluegrass gospel. However, when Sparks applies his unique style to any song, he makes it his own. His soulfulness permeates everything he does on stage and in the studio, and is heard in every note he plays or sings, making him one of bluegrass music’s most iconic figures for decades.
Larry recorded I Just Want To Thank You, Lord roughly a decade ago on a gospel album entitled I Want To Be Like Jesus. The album has since been re-issued by Rural Rhythm Christian under the title I Just Want To Thank You, Lord. The only differences between the two albums (other than the title) are the album artwork and track sequence.
The original album’s title track, I Want To Be Like Jesus, is a very thought-provoking song. It encourages the listener to be a true disciple of Christ, rather than working for their own recognition. The tempo reminds you of a waltz, and before long you’ll be humming right along. The song is sure to be stuck in your head, but hopefully, the message will stick to your heart as well.
Sparks most likely learned What A Wonderful Savior Is He from Carl Story, viewed by many as The Father of Bluegrass Gospel Music. But once again, Sparks’ version takes the cake. I’ve heard Dad play this recording countless times on his daily Hymns From The Hills radio broadcast. Sparks’ voice is tinged with aged wisdom. Although he sings from experience, Sparks still shares the exuberance of a child, making this song easy to sing-a-long with whether you’re young or just young at heart.
A gospel classic from The Original Carter Family, most of you may be familiar with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s rendition of Better Farther On. Their version appears on Doyle’s concept album from the late nineties entitled Gospel Radio Gems. Always an original, Sparks makes his arrangement of this old classic different than everyone else’s. He slows the tempo way down and performs the song a cappella (without instruments). His powerful voice cuts right to the core. Although he sounds lonesome, he delivers the song with the hope in knowing “it is better farther on.” I’m sure this will be a blessing to you as it has been to me, particularly over the past couple months.
I Want To Be Like Jesus features a great mixture of originals and classics. Little White Frame Church, Bible Ben, What Kind Of Man, and His Name Was Judas are just a few of the other songs included on this great bluegrass gospel album from “The Youngest of the Old Timers.”
My grandpa, Paul “Moon” Mullins, had played fiddle for The Stanley Brothers for a short time in the late fifties. Afterwards, he became a well-known country/bluegrass disc jockey, first in Kentucky, then in Middletown, OH. Around 1964, a seventeen-year old boy named Larry Sparks caught his eye.
Paul “Moon” Mullins had known Ralph and Carter. They came through Dayton, OH from time to time. Well, they came through one time and needed a guitar player. Paul told them about me. Carter asked me to come out and play. –Larry Sparks
Mamaw was both a friend and fan of Larry’s. When I knew she was tuned in to my radio show, I always made sure to play her one by Sparks. She even made sure to indoctrinate my six-year old cousin, Anthony, in the music of Larry Sparks. He and his music have always meant the world to our family, but it has become particularly poignant since she passed away. Every time we hear a Larry Sparks’ song, we think of Mamaw, and that’s fine with me.
I Want To Be Like Jesus was re-released on Rural Rhythm Records as I Just Want To Thank You Lord (RHYC-2001). It can be purchased through County Sales and the Classic Country Connection, or downloaded via iTunes or Amazon MP3.
NOTE: The album is erroneously listed in iTunes with the title What Kind Of Man.