The Columbus, OH bluegrass community has lost one of their stalwarts. Ray Sparks, who built and repaired instruments in the region for many years, has died. He passed on September 25 at 89 years of age.
Born and raised in Johnson County, KY, Ray moved to Ohio with his wife, Sandra, in 1961 where they raised their two daughters. He developed a love for bluegrass music early in life, and learned to play all of the common bluegrass instruments. Over the years he moved from tinkering with his own instruments to offering repairs to others from the garage in his home.
For the past five decades Sparks did work on people’s instruments from that garage, eventually building his own mandolins which he offered for sale. They were known throughout Ohio and beyond for their value for money, built without a great deal of ornamentation. You will find plenty of players out that way with their Sparks mandolins showing up at jams and shows.
His garage shop became a favorite hangout spot for local grassers, who would stop in for a chat, and a pick.
Ray’s friend Jim Duty, who has owned a Sparks mandolin for 40 years, recalls the gatherings out in the garage.
“Folks like Dave Evans, Dale Vanderpool, Tom Ewing, Carl Young, Ed Ferris, and many other fine local musicians from young to old would visit back in his garage, and jam or get something repaired in a pinch. Ray would joke, talk, and lecture about the tradition, and history, and stories of bluegrass music.
He was a staple in the community and told you like it was. If he talked to ya he liked ya. If not… well he didnt!”
Funeral services were held this past Friday at O. R. Woodyard funeral home. Ray was laid to rest after the service at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Lockbourne, OH.
R.I.P., Ray Sparks.