The New Christie Minstrels, founded by Randy Sparks, rode a wave of popularity from our hit songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” “Today,” “Green Green,” and Disney’s “Chim Chim Cheree.” I was approaching 30 and was the oldest in the group of five men and three women. Terry Meeuwsen, who became Miss America in 1973, was among the performers I went on this musical adventure with. Another, Linda Hart, went on to a career as an actress with feature roles in several movies and the miniseries Roots. Banjo player Bill Zorn continues today as a member of the Kingston Trio. And everyone is aware of the career of my predecessor on bass, Kenny Rogers.
During my tenure with the group, we appeared on Johnny Carson and the David Frost Show, headlined an Americana 4th of July celebration with Bob Hope, and toured Japan to perform our hit record “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” You think it’s ridiculous in English? Just ask me to sing it in Japanese!
During this time I shared the stage with more than one hundred performers who are household names in entertainment. A favorite, though sad, memory is I playing bass for Homer & Jethro. We celebrates his 50th birthday that evening and then he died suddenly a few days later.
After my global tour with The Christies, I relocated for a short period to Pennsylvania to work on a special project. I recorded railroading songs for the Smithsonian Institute and became the voice of the American Freedom Train which toured the United States in 1976.
Barbara and I came back to Arizona and had two productions of our own: we designed and built our own house and, at the same time, became the proud parents of a daughter. Johanna now lives in Portland, Oregon.
In 1980 I created a show band, Igor and the Jazz Cowboys. The group quickly became a favorite on a large jazz festival circuit, and we performed throughout the United States and Canada doing as many as 28 festivals each year. The band also performed in Europe and Australia. Once, in Mexico, we played at the American Embassy in Santo Domingo for the 4th of July celebration there.
I am grateful for the awards I’ve received throughout my career: I’ve been a national yodeling champion and I am a member of the Western Swing Hall of Fame. I’ve been honored by Parliament in British Columbia and by the California State Assembly. I still treasure a letter from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commending me for many years of performances at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.
Perhaps my favorite commendations are from my three winning performances on the NBC Chuck Barris Gong Show!
Barbara and I are honored to be part of the Beatitudes Campus family. I continue touring, performing as Santa Claus and working as a docent at the Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix. I enjoy accompanying musicians here on Wednesday evenings for the American Folk Music gathering and occasionally performing at campus events.