Joe Bennett was a rockabilly legend and frontman for the 1950s band, The Sparkletones. He converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1960s and was a devoted member of the Church.
Bennett (on guitar) was the oldest (at age 17) of The Sparkletones that also included Wayne Arthur on bass, Howard Childress on guitar, and Jimmy Denton on drums. The Sparkletones is enshrined in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Bennett co-wrote the early rock classic “Black Slacks,” which catapulted him and the three other teenagers to national stardom.
- “Black Slacks,” which was recorded in New York and issued under the name Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones, was the group’s first and biggest hit. It climbed as high as No. 17 on the Billboard singles chart in Oct. 1957, sandwiched between such classics as “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley, “Keep A Knockin’” by Little Richard, “You’re My One and Only Love” by Ricky Nelson and “Bye, Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers.
Bennett took private guitar lessons while growing up. His first band, The Jamborettes, morphed into Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. In January 1957, a CBS talent scout came through Bennett’s native Spartanburg, South Carolina, to audition young performers for network television. The band’s first televised appearance was on the “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour.” The talent scout, Bob Cox, was so impressed with the group that he resigned from CBS to become the band’s manager. After the success of “Black Slacks,” The Sparkletones appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “American Bandstand,” and “The Nat King Cole Show.” The group also toured the country and appeared for twelve weeks at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. They also signed a recording contract with ABC Paramount (they sold over 1 million records).
During their three-year tours, Cox, Childress, and Denton left the band for various reasons and others joined. The Sparkletones disbanded when Bennett joined the U.S. Air Force. In 1962, he and Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart formed a short-lived band called Joe and the Jaguars. Bennett regularly taught guitar to aspiring teenagers.
Beyond music, Bennett worked as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Sparkletones did reunion shows as recently as the mid-2000s. Bennett’s last performance with the group was in 2011 at Viva Las Vegas. “Black Slacks” was revived by Disney in its animated movie “Rescuers Down Under.”
Bennett died on June 27, 2015, from the afflictions of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, both effects of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He had six children with his wife, Doris.