Halfnelson Sparks - Ron Russell Mael, Earle Jim Mankey, Harley Feinstein

Sparks Mael - Los Angeles Pacific Palisades California
Sparks at Maels' - 1971 Pacific Palisades, LA - California
Ron Mael & Russell Mael first formed Sparks under the name of Halfnelson, way back in 1969, but before that, the Maels brothers had been in two bands were supposedly called Moonbaker Abbey and Farmer's Market and then they formed Urban Renewal Project.
The Urban Renewal Project started around 1967, made up of Russell's friend guitarist Fred Frank, and his wife Ronna Frank who played drums.
- read more about Urban Renewal Project...

First incarnation of Halfnelson was a trio, including friend and electro-whizz Earle Mankey on guitar. Russell Mael was finishing high school among cheer leaders, football and body surfing, while Ron Mael was entering college and becoming involved with Cinema and graphic design. Earle Mankey met Ron & Russell Mael after either of them responded to an ad.
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles-California was the place. Trouble is, Halfnelson never got enough work to be spotted. Ron and Russell Mael had all the training - TV commercials, modelling, good wardrobes, and musical ability. What they didn't have is a receptive audience...

Halfnelson/Sparks demo tape - Demos Cd
Halfnelson's demo
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The Maels and Earle Mankey made dozens of home recordings at Earle's house during the late sixties. Apart from being a guitarist, Mankey was a wizard of sound effects and has a degree in engineering from UCLA.
Earle Mankey had an old Magnavox tape recorder and was just really into fooling around with recording. He was into playing the tape backwards and doing things that were, at that time, bold. Earle Mankey would speed up his guitar solos or have the tape run at half speed then play it back fast. The band were just experimenting with sounds.
One of the most famous works was a demo which consisted of twelve songs, all written by the Maels. On the Halfnelson demo Russell sang and played bass on many of the tracks, as
Surly Ralph Oswald joined in later on in the recordings.
Ron Mael's use of organ as a key instrument was much more prominent. Earle Mankey played guitar while John Mendelsohn was the drummer. About one hundred copies of the "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing" demo were sent out to record companies. None of them reacted positively. After this recording, Surly Ralph Oswald and John Mendelsohn were kicked out of the band.
After this, Earle Mankey got out his tape recorder, and in his living room, the trio recorded four new songs : "Wonder Girl", "Fa La Fa Lee", "Slow Boat" and "High C". This tape was sent to
Todd Rundgren (ex-Nazz) when he was still Runt. Todd Rundgren the ace producer at Bearsville Records and hot from making his own albums of eccentric, eclectic pop, was immediately drawn to Halfnelson's wayward approach to song construction and odd Europhile appearance. Todd Rundgren was also given the task of polishing up that demo tape. - read more about Halfnelson demo...
Halfnelson/Sparks Bearsville records Lp album
Halfnelson's album
the story of the cover...
Todd Rundgren rescued Halfnelson by getting a contract for Albert Grossman's Bearsville label and producing their self-titled 1971 debut. But in order to record an album, Halfnelson needed a rhythm section, so Earle Mankey told his brother James to join the band and Jim Mankey (formerly with Three Days Blues) as added on second guitar and bass.
In 1970 a guy called
Harley A. Feinstein placed an ad in a music store called Ace Music in Santa Monica in order to find people to jam with. After a long phone conversation with singer Russell Mael, Harley A. Feinstein became Halfnelson's drummer. "Halfnelson" was one of Todd Rundgren's first outside production job since Nazz, and all in all, the job was excellent. Infortunately Halfnelson's quirky, tongue-in-cheek art pop failed to find an audience.
Ron Mael : "When we started, it was just such a thrill to get a record deal, it wasn't like we started thinking that this would lead to something else, we've always worked in the short term, in the moment. (...) Of course everybody wants to be filthy stinking rich. But we'd seen the effect that having that kind of massive success had had on other people musically." With new management, Halfnelson changed their name to Sparks and the Lp was reissued with a more obvious cover. Halfnelson and the self-title album died. Meanwhile the band played live. - read more about live performances...
Sparks Bearsville records - Sparks first Lp album
Sparks lp Reissue
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After becoming Sparks, a single, "Wonder Girl", was released from the album. "Wonder Girl" eventually reached number 92 in Cash Box and topped the local chart in Montgomery County, Alabama, but the album didn't do jack commercially. Nevertheless, the 29 th of July 1972, Sparks appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" TV show. - read more...
Four months later Sparks attempted their first assault to Europe shortly after their New York debut at Max's Kansas City club. During this 1972 European Tour, Sparks played almost 30 gigs : The band played in Great Britain, Holland and Switzerland. The Marquee Club in London was packed. Sparks performed "Wonder Girl" on Britain's "Old Grey Whistle Test" TV show and did the same on "Hits A GoGo" TV show at Zurich in Switzerland. - read more...
On retourning to America, after three months, the band jetted to Bearsville studios in upstate New York (Woodstock) to record the stage favourite "I Like Girls". Nick James produced the song but it didn't come as well as expected. The song "I Like Girls" was due to be a single but was never released (this track can be found on "Profile" Cd and on Sparks' "Big Beat" Lp in a new version). At this point, Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Earle Mankey, Jim Mankey & Harley Feinstein returned to play The Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, California. Just in time to see their second album on Bearsville Records released.
Sparks - A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing Bearsville
Sparks second Lp
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The second Sparks' Lp was called "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing" (not to be confused with the early demo tape) and this album was produced by Thaddeus James Lowe (ex-singer of The Electric Prunes). It remains Sparks' most curious Lp, possibly because of its lack of attention. The songs were far less accessible in an instant way, and many were fragmented in the extreme. "Girl From Germany", the most normal sounding song from the album was released as a single, with "Beaver O' Lindy" on the b-side. "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing" became a misunderstood classic : It didn't sell either... - read more about this album...
Fresh from the promising European tour, the boys were impatient in L.A. Impatient 'cause they were vegetating.
A proposed April '73 tour of the States with Todd Rundgren was cancelled. Bearsville's personal belief in the band but hadn't the funds to promote it. During the European tour, Ron and Russell Mael had the offer for the two of them to come back to England by Island Records. British label liked the songwriting and the singing and the general image of Sparks. But they weren’t sure if they wanted to undertake bringing an American band over here to reside permanently. Island decided to just bring over the nucleus of the songwriting and singing and they told the Maels if they were willing to relocate and get a band together over here, they would sign them.

So, at the end of 1973, figuring that their quirky, strangely british-style music and lyrics would be more appreciated overseas than in the United States, Ron Mael & Russell Mael phoned the guy who had looked after them while they toured Europe and the original band sort of disintegrated. Ron and Russell's parents had already moved to London, so the Mael brothers went to England and Sparks relocated to the UK, but unfortunately, without the Mankey brothers and Harley Feinstein... 

Sparks Maels - 2 Originals Of Sparks - Bearsville
"2 Originals Of Sparks"
Bearsville albums reissue
In 1975, after Sparks' huge success in Europe, Bearsville Records reissued Sparks' first self-tiled album and "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing". This double package was called "2 Originals Of Sparks". This combination of the first two albums came with a revampted cover of "Halfnelson" Lp and a deluxe 16 pages large booklet with the history of the band, photographies and lyrics and Ron and Russell Mael commenting each song.
Most of informations regarding Sparks on these webpages were obtained from The Rock Market Place Review by Joseph Fleury printed into "2 Originals Of Sparks" booklet. Other ones came from a Mael's interview by Jim Wilson, Harley Feinstein & Thaddeus James Lowe, Bearsville Cd reissue booklet notes by Paul Lester of Uncut Magazine and Ruud Swart & Carl Van Breukelen's Sparks website. - read more about this site...
Sparks became a British band
SPARKS 1969-1973
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the glorious British years
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