Volume 2-2012



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Learning from Jimmy Iovine

Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine was featured in a recent piece in Rolling Stone, and it was one of those rare celebrity interviews that actually yield insight and useful information for people interested in music production and engineering. READ MORE...

On Selling Songs Through TAXI

Occasionally, as an amateur songwriter, I will open the account I have with TAXI, the Web-based Artists & Repertoire service, check out the listings, usually for those calling for Film & TV soundtrack music, and if I have something that seems like a possible match I will upload an MP3 mix and submit it for consideration. I never get anywhere with this past-time... READ MORE...



(Click here)

New Releases on RARadio: "Last Call" by Jay; "Darkness" by Leonard Cohen; "Sweetbread" by Simian Mobile Disco and "Keep You" from Actress off the Chronicle movie soundtrack; "Goodbye to Love" from October Dawn; Trouble in Mind 2011 label sampler; Black Box Revelation Live on Minnesota Public Radio; Apteka "Striking Violet"; Mikal Cronin's "Apathy" and "Get Along"; Dana deChaby's progressive rock




"The Musical Meccas of the World"









Original Musical Compositions and Select Covers

Fiction and Non-Fiction

Special Projects








This edition we spotlight the amazing  MINTON SPARKS, pictured left.  The Nashville-based spoken word musical artist and college professor must be considered one of the most potent spokespersons for the human community gracing the stage today. Minton is an open wound of searing personal insight, particularly the human experience as mirrored in the lives of her family. Oh the suffering of such who are gifted with writing progeny, and the joy. Minton explores it all with treacherous insight and razor wit. And then she dances.

Minton was brought to my attention by Links buddy Steve Conn, who produced her first album, "This Dress," and sometimes accompanies her on piano. I started scrambling around the Internet to learn more about Minton, and things started to become curiouser and  curiouser.

There are, of course, other spoken word artists and monologists. These aren't quite the same, but I have tended to find them (Jello Biafra, Patty Smith, Spalding Gray, even Garrison Keillor) so. While all of the performing arts rely on the fine tuning of theatrical presentation, there is something about "performance art" that almost always seems, performance art. Go check out Minton Sparks' YouTube collage at Minton writes South - south of dishonesty and the heart's Mason-Dixon line, where you can feel the thick heat and bug bites. You hear Eudora Welty and Harper Lee in her voice, maybe even Minnie Pearl. She is by turns funny and sorrowful. She drops emotional bombs, people leave exhausted.

Minton's connection to the music that accompanies her words is more palpable than it is in most singer/songwriter discourses. Maybe the distance that she views the world from, so apparent in her language, gives her a similar advantage as she rides the ether of spare instrumentation. What is it about this woman that resonates so deeply within this writer's breast? Minton hurts like a free fall, with all protections left in storage. Hers is one of the most riveting acts working in music today, a high-wire feat of grace and simplicity that carries more wattage than any bombastic rock band this side of U2.

It is with great pride that RARWRITER presents featured artist Minton Sparks.


"Minton Sparks is a great storyteller. Humanity with humidity all told humorously with humility. Sin Sick is just what the doctor ordered." - John Prine

"Minton Sparks sounds like my momma, my Aunt Dot, my Aunt Grace and even a bit like my Uncle Jack-only better and wilder and heartbreakingly more powerful. If I could have heard poetry like this as a girl, I wouldn't have had to waste all those years thinking we were dumb as dirt." - Dorothy Allison







by RAR


As I listen to your recorded work, the voices of two distinctly Southern writers come to mind: Eudora Welty and Harper Lee. Am I off base there? Who would be better examples of writers who influenced you in developing your style and voice?

This is always difficult to answer. I’m never able to site direct influences—though I live and breath by writers like Annie Dillard and more recently Marylynn Robinson. I love writing that has arrived in my life at just the right time… oftentimes, if you try to read the book before you are ready the writing will not land with the reader. If it is the right time, the writing saves a life or changes the world, obviously that comes in so many different packages.

I love writers who mythologize the immediacy of moments. Dinging the bell by naming experience that broadens or deepens my perspective, Writing that takes me to a new planet. Favorite writers: Annie Dilliard, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Maya Angelou, May Sarton. Poets: Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, John Keats.

Songwriters are equally influential: Leonard Cohen, Nanci Griffith, Darrell Scott, Gretchen Peters, Steve Conn,


With a name as unique and attention getting as “Minton Sparks,” you seem born to theater? Do you feel that way? Did your parents have some destination in mind for you?

My name comes from my maternal grandmother. She was a Minton and married a Sparks. I often run into folks who know we must be related b/c if you’re from Arkansas and associated with both of those names, you are related to me. In my heart I was born to play professional basketball but the WNBA went on hiatus the year I wanted to try out.

Are you a musician?

I play guitar and consider myself to be very rhythmical, but can’t come close to the level of the musicians that I collaborate with. I tend to use my musicality to find pocket rhythms in poetry rather than accompany myself. I’m working on playing slide guitar right now and plan to work that into our show at some point

How do you construct your musical pieces? Do you compose for your lyrics? Or in some way communicate your musical intent to instrumental collaborators? How is the instrumentation selected? The solo accompaniment carries special power mated to the cadence of your voice. There is something plaintive about the sound. I assume this was all part of your concept?

The musical collaborations have evolved depending upon the individual musician. If I am playing with someone “new,” I attempt to convey the tone and what I hear rhythmically and tell the musician what I hear vibe wise. “This one is tragic, this one is tragic….this one is…” The first two records "Middlin’ Sisters" and "This Dress" were heavily influenced by the producers. Marcus Hummon produced "Middlin’ Sisters" and Steve Conn produced “This Dress.”

The level of talent that I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with still blows my mind. For example, Keb Mo’ came into the studio one night because he happened to be in town playing. He walked into the studio having no idea who I was or what I did, but was willing to sit down and let me read the poem over and over and then he found a guitar part that worked. I just stepped aside and smiled at what he played. Once a musician locks into the voice of the poem, they enter an improvised conversation with the lyrics and with that as a starting point we find the piece. My original concept was to amplify the emotion around the lyrics. Steve Conn wrote music for "This Dress" that changed the pieces. I went back and edited lyrics as part of the conversation with the music. For me, it always begins with the lyrics. But edits will go on for a long time as I perform it over and over. When I’m on stage I lean into the music to make me FEEL the piece. That’s the main thing, I want to feel something intensely so that the performance reflects that. I want the audience to feel down into their own story. That can happen with the words alone, but it can happen much more powerfully when the musical voice points the way.

For the past 3 years I’ve been mostly playing gigs with John Jackson. John was out on the road with Bob Dylan for 7 years in the 90’s. He’s also played with Lucinda Williams and Shelby Lynne. He’s as good as it gets. Sometimes he’s even brilliant in his musical dance with the pieces. Initially we sit down with the lyrics, and listen to the cadence of the words, often he hears something that I don’t, and I have to switch gears on the timing. More times than not, it’s the perfect emotional tone for the piece and in some way a counterpoint to the emotion of the piece. All the musicians that I’ve had the honor of working with take my poetry to someplace new that I only hoped it might approximate. I’m rambling here but this is close…

You have worked with an impressive array of big name musicians, including Waylon Jennings. How did this all come to pass for you? How did you enter your niche place in this marriage of poetry and music? 

Living in Nashville is wild in this regard. The talent pool is deep. One of my closest friends worked with Waylon J. and gave him a copy of my first demo CD. He loved it and was willing to come into the little studio where we were recording the first record (that Darrell Scott played on) and sing the hymn “Precious Memories”. I remember the timber of Waylon’s voice over the headphones. It almost sounded like his voice was two voices it was so full. That first record spoiled me. Darrell Scott, an absolute master, heard exactly was I was trying to say, and lifted the music into the hinterlands. I think it was only then that I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my professional life.

For years I was loping along in the world of poetry sending things off to Literary journals around the country. The first journal that graciously published my work was “Lonzie’s Fried Chicken” out of North Carolina.

You have a book out – Desperate Ransom: Setting Her Family Free – that some have described as demystifying your mythology of your own family’s life experiences. (My paraphrase may be weak. Not sure one can actually demystify mythology.) Some wish you hadn’t resolved some of your “stage” stories and wished they’d been left hanging, like a 7th chord. What was your thinking in conceiving the book approach? Jumping back for a moment, is it accurate to say that you create mythologies around your personal experiences? This is an approach common to writers, but is it accurately applied to you? Are your memories filtered into a more theatrical fiction?

It’s storytelling pure and simple. I think anytime you tell a story as a writer you are mythologizing the fodder.

Your persona is defined around your ‘50s-era fashions and your decidedly down-home presentation. To what extent is the Minton Sparks that most of us get a chance to see a theatrical creation, and how much is just you as you? Are there different versions of you for your different “audiences” – your family, students, paid ticket holders?

My grandmother gave me a bunch of her old clothes and I had them altered. I think I wear what I wear on stage in order to feel down deep into the characters that I am talking about.

The title of your book suggests that this collection of stories is “setting your family free?” What do you mean by that? What kind of a family did you come from? Happy? Tragic? 

My family is wonderful and colorful.

Do you feel limited in any way by your own self-definition, your “southernliness?” Or are you “acting out” the essence of what is within?

Native soil is everything. Everybody speaks the language of place. Always surprised by the response we get in places like Santa Barbara, CA and Portland, Oregon. Audiences seem to resonate with the work on an emotional level even if the southern thing is foreign..

I find your performance “courageous,” a kind of high-wire act depending wholly upon your ability to spellbind an audience. It is an extraordinary gift. Then again, you come across as a formidable person. How did you develop this skill at hooking and holding the attention of a crowd? And what makes you so tough?

I have no idea. I jump into performances with all four feet.

You don’t mind being the butt of your own joke, or making yourself the object of your comedy. Your buck dance is quite amusing, in part because you seem to enjoy looking funny doing it. It seems to have a cathartic effect, particularly on the audience. Is that at all a part of why you do it? Does your show require “decompression” from time to time?

I’ve taken the summer off to write and be with my two children. Yes, I think the audience appreciates a breather. I have had people tell me that they are "drained" emotionally after seeing my show.

Part of the dynamic in a “one woman” show, it seems to me, is a tension that exists between audience and performer. You take people on quite a roller coaster ride of emotions, complete with perverse shifts from comedy to tragedy, sometimes in the course of a single sentence. Do feel “perverse” in your manipulation of your audience? Are you of a perverse nature?

When it’s good onstage, I’m heartbreakingly present. What I mean by that is these characters/family members break my heart open. When this is true, everything can happen.

How would you describe your audience? And, is it a different audience than that you had envisioned when you created your show?

My audiences run the gamut. We play for University Audiences, festivals, black box theaters. People who like literature, lyrically oriented music, and theater love our shows. This past year, I opened some for John Prine and Rodney Crowell. Their audiences were amazing. I was humbled by their willingness to go into this genre with me.

If, generally speaking, you are doing a “concept piece,” what are the walkaways? What does an audience come away with?

I’m not sure

I am always impressed by people whose talents include the wherewithal to conceive of something grand and see it to fruition. First off, do you feel you have achieved the vision you set out for your show? And if so, how do you account for your own success? Or do you have a grander vision yet?

Such good questions…the idea for this show came to me while driving cross country after my daughter was born. I wanted my children to have a bridge leading back to the people and places they came from.

Beyond being a person with academic credentials, how did you get into teaching? What classes are you teaching nowadays? Is it rewarding to you? Does your stage persona play any role in the lecture hall?

I absolutely love teaching. I got a Masters in Psychology back in the 90’s b/c I wanted to be a therapist. I worked as a therapist for a while and quickly got burnout. I then taught Psychology at a TSU. For the past couple of years I’ve taken off b/c of traveling to perform. I’ll go back to it here soon.

You are a mother, a performer, and a teacher. What aspects of your nature and being do you enjoy most about yourself? And what aspects aren’t quite so hot, in your eyes?

In third grade I wrote down that the thing I liked best about myself was "my muscles". Sadly, that would be a fruitless thing to enjoy at this point. Hmmm. I enjoy laughing probably more than anything else.

Not to sound like a cad, but you are joltingly beautiful at times, though you have a chameleon-like ability to don visages. You can look quite severe, even menacing. You can appear homey and sweet, and also a little crazy. One of these faces must be most naturally you? Which one?

Well thank you. I think that I shape-shift into my characters. If the char. is severe then so am I. Most like me: Vickie Pickles Momma

What kind of a girl were you? Were you popular, sought after? What kind of classmates were you attracted to?

I played basketball through college. So I was the girl in sweats riding my bike and shooting hoops. Best friends were genuine people who made me laugh.—still are.

What are your priorities now? Where do you want life to go?

Priorities: macro: See the War End, National Health Care coverage . Micro: my family, finish this novel I'm working on, learn Spanish, get more organized.

Are you, generally speaking, a music fan? Do you listen to music? If so, who and what? 

I am a huge music fan. Right now I love Mavis Staples, Rufus Wainwright, Ben Harper, Delbert McClinton--lots of singer/songwriters.

What is the best thing happening with Minton Sparks right now?

Let’s see…I’m going to be at the International Storytelling Festival for the first time in October. I’ll be at the Southern Women’s Writer’s conference in September. Going on tour with Rodney Crowell, Elizabeth Cook, and Will Kimbrough this Fall.

What is the one thing that concerns you most right now?

I stay so concerned over so many issues that I don't sleep much.

I saw the movie, "Sicko" last night---I’m sick over all the people who don’t have Health Care or who have insurance and they get denied.


Learn more about Minton Sparks by visiting her website at





©Rick Alan Rice (RAR), May, 2012