Friday, April 13, 2007

Park Mysteries, #1

Oddities & Other Unexplainables

When I was young and in my prime
I thought I never would marry
But I fell in love with a pretty lil' gal
An' sure enough we married! ('Atta boy, Zeke!)
Ring-a-ding-ding Mary
Purtiest gal I ever did see
Her name was Devilish Mary (What a gal!)
Hadn't been married but about two weeks
She got as mean as a devil
And ev'ry time I looked cross-eyed
She hit me on the head with a shovel! (How sad!)
Ring-a-ding-ding Mary
Purtiest gal I ever did see
Her name was Devilish Mary (What a pity!)
Her name was Devilish Mary! Ye-haw!

The above song, written by songwriter Bradley Kincaid and performed by robotic bear Zeke in Walt Disney World's Country Bear Jamboree, has been performed nearly every day for over 35 years now. But something has changed, which would be the recording itself. For the first four years of the Magic Kingdom's operation, guests were treated to a recording by master voice actor Dallas McKennon as Zeke. This is most emphatically not the recording heard today.

According to the Disney Archives, and since they were in operation at this time there's no reason to dispute this, the recording was changed in 1975 for reasons unknown to a lesser version sung by Randy Sparks.

Devilish Mary - perf. Dallas McKennon, 1971 (MP3 format)
Devilish Mary - perf. Randy Sparks, 1975 (MP3 format)

The difference hardly needs comment. What Disney was after here is honestly beyond me, as the McKennon version is infinitely funnier, more nuanced, and importantly not annoying. The voice doesn't seem appropriate either: Zeke is a graying, bespectacled old-timer character who would probably not be especially interested in barking out a song like he's trying to get you to wake up.

Sparks' version loses a lot of steam at the very end: the song comes at the crucial moment in the attraction where things are starting to speed up, McKennon's "Yea-Haw!" just moments before the baby bear's concluding honk-honk has the telltale fingerprints of Davis, Bertino and Bruns' crackerjack timing.

The timing of this change is strange also: in 1975, Disney wasn't preparing to do anything in particular with the Bear Band show; as the opening of the Disneyland version was in the past by three years and the Tokyo version at least seven years away. Although the Disneyland version did have some significant revisions to character branding, appearance and animation, three years later does not seem an opportune time to do anything to the popular revue show. There exists some evidence that Marc Davis did do some further work on the attraction at some point, weather this be in 1975 or not is questionable.

One night I left the wife at home and went out with the boys
I was acting like a Don Juan and makin' a lot of noise (Tell 'em, lover boy!)
A go-go girl caught my hand
I said I can't, I'm a married man!
She said if you ain't gonna steal ya better not prowl (He's a born loser!)
Don't doe-see-doe with the go-go
If ya can't bite, don't growl!
If ya can't bite, don't growl!

If Ya Can't Bite, Don't Growl - perf. Van Stoneman, 1971 (MP3 format)
If Ya Can't Bite, Don't Growl - perf. Randy Sparks, 1975 (MP3 format)

Fiddler Ernest's version of Tommy Collins' 1965 song was also re-recorded to significantly less detrimental effect by Sparks at the same time. The new version has a much more exciting opening more in line with Ernest's character, although the Van Stoneman version can boast a much more charming and interesting delivery. In this case, what the purpose of the re-recording is actually clear: Sparks books through the song with significantly more zest than Stoneman.

Call me a complainer, but I think that at least the McKennon version should be restored to the show. Anybody know why it was removed to begin with?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Disney was trying to make a "sweet deal" with Sparks; "sure, you can do a few voices in the Bear Band Show." Did he have any other Disney involvement?

FoxxFur said...

Not as far as I've been able to find...

The Maggot Prince said...

So far as i can tell, it seems like the changes may have been made for purely aesthetic reasons. Not insomuch as the voice used, but in the timing. In the original recording the singing is slightly off time and makes the acoustics of it kind of jangling in places, whereas in the second, the timing is spot on...noteably in the "Ring-a-Ding-Ding-Ding" section. It may have been a choice of neccesity when polishing the track to re-record it.

Just my two cents.

GoofyDude said...

One thing I noticed is a slight change in the lyrics in the first song you presented. He no longer gets hit in the head... maybe it was a change to a less violent Devilish Mary?

Bryan said...

I've been following your blog for years, and suddenly felt compelled to share a tale. Long before your more recent posts on the Bear's music I had spent a good year or two hunting and picking on the internet (back in the days before you could just search for music on Youtube) trying to acquire the original pieces of music used in the Country Bear Jamboree. Unfortunately I lost some of the LPs and singles in a move a few years back, but luckily converted them to digital. Could you imagine some kid's surprise when he went home in the mid 70's and put on his pop's records only to hear his favorite Country Bear song? Anyways...

Just to help shed some light on the whole Randy Sparks question, though it just adds to the confusion. Mr. Sparks was, as many know, a co-founder and member of the band The New Christy Minstrels.

I began the hunt for this answer in the mid 2000's and eventually was put in contact with Mr Sparks, whom I believe is still alive today. This was that Randy Sparks' reply to his involvement in the Bear Band project:

Wrong person. I did a lot of work at Disney Studio, I'm sorry to say, but
had nothing to do with these titles or that program.

I'm aware that there was another performer using the name Randy Sparks at
about this time. I found out the hard way. I was in Indianapolis working
with Shirley Jones, when a local cop pulled me off the stage during a live
performance, accusing me of failing to pay a rent-a-cop (security guard)
for a previous concert in Greenville, Indiana. My defense was that I had
never knowingly been in Greenville, IN, and that I was Randy Sparks the
pop-folksinger, not Randy Sparks the country singer. I went after the
deadbeat Randy Sparks through the Musicians' Union, and he was compelled
to change his name. As I understand it, he became Randy Joe Sparks.

Good luck with your quest.
Cheers! RS

So either he doesn't remember recording two numbers that would have been more than likely inconsequential to his career, they didn't tell him the project, or it was in fact another Randy Sparks. My search came to a dead end.

And, for what it's worth, I actually like the Sparks versions of both songs. I think his Devilish Mary is more on the line of a crazy, wide-eyed moonshinin' backwoods bear, which is what I always associated the 'Rugs to be.

FoxxFur said...


Veeeeeeery interesting. The name "Randy Sparks" is attached to CBJ only because that's what the Archives has, but nobody is truly sure if they're correct or not. Thanks for the update.