// by Larry Delaney //
(#77 in the Ontario Country Music Pioneers Series)
The early formative years of the Canadian Country Music “industry” were built around the dreams and hard work of a few dedicated individuals – RON SPARLING was at the forefront of that movement. Ron was a musician, a manager, an advisor, a leader, a mentor… and much more.
Born May 12, 1940, in Ottawa, Ron Sparling spent his early years in Campbells Bay, Quebec. As a youngster, he was intrigued by the glamour of small town fairs and festivals. At age 17, he became a drummer for the Ottawa Valley group The Blue Mountain Boys, and soon after, he played drums for Hank Rivers – at the time, one of Canada’s top touring and recording acts.
In 1961, Ron became a member of the group, Joe Brown & The Happy Wanderers (the Ottawa Valley’s premiere country act) with group members Joe Brown, Ward Allen, Bob King, Ken Davidson and Vince Lebeau. The group was featured on a daily noon-hour radio show on CFRA and the weekly Shoregas Barn Dance show on CJOH-TV, heard and seen throughout Eastern Ontario.
When The Happy Wanderers group disbanded in 1967, Joe Brown and Ron Sparling formed “Family Brown”, an act headlined by “Papa” Joe Brown and his children: Barry, Lawanda and Tracey Brown. The act was also initially supported by musicians Dave Dennison (guitar) and Bob Wingrove (steel guitar) and later with Gary “Spike” Spicer.
Family Brown began playing Ottawa Valley fairs and festivals in 1968, at which time Ron Sparling donned his “managerial” hat, scoring a TV show deal – at first with CHOV-TV in Pembroke. By 1972, the group was signed by CJOH-TV in Ottawa, where they hosted a series of TV shows – initially under the name “Call It Country”, then “Country Way” and eventually “Family Brown Country” – enjoying a 13-year run, with the show syndicated across Canada.
During the early 1970s, Sparling was also successful in securing a major label record deal for Family Brown with MCA Canada and soon afterwards, a long-standing run with RCA Canada, releasing a dozen albums and 50 nationally charted singles. Family Brown also earned numerous Group Of The Year awards. The group was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame (1997) and the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall Of Fame (1991). All of this success came under the managerial leadership of Ron Sparling.
In 1971, at the start of the Family Brown legacy, Ron, with his wife, the late Laurie Sparling, formed the Laurie-Ann Entertainment Agency, handling show bookings for the group and for many of the Ottawa Valley’s top touring acts of the day. The Laurie-Ann Entertainment agency also became heavily involved in booking entertainment for local fairs, festivals and special events; most notably, the long-running Wayne Rostad Gatineau Clog and the equally popular Ompah Stomp. The agency also brought in major acts (Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn and many more) to stages in communities throughout Ontario.
In other ventures, Ron Sparling also partnered in establishing the Snocan Recording Studio and Snocan Records label, home to many of Canada’s top country recording artists. He also opened two, short-lived Family Brown Record Stores; and, he also bought into the Kemptville Hotel, a popular venue, featuring acts booked by his agency.
There was also a brief return to the TV world in the early 1990s, as Executive Producer of the country shows “Spirit Of The Country” and “Ronnie ‘n The Browns” – a syndicated show with Ronnie Prophet.
Sparling, as Chairman of the Host Committee, was also instrumental in bringing the CCMA’s Country Music Week events to the nation’s capitol; first, in 1977 and later, in 1981 and 1989.
Ron Sparling’s 60-plus years in various capacities in country music have earned him numerous accolades. Aside from his name being attached to countless awards by Family Brown, Ron himself has been named Manager Of the Year (1982-1984), a six-time recipient of Booking Agent of Year during the 1980s, inducted into both the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall Of Fame (as a “Builder” in 1989 and with Family Brown in 1991) and the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame, both as an industry “Builder” in 1990, and as a member of Family Brown in 1997.