Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spade Cooley

While watching a “Honeymooners” re-run the other night, Norton mentioned a record by Spade Cooley. I knew the name but have to admit that I wasn’t all that familiar with his work. So, off to you tube I went. Man, was I surprised at the wealth of entertainment, as well as the actual story of Spade and what happened to this man who was at one time giving both Ed Sullivan and all the rest, quite a run for the money in the TV ratings.

Western Swing music has always held a fascination for me. The blending of big band instruments with traditional country music can produce some smooth music, ideal for dancing. Spade Cooley’s band was composed of Spade Cooley, real name Joaquin Murphey Donnell Clyde Cooley, on steel guitar; Tex Williams (no relation to Ted), on vocals; and the rest of the members on everything else.

Cooley was born in Oklahoma in 1910 and began studying classical violin and cello at age 4. By the time he was 8 years old he was performing in public. He eventually made it to Hollywood and served as a stand-in for Roy Rogers in many of his films. He also played with the legendary Riders of the Purple Sage in the late 1940’s, before forming his own band in 1941. Carolina Cotton joined the band as a fiddle player and yodeler a few years after.

His TV career began in 1948 with a show on KTLA which ran for 11 years, and even affected the ratings of other shows airing opposite his, including Ed Sullivan’s. The Spade Cooley Show ended in 1959, shortly after he was charged with the death of his wife, Ella Mae. They had been arguing since 1952, when she claimed to have an affair with Roy Rogers. That was never proven to be true.

By 1958 she apparently wanted a divorce so badly that she told him she was a member in a “sex club” as a way to get him to dissolve their marriage. Infuriated, he struck her in the chest with such force that he ruptured her aorta, causing her death. In 1961 he was sentenced to life for the crime. No proof of her claim of alleged infidelity has ever surfaced.

His trial was unusual in that he was so remorseful that he refused to even testify on his own behalf, accepting his life sentence without an appeal. In August of 1969 he was scheduled for release on parole in February of 1970. That same month he performed a concert for the Alameda County Sheriffs Association. 

In front of 3,000 lawmen he gave one of the finest performances of his career. After leaving the stage he collapsed and died, never living to be paroled. His body was returned to the prison, where it was cremated. Today he is interred at Chapel of the Chimes Cemetery in Hayward, California.

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