I’ve written before about listening to various Grand Ol’ Opry singers on my grandparents’ old Philco, but to be totally honest about it my memory of those days is a little fuzzy. I’m pretty sure I remember guys like Hank Williams and Hank Snow, but there are others that I probably became aware of later and then made the mental connection.
One of those was a guy who was a pretty big star for years, but ended up best known for his sad connection to the legendary country artist Patsy Cline. (Who has also been the subject of a previous post.) Cowboy Copas was a very successful country singer for years, but he had the bad luck to die in the same 1963 plane crash that claimed Patsy (and Hawkshaw Hawkins).
Lloyd Estel Copas was born in 1913 in that region of Ohio just North of the Kentucky border, an area that’s always been important in the roots of country music. As he grew to adulthood, he began performing locally and was as pure a honky-tonk singer as you’d ever want to hear, but he began building his name mostly via radio, moving from station to station and show to show before eventually making it to the Opry.
By the 1940’s he was well-established and began to record a string of hits, starting with “Filipino Baby”, followed by “Signed, Sealed and Delivered”, “Tennessee Moon”, and “Tennessee Waltz”. That success continued into the early 1950’s with solid successes on “Candy Kisses”, “Hangman’s Boogie”, and “The Strange Little Girl”, but by the time he recorded “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” in 1952 his star had begun to fade. It would be his last hit for a while.
He continued to perform on the radio – especially on the Opry – but went through a period of several years without a charted song. However, in 1960 he made a triumphant comeback with a song that would end up being his biggest hit yet — “Alabam”. It took over as number one on the country music charts and stayed there for over three months. Cowboy Copas was back in the saddle.
Over the next couple of years he enjoyed continued success with “Flat Top”, and a recreation of his earlier hit “Signed, Sealed and Delivered”, but his career came to a jarring end on that fateful night in 1963. Ironically it was his plane, piloted by his son-in-law, who also perished in the crash. Patsy and Hawkshaw had just hitched a ride.
Cowboy Copas – “Alabam”