The Spade Cooley story is just as amazing
as his music, only not quite as peppy. It's really odd that Hollywood
hasn't made a film about him. Cooley was born in Oklahoma and came
to California as a youngster. He was a classically trained violinist,
but as his recordings attest, he was a fiddler first and foremost.
He had stars in his eyes and headed for Hollywood, where he acted
bit parts in some negligible Westerns, but his early claim to fame
was as Roy Rogers stand-in. Cooley was a less-attractive version
of Trigger's pal, a fact that would comeback to haunt him later.
But Cooley's real success came as the bandleader at the Venice Pier
Ballroom in Santa Monica. His Oakie aesthetic, sophisticated sounds
and winning vocals by Tex Williams assured his place in history.
But Williams left to pursue a solo career, after their big hit Shame
On You, and record sales weren't quite what they were. As the
1940s ended, Western Swing in general wasn't quite as exciting as
it was just a few years earlier.
Cooley was an early adaptor to television
and managed to squeeze a few more years out of his career. Seeing
the signs that his star had faded, along with the public's taste,
he pursued a career in real estate and development, a failed water
park in Mojave being the vortex of his problems. It seems Cooley
hit the bottle heavily and one night in a drunken rage murdered
his ex-wife, Ella Mae, and made their 14-year old daughter watch.
He was sure Ella Mae was having an affaire with his old boss, Roy
Rogers. A sensational trial followed with dramatic and horrifying
testimony supplied by his daughter and more drama supplied by Spade
himself: he had a heart attack in the middle of the trial. The jury
still found him guilty and Cooley resigned himself to serving a
life sentence for the murder of his ex-wife. His years in prison
earned him a reputation as a model prisoner and in fact, he was
up for parole. In 1969, he was allowed to perform at a benefit concert,
which he did, and then proceded to have another heart attack in
his dressing room and die.