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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

SPADE!

 

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.

The Western Dance Gang

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.

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