We’ve spoken about Spade Cooley in the past, a vile and abusive and misogynistic man who eventually went to prison for the murder of his wife. Today we’ll focus more on the music and Cooley’s sidemen.
From the rather free-wheeling “hillbilly music” of the Lightcrust Doughboys, Milton Brown and his Brownies, and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, there developed a highly disciplined and altogether swinging music eventually dubbed “Western Swing.” While the music had developed in the Southwest, including Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, by the mid 1940s the best of the musicians had relocated to the West Coast. Spade Cooley was one of them, and by the middle of the decade his Western Dance Gang was one of the most popular in the business. Despite, or perhaps because of, Cooley controlling personality, his band was able to play a wide variety of styles required by dancers who attended his appearances in droves. Up-tempo jazz, jaunty dance tunes, ballads, novelty pieces, cowboy tunes – all were part of the band’s repertoire.
Jazz rhythms and solo work were a focus of the music, and they are evident in Cooley’s Soundies. The popularity of a 1944 session – we shared My Wubba Dolly a while back – led to another series that was produced a little more thana year later. While the personnel had undergone some changes, the core musicians were still in place. While Tex Williams sang most of the romantic pieces, Smokey Rogers handled the novelties, as in My Chickashay Gal, which we feature here. The star soloist, beside Cooley, was Earl “Joachin” Murphey, a steel guitarist with technique and imagination, who alternated between sinuous single note lines and full-bodies chordal passages. Johnny Weis played single note guitar solos, and he had clearly listened to Charlie Christian. George Bamby was featured on accordion and had mastered the ability to make that instrument swing.
My Chickashay Gal was written by Cooley and vocalist Smokey Rogers. Until recently most of the copies of the film that I was able to locate were worn and splicy, a testament to the popularity of the Soundie. Finally, a good print is on hand and I am happy to share with the group.