Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Spade Cooley and his Western Dance Band “Take Me Back To Tulsa”

Spade Cooley’s publicists dubbed him “The King of Western Swing,” and in some ways this was true. The Cooley band was immensely popular, holding the attendance record at the Aragon Ballroom on the Lick Pier in Santa Monica. The band recorded regularly, and they were in great demand by dancers. Cooley was a favorite on early Los Angeles television, with a weekly program that was first broadcast in 1949. Some would argue that Bob Wills was superior in style, with a looser feel and less “citified” approach to the music. Ultimately, the titles created by publicity agents do not matter at all. It’s all great music!

Cooley was active in country music and Western Swing from the late 1930s. The later part of his life was truly tragic, however. Suspecting his wife of being unfaithful …. something he had been guilty of throughout their marriage …. Cooley killed her in a brutal rage. Sentenced to prison, he was granted a 72 hour parole in 1969 to play a Deputy Sheriff’s Association benefit. He received a standing ovation after the first half of the concert, then suffered a heart attack and died during intermission.

All of this was in the distant future when Spade Cooley and his Western Dance Gang appeared in this 1946 SOUNDIE, covering Bob Wills’ hit TAKE ME BACK TO TULSA. The band swings mightily, with Spade and Tex Williams taking the vocal. Soloists include Tiny Hunt, fiddle; Pedro DePaul, accordion; Johnny Weiss, guitar; Joachin Murphey, steel guitar; and Robert Morrison, drums.

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