Born Lloyd Estel Copas, 15 July 1913, Blue Creek, Adams County, Ohio
Died 5 March 1963, near Camden, Tennessee

Country singer Cowboy Copas enjoyed two spells of chart hits a decade apart, before being tragically killed in the same plane crash as Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Copas's son-in-law Randy Hughes who was piloting the private plane. In spite of his alliterative stage name Cowboy, Copas never professed to be a cowboy singer. His overall style might be described as occupying a middle ground between honky-tonk and the crossover approach of smooth vocalists such as Eddy Arnold and George Morgan.

Copas has claimed that he was born and raised on a ranch in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but in reality he was born between Blue Creek and Lynx in Adams County, Ohio, in 1913. His parents were both musicians who played at local square dances. By age fourteen Copas was adept on the fiddle, but his principal instrument was the guitar. He began performing at fairs and talent contests with his brother, Marion, when both were teenagers. In 1929, Lloyd Copas teamed up with local fiddler Lester Storer, known professionally as Natchee the Indian, and worked with him until 1938. By then he had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked on radio shows at WLW and WKRC. In 1940 Copas headed the Gold Star Rangers, working out of WNOX, Knoxville, but in 1942 he was back in Cincinnati, where he joined the roster of WLW's Boone County Jamboree. Two years later he signed with Syd Nathan's fledgling King label. Eight songs were cut at the first session in 1944, including his first release,"Filipino Baby", but the pressing quality was so poor that Syd Nathan decided to build his own manufacturing plant. "Filipino Baby" and a few other songs were recut in 1945 and that version (King 505) became the first hit for Copas, peaking at # 4 on the country charts in 1946. That same year he worked briefly with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys (replacing Eddy Arnold as their vocalist), who performed at the Gran Ole Opry. But by then Copas's status as a recording artist was already established and he didn't really need the group for a prolonged stay at the Opry.

The years 1948 and 1949 were very successful for Copas, with seven Top 15 hits on the country charts, among which "Signed Sealed And Delivered" (#2), "Tennessee Waltz" (# 3), "Tennessee Moon" (# 7) and "Candy Kisses" (# 5). But after "'Tis Sweet To Be Remembered" peaked at # 8 in 1952, he failed to have a hit for the next eight years. King Records, which earlier revitalized the market for southeastern honky-tonk country, lost much of its momentum as the 1950s unfolded.

Copas kept recording for King Records until July 1955. During his decade with the company, he had some 75 (!) singles released. After two years without a label, Copas signed with Dot Records, where Mac Wiseman became his producer. His second Dot session, on March 11, 1958, was an attempt at straight-ahead rock n roll. "Circle Rock", written by Herb Alpert and Lou Adler, must rank as one of the wildest rockers by a country artist. The record, though commercially unsuccessful, has gained cult status among R&R fans. Pianist Hargus 'Pig' Robbins really goes to town on this one and the drummer, probably Buddy Harman, works up a sweat as well. The flip, "(Won't You Ride In) My Little Red Wagon" isn't bad either. The singer was billed as Lloyd Copas, to avoid conflicts with his established audience.

His career enjoyed a renaissance after signing with Don Pierce's Starday label in 1959. The first Starday single, "Black Cloud Risin'", brought him back in the country Top 50, but it was his third single for the label that changed Copas's fortunes for good. "Alabam" spent no less than twelve weeks at the top of the country charts in 1960 and also crossed over to the pop charts (# 63). Thereafter, Copas was consistently on the charts and recorded prolifically, becoming Starday's flagship artist. Then fate took a cruel turn. On March 3, 1963, Copas, Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins performed at a benefit concert in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey Cactus Jack Call, who had died the previous January in a car accident. On March 5 they left for Nashville in a Piper Comanche, piloted by Randy Hughes, Cline's manager / guitarist and the husband of Copas's daughter Kathy. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the craft took off at 6:07 p.m. CT. The plane flew into severe weather and crashed at 6:20 p.m. in a forest near Camden, Tennessee, 90 miles from the destination. There were no survivors. The final Copas single, with the prophetic title "Goodbye Kisses", was a posthumous hit (# 12).

Most of the King recordings sound outdated now, but the later Dot and Starday material has stood the test of time a lot better.

More info :

Recommended CD : Cowboy Copas, Settin' Flat On Ready (Bear Family BCD 16990). In Bear Family's "Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight" series. Released 2008. 34 tracks, 18 from the King period and 16 from Dot and Starday.

Acknowledgements :
- Dave Samuelson, Liner notes for the Bear Family CD.
- Jonathan Guyot Smith, Cowboy Copas entry in The encyclopedia of country music (Oxford University Press, 1998), page 111.

Discography :

YouTube :
- Circle Rock :
- Alabam :
or (live) :
- My Little Red Wagon :
- Flat Top :
- South Pacific Shore :
(First part by Patsy Cline ; Copas starts at 3:53)


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