Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Spade Cooley

If you don't know who Spade Cooley is now, you'll certainly find out later. Dennis Quaid is supposed to be directing and starring in a movie about his life, and it should be out next year, probably later than originally expected now that Katie Holmes had to drop out of the project to carry Tom Cruise's demon seed. Quaid also wrote the screenplay, which means he must be even more fascinated about the man than I am. While I'm sure he'll do a good job, it's pretty obvious that Billy Zane looks a lot more like Spade than he does. But I am of the opinion that if you were to give Billy Zane a fiddle, the sky would blacken and the earth's crust would split open, and gigantic red bats would consume or carry off every living thing with four or less legs. No, really.

When I took it upon myself to learn about old country music some years back, Spade was one of the first artists to really grab my ear. He helped make Western Swing one of the most popular styles of music in the 40's and his life really does make for a great script. He was a true Hollywood success story, starting out as an extra in Roy Rogers films, getting discovered as a fiddler and taking over his own band, engaging in a battle of the bands for Western Swing supremacy, hosting his own TV program, and also managing to do some really bad things, like stomping his wife to death in front of their young daughter. Really, if you read a synopsis of this guy's life, you'll wonder how they've gone this long without making a movie about him. I mean, it at least should have been in line ahead of Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.

My favorite stuff is the from the mid-40's when vocalist Tex Williams' friendly how-d'ya-do baritone fronted the band. I should caution that if you want to start checking out his catalog, and I highly recommend that you do, you need to watch out what you buy. There's actually quite a bit out there, and a lot of it wouldn't be an ideal starting point. UK's Proper (I love Proper) put out a 2-CD set called Swingin' The Devil's Dream that covers a lot of ground, and is the best bang for your buck, and has Proper's usual great liner notes. Spadella! is the best sounding compilation, and has his biggest hits on it. After that, it's a mixed bag. A lot of CD's that appear to be compilations are actually live radio shows. I love these, but unless you are already a Spade freak, they are far from essential. There are also compilations of his later stuff, when western swing's popularity had waned and he was moving in a big band direction. I don't recommend these unless you've already scooped up all the older stuff and want more. His final album, Fidoodlin', is worth picking up, but I'd suggest looking around for an old vinyl copy before picking up the CD reissue. I often see it around for under $7.

I also recommend getting some Tex Williams and his Western Caravan, since Tex took a lot of Spade's Orchestra with him when he left in 1947. Finally, there's a Proper box set called "Doughboys, Playboys and Cowboys" that's a pretty amazing documentation of western swing. You get 100 songs, which is as much western swing as most people ever need, and it's usually under $25. Plus, you get the song "Pussy Pussy Pussy" by the Light Crust Doughboys, something you know you want to put on your next mix CD.

Hear Spade and Tex perform their big hit Detour .



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