Last night, for the third time in eight days, I did not play Spade Cooley on CKCU 93.1 FM.
Admittedly, I did not have a choice this time: after filling in for Joe Reilly five consecutive Monday evenings, I was relieved of my temporary duties by one Joe Reilly. Which is fair enough. (And did I not mention I’d be doing those shows on the Mighty 93? I meant to… about six weeks ago.) Or, rather, by Dave Alburger, on behalf of Joe. Close enough.
Last Wednesday, I presented a profile of the OKeh Records label on Roots and Rhythms. Spade Cooley recorded for said label, and was in the running until I opted to limit the hour-long profile to OKeh’s first incarnation, which called it a day in 1935. Cooley’s recordings were released a decade later.
The man’s music would have fit in perfectly, however, during a hillbilly and western swing set I played July 28. Great, spirited toe-tappers like Shame On You would appear to have been just the ticket. And I did consider bringing one of my Spade Cooley seven-inch square-dance singles to liven things up.
Yep, it’s always a party when Spade Cooley is around. Except, you do not want to invite Spade Cooley to your party. Ever.
Spade Cooley’s name was once dropped in the sort of reverential tones reserved for western swing king Bob Wills. Cooley was very much Wills’s rival, and in some ways his better as a bandleader, composer and arranger. His finest recordings are arguably essential listening for anyone wishing to delve into country music’s golden age. The self-proclaimed “King of Western Swing” was a seminal figure in the music’s development, and appeared in nearly 40 western movies.
Yet, I say Cooley’s music is “arguably” essential because, well, Donnell Clyde Cooley was also, as it turned out, a violent man whose intense jealousy drove him to murder his wife, in front of their 14-year-old daughter. According to legend, Cooley calmly told his little girl, “You’re going to watch me kill her,” before stomping the poor woman to death — possibly singing his anthem Shame On You to himself.
Hence, Spade Cooley’s is a name you don’t much hear anymore. And I’m OK with that.
The music still holds up; the man’s reputation, not so much. Each of these realities is unlikely to change.
It’s something that crossed my mind while standing at a urinal (which, as you may know, is where men do most of their thinking) shortly before Monday’s show. Above it, at eye level, was one of a series of posters aimed at university students of the male variety, encouraging them to not be assholes. Or, at least, to treat women with respect.
(The ads have apparently been on campuses nationwide since 2012 and range from the old school [a teacher paying too much attention to a student] to the new [circulating compromising photos online].)
“Your favourite singer assaulted his girlfriend,” the message read. “Do you download his latest single?”
Woah! Let me think about that one.
I mean, for one thing, I haven’t downloaded any of Chris Brown’s previous singles. Besides, if I were to expunge from my collection every record by a musician with a history of physical or psychological abuse…
Oh, I get it.
Still, for a moment, I dismissed the question as a misleading and unfair indictment of an artist’s music based on his personal life. Surely, the two are best kept separate. Right?
Well, I had already ditched my Spade Cooley single before leaving home, so this isn’t a case of the poster having an immediate impact. And certainly, I am not the target audience for this message; though, I am in fact male. But in a world where so few ads make one think, full marks to this one.
Having said that, I do not plan to bring my Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, GnR, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett and Bob Dylan records to the nearest Sally Ann. Funny, really, ’cause that’s exactly what I did with my Burl Ives records when I learned that, while Pete Seeger was being cast to the sidelines during the McCarthy witch hunt, the voice of Sam the Snowman was an especially friendly witness.
Of course, it’s easier to part with a Burl Ives record than to discard a James Brown LP. I am aware of that; I’m not proud of it. If it helps, I did discard my Gary Glitter records some years back, and have no regrets over that decision. On the other hand, I notice Rick James is still here. I should probably do something about that.
So yes, after considering the message displayed before me, I felt more than a trifle guilty about some of the nefarious characters inhabiting my record collection. Not for the first time, but perhaps for the first time in a while. That, if nothing else, suggests the poster is doing its job. At least, to this viewer’s eyes.
Though, I’ll be honest, I have yet to decide the fate of my Spade Cooley records. I hope that does not make me part of the problem. I fear it does.