Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hawkshaw Hawkins/Cowboy Copas Final Opry Shows

It was 52 years ago today, Saturday March 2, 1963 that Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas appeared on the Grand Ole Opry for the final time. Three days later, on Tuesday March 5, they, along with Patsy Cline and Randy Hughes, would pass away as the result of a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee. They were returning from a benefit show in Kansas City.

Loyd Estel "Cowboy" Copas was born in Blue Creek, Ohio on July 15, 1913. He possessed a strong tenor voice, distinctive phrasing, and flat-top guitar picking that gave his recordings a unique sound in an era dominated by instantly identifiable performers. He was one of six children and began performing at fairs and talent contests with his brother, Marion, when both were teenagers. He was still a teenager when he teamed with local fiddler Lester Vernon Storer, known professionally as Natchee the Indian, and acquired the alternative stage name Cowboy. His brother would later say that Copas was advised by a college professor to say he was born on a ranch in Oklahoma, a locale deemed more colorful than the family corn and tobacco farm in Blue Creek. He never professed to be a cowboy singer, however, and recorded virtually nothing with a western motif. 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.

In the early 1940s, he worked at WLW in Cincinnati and became affiliated with King Records. He made his first record for the label, "Filipino Baby" during his first sessions for the label in 1944. When it finally was released nearly two years later, in the summer of 1946, it became a #4 hit that propelled Cowboy to the Grand Ole Opry. In 1946 he joined Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys as a guitarist and featured vocalist. Among his hits were "Tragic Romance," "Signed, Sealed and Delivered," "Tennessee Waltz," "Kentucky Waltz," "Breeze," "The Strange Little Girl" and "Copy Cat," a duet with his daughter Kathy. His career suffered during the rock revolution in the 1950s, however he enjoyed a comeback after signing with Starday in 1959. He made the album "Unforgettable" which  featured the 1960 #1 hit "Alabam." He continued on the charts until his death with his final single being "Goodbye Kisses."

Harold Franklin "Hawkshaw" Hawkins was born in Huntington, West Virginia on December 22, 1921. As a teenager, he participated in local talent contests and performed on local radio. During World War II, he was stationed in the Philippines and even performed on a Manila radio station. After returning home, he joined the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, where he remained until 1954. During that time, he also had a CBS radio program. He developed a large following due not only to recordings featuring his rich, smooth, honky-tonk vocals, but also to his showmanship. Especially popular were his colorful summer shows, which included trained horse acts and rope and Australian bullwhip tricks.

His first recording successes were "Pan American" and "Doghouse Boggie" in 1948. Those two were followed by "I Wasted a Nickle," "I Love You a Thousand Ways," and "I'm Waiting Just for You." The latter two both reached the Top 10. In 1955 he joined the Grand Ole Opry, but it would be four more years until he had his next chart success with "Soldier's Joy" which reached #15 on the Billboard Charts. On November 26, 1960 he married Jean Shepard. The ceremony was conducted on an auditorium stage in Wichita, Kansas. Late in 1962, he recorded a Justin Tubb song, "Lonesome 7-7203" which would be his biggest hit. However, he died before it would reach #1 on the charts.

To remember Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, here is the running order of the Grand Ole Opry, Saturday March 2, 1963:

7:30: Kellogg's
George Morgan (host): Little Dutch Girl
Carter Family: Fourteen Caret Nothing
Jimmy Newman: Bayou Talk
Willis Brothers: Eat A Little More
Harold Morrison: Pretty Little Pink
June Carter: (?)
Jimmy Newman: A Fallen Star
George Morgan: Down Memory Lane

8:00: Martha White
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper (host): Come Walk With Me
Billy Walker: I've Got A New Heartache
Wilburn Brothers: Roll Muddy River
Stringbean: Pretty Little Widow
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: There's A Higher Power
Del Wood: Are You From Dixie
Margie Bowes: Think It Over
Crook Brothers: Black Mountain Rag
Wilburn Brothers: Trouble's Back In Town
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Philadelphia Lawyer

8:30: Stephens
Hawkshaw Hawkins (host): Darkness on the Face of the Earth
Lonzo & Oscar: There's A Hole In the Bottom of the Sea
Bobby Lord: Out Behind the Barn
Archie Campbell: Comedy
Hawkshaw Hawkins: I Don't Apologize
Glaser Brothers: Lover's Farewell
Curly Fox: (?)
Hawkshaw Hawkins: Silver Threads and Golden Needles

9:00: Jefferson Island Salt
Cowboy Copas (host): You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry
Bill Monroe: (?)
Roy Drusky: Second Hand Rose
Minnie Pearl: Comedy
Cowboy Copas: Alabam
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Bill Cheatham
Bill Carlisle: Shutter and Boards
Bill Monroe: (?)
Cowboy Copas: The Man Upstairs

9:30: Pet Milk
Roy Acuff (host): Plastic Heart
Jordanaires: (?)
Marion Worth: Shake Me; I Rattle

Cousin Jody: Lady Cop
Roy Acuff: The Wreck on the Highway
Oswald: Roll On, Buddy, Roll On
Justin Tubb: (?)
Jimmy Riddle: Fox Chase
Roy Acuff: I'll Fly Away

10:00: Gates Rubber
George Morgan (host): Roly Poly
Curly Fox: (?)
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Satisfied
Del Wood: Bill Bailey
George Morgan: Who's Jealous Now

10:15: Luzianne
Wilburn Brothers (host): Day After Day
Bill Carlisle: Leave that Liar Alone
Margie Bowes: Within Your Crowd
Harold Morrison: The Cat Came Back
Wilburn Brothers: Not That I Care

10:30: Harvey's
Jimmy Newman (host): (?)
Carter Family: (?)
Billy Walker: Thank You For Calling
Jimmy Newman: (?)

10:45: Ford
Hawkshaw Hawkins (host): Big Old Heartache
Willis Brothers: I Still Do
Stringbean: There'll Be Moonshine In Them Old Kentucky Hills
Crook Brothers: Sally Goodin
Hawkshaw Hawkins: Lonesome 7-7203

11:00: Coca-Cola
Roy Acuff (host): Little Pal
Jordanaires: (?)
Marion Worth: Tennessee Teardrops
Lonzo & Oscar: I'm My Own Grandpa
Roy Acuff & Oswald: Stuck Up Blues
Sam & Kirk McGee: While I'm Away
Justin Tubb: (?)
Oswald: John Hardy
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Nubbin Ridge
Roy Acuff: Shake My Mother's Hand For Me

11:30: SSS Tonic
Cowboy Copas (host): Down In Nashville Tennessee
Bill Monroe (host):
Roy Drusky: It Worries Me
Cousin Jody: Mockingbird
Archie Campbell: A Fool's Side of Town
Glaser Brothers: Odds and Ends
Bobby Lord: So Doggone Lonesome
Bill Monroe: (?)
Cowboy Copas: Flat Top

For those interested where Patsy Cline was that Saturday night, she was in Birmingham, Alabama on a package show with Flatt & Scruggs, Tex Ritter and Charlie Rich. Her final Opry show was the previous Saturday night.

Many people just think of Cowboy and Hawkshaw as two of the other passengers on the plane which Patsy Cline was riding in. So many don't realize what great careers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins had in country music. While Cowboy's career was mostly behind him, Hawkshaw had a bright future. The argument can be made that they both belong in the Country Music Hall of Fame, yet continue to be overlooked by the voters. Much like Patsy Cline, country music suffered a tragedy when Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins passed away on that March day. While many might forget, we choose to remember.


  1. I cannot see a Hall Of Fame career out of Hawkshaw, but I agree he was a great talent and should never be forgotten. Cowboy Copas should be a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was a Opry front liner for several years and a solid journeyman of the genre from the 1940's till his death. And to me it is almost unbelievable that he was not elected along with some of his peers in the mid to late 1970's /early 1980's; Pee Wee King, Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, Jimmy Dickens, Floyd Tillman..etc. If the electors of that time period could not get the job done, in the present days of the Hank, Jr's, Crystal Gayle's, even down to the Brooks & Dunn's and Alan Jackson's going into the Hall in the near future, I'd say sadly, Copas' chances are slim to virtually none.

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  3. Fred, Bismarck:

    I'll never forget that fatal night. I always listened to "Opry Star Spotlight," Ralph Emery's all-night show, after I went to bed, and on this night the announcement of the missing plane came in before I could fall asleep.

    Needless to say, I didn't get much rest that night, drifting in and out of sleep, the whole thing assuming the quality of a dream. Finally -- towards morning, as I recall -- the worst was confirmed.

    Cope and Hawkshaw were splendid talents, and I keep them dusted off in my own collection. Was lucky enough to see Cope live once, right as he was enjoying his career resurgence with "Alabam"; Hawkshaw never, unfortunately.

    Cope and Starday owed Ralph Emery bigtime for "Alabam." Starday had released another single from the new album, but Emery kept playing and plugging "Alabam" and nagging Cope personally, on-air -- on one of those late-night artist sit-ins I heard -- to for gosh sake get it out as a single.

    Cope and Starday were wise enough to listen, and the rest is history. Only the No. 1 song of the year, I believe.

  4. If I read correct, only two if the Glasers are all that are still alive from that line up. Amazing when you stop & think about that.

  5. Almost. Margie Bowes is still alive and living in the Nashville area. Also, I would have to check the line-up of the Jordanaires at that time, but it is possible that someone from that group is still alive.

  6. The Jordanaires at that time would have been Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker, Hoyt Hawkins and Neal Matthews, Jr. Walker is the only one alive. These are the four that are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ray Walker replaced Hugh Jarrett as bass singer in 1958. And there was some controversy that Jarrett should have been included in the Hall of Fame induction and his image on the bronze plaque as well (much like the Lew DeWitt/Jimmy Fortune example with the Statler Brothers). Jarrett was indeed a part of the group that first started doing records with Elvis and many Nashville stars. So I can see the point for those who wanted him included.
    Which brings up this question: When the Oak Ridge Boys are inducted will the late Steve Sanders be included in the induction? He did help in the continuation of the success of the group after Bill Golden left in the Mid 1980's.
    On the Statler Brothers I can see where DeWitt and Fourtune were both included. It was almost as if the Statlers had a 2nd phase of their career after he joined. In fact, I believe the 2nd phase was properly more Hall of Fame worthy than the 1st half.

  7. When the Oak Ridge Boys are inducted, there are a lot of people whose names could be on the plaque, as the group began back in 1947, long before they had the lineup that made all the hits. Even though Steve Sanders was briefly in the group, the plaque will only have the names & likenesses of Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, and William Lee Golden, the people who made the group famous.