Way down in the holler
Cowboy Copas began life as Lloyd Estel Copas on July 15, 1913. Though he performed under the name 'Cowboy', he hailed from the tiny village of Blue Creek, located in Adams County in southern Ohio.
Like many of his contemporaries, he was not overly enraptured with school. He was however a music enthusiast and fiddle and gifted guitar player, and at the young age of 14 he quit school to pursue a career in music, performing in several local string bands. On a dare he competed in a music contest and found himself performing on AM radio powerhouse WLW and later WKRC, both located in Cincinnati, Ohio.
An important aside
At that time, before the advent of TV and before the modern trend toward syndication, it was common for radio stations to produce their own programming. In the Ohio/Kentucky/West Virginia region, naturally enough, country music had a large audience. It was in these locally produced programs that many major entertainers got their first taste of playing for a mass audience. After achieving popularity on these programs it was a natural progression to signing a recording contract which in turn usually led to an even larger exposure. While many of these programs, particularly in smaller markets, were certainly somewhat 'homespun', they were an important venue for young as well as established talent. Today, with syndication and corporate ownership of radio/TV stations, there are simply less avenues for talent to gain a foothold. The trend is toward homogenization of the product where a successful artist fosters a horde of clones and 'wannabee' acts.
By 1940 Copas had moved along to WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee with his band, The Gold Star Rangers, for which he was the front man. It was there he caught the attention of Pee Wee King, a popular band leader and performer on the Grand Ole Opry. He was chosen to replace Eddy Arnold as vocalist for Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys. The band performed for WSM Nashville as well as with the Opry. Cowboy Copas had made the big time.
In 1946 Copas signed with King records and later that year released Filipino Baby which leapt to #4 in August of that same year. He followed up in 1948 with Signed, Sealed, and Delivered (at #2), Tennessee Waltz (#3), and Tennessee Moon (#7).
His career stayed on track until his last top 20 hit in 1952, 'Tis Sweet to be Remembered hit #8.
His career entered a quiet phase where he still made appearances on the Opry and performed at live shows, but the appearances were at smaller and smaller venues. His contract with the King label expired in 1955 and a short time with Dot Records failed to produce any hits for the artist.
It looked like another career had burned brightly for a time only to finally fade away when he signed with Starday Records in 1960.
Nashville was busy recreating itself, (as it constantly seems to do), in the wave of the 'Nashville Sound', which was sweeping the genre. Out of fashion were the steel guitars and fiddles, along with those twangy honky tonk tunes that had been the standard fare for so long. Starday bucked that trend, sticking with the more traditional sound, realizing that there was still a solid core of fans who hadn't changed their tastes.
Cowboy Copas jumped from the gate fast, recording Alabam, which held #1 for 3 months during late 1960. He showed he wasn't finished, recording Top Ten hit Flat Top in 1961. He hit pay dirt again with a remake of Signed, Sealed, and Delivered, an effort that again made the Top Ten list. His career was alive and in some respects even stronger than his first time around.
No good deed goes unpunished
Ironically, all he had accomplished to that time was eclipsed by his untimely end. It was on March 5, 1963 that he, along with his son-in-law (and Patsy Cline manager) Randy Hughes, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and country female superstar Patsy Cline went down in Hughes' Piper Comanche airplane in a wooded area near Camden, Tennessee. The group was returning to Nashville from a benefit concert in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey 'Cactus' Jack Call.
A biography of Cowboy Copas was written by fellow southern Ohio resident John Roger Simon. Simon, a professor of music at Shawnee State University, set about chronicling the life and career of Copas. The artist was an important part of the legacy of country music, a legacy which was being forgotten. Simon has written the only biography memorializing this man whose career was overshadowed by the circumstances of his death.
Cowboy Copas was age 50 at his death. Among his accomplishments were his talents as singer, songwriter, fiddler, and guitarist. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, Goodlettsville, Tennessee.