About seven miles from the western edge (West Rt. 125) of Shawnee State Forest is located the small community of Blue Creek. Back in 2000 to 2010 – I was Director of The Adams County Shelter on Blue Creek Road, next to the old Jefferson School. The shelter actually was part of buildings next to the school. As I got to know folks in Blue Creek, I would hear the name Lloyd Copas from time to time. Upon inquiring about who he was – I discovered he was the country singer “Cowboy Copas.” Eagerly I would talk to whoever knew anything about Copas. As it turned out everyone that I spoke to claimed to be connected to the Copas family. None the less – there was some good yarns told.
According to The Encyclopedia of Country Music (Oxford University Press, 1998) – Lloyd Estel Copas, was born on July 15th, 1913 at Blue Creek and consequently died March 5, 1963, near Camden, Ten.
“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. Copas claimed he was born and raised on a ranch in Muskogee, Ok, but in reality he was born between Blue Creek and Lynx in Adams County, Oh. His parents were both musicians who played at local square dances. By age 14 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, 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 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 Grand Ole Opry. But by then Copas’ 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). 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.”
“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’ daughter Kathy. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Ten., the craft took off at 6:07 p.m. The plane flew into severe weather and crashed at 6:20 p.m. in a forest near Camden, Ten., 90 miles from the destination. There were no survivors. The final Copas’ single, with the prophetic title “Goodbye Kisses”, was a posthumous hit (#12).” (Black Cat Rock-A-Billy.)
He was one of many entertainers who died in plane crashes during that period of music history. There’s a sign as you approach Blue Creek stating – “Home of Cowboy Copas.” If you’re ever over Blue Creek way, take a look around and think about the “Cowboy,” who once lived and entertained there.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org