I know it seems that I spent a lot of time here talking about old country music stars, but that's only because I do.
Today is March 5, 2014. On this date in 1963, three of the biggest stars of the genre - Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas - were returning to Nashville by airplane after performing in Kansas City.
Hawkshaw was a big guy, out of the hills of West Virginia, 6" 5" like all good hearted people are (!) and he was known as "Eleven Yards of Personality" on the Grand Ole Opry, where he came to fame singing his theme song "The Sunny Side of the Mountain, " and other hits such as "LOnesome 7-7203." He was married to fellow Opry star Jean Shepard, who was eight months pregnant with their second child at the time of the crash. Jean is still singing all these years later (hits such as "Seven Lonely Days Make One Lonely Me" and "At The Time."
Lloyd Estel "Cowboy" Copas, from Blue Creek, Ohio, was not only a fine singer but also a very talented guitarist, as you can see by watching him do his "Alabam" in this old clip. Or this version of "Roly Poly" from 1947...
Both country and pop fans were familiar with the songs of Patsy Cline. Hits such as "Crazy" (written by Willie Nelson), "She's Got You," "I Fall to Pieces," and "Sweet Dreams" are standards by any measure, still played on jukeboxes, radios and old record players all over. Patsy's sound was instrumental in popularizing the new Nashville Sound that helped take country from only being popular in rural America (and my room!) and her "Walkin' After Midnight" shows her with one foot in both of those styles, new country and old.
You know what else is purely American, besides blended musical styles, is the willingness to run to the aid of other people. Just at the end of 1962, a DJ named Cactus Jack Call had been killed in a car crash in Kansas City. There has always been a strong bond between country performers and the DJs who play their records, and so Patsy, Copas and Hawkshaw thought nothing of running out there to play a benefit show for Call's family.
They were coming back to Nashville in a Piper Comanche piloted by Randy Hughes, who was Copas's son-in-law and Cline's manager. Hughes, like the young man who flew Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens on their final trip four years earlier, was not qualified to fly, and when the plane flew into a storm near Camden, Tennessee, 90 miles from Music City, it crashed into a forest, leaving no survivors among a group who had flown west to help survivors of another crash.