Saturday, March 5, 2011


March 5, 1963. The world of country music experienced their own version of "The Day The Music Died". That was the day the plane carrying Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas crashed, killing everyone on board. In many ways this crash was even more of a tragic loss than the Winter Dance Party crash.

Unlike the Buddy Holly crash of 1959, the stars were not forced onto the plane by extenuating circumstances, were not on a tour run by an unscrupulous promoter, and were not even doing their last concert for money. Plus, no song by Don McLean. Unfortunately, this story starts with death, ends with death, and has an epilogue with more death.

On January 25, 1963, a disc jockey named Cactus Jack Call perished in a car crash in Independence, Missouri. Cactus Jack was a popular DJ on KANS and KCKN for a few years, and had recently gotten a shift and a programmers' job at KCMK-FM (93.3 on your dial), America's first country music FM station. He had just turned 40 and life was looking good, but his car collided with a truck on US Highway 40 in Missouri, and Jack died, leaving behind a wife and two small children.

Jack was very popular with a lot of the big Nashville artists; his son Don remembers many country music legends coming to his house to hang out. Read more about Don Call here. After Jack's death, many of the big stars decided to hold a fundraising concert to help Jack's family. There were three concerts held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, on March 3, 1963, at 2:00, 5:15 and 8pm. Artists on the bill were as follows: Patsy Cline, George Jones (with George Riddle and The Jones Boys), Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Dottie West, Billy Walker, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, and George McCormick and The Clinch Mountain Clan. Quite a show! The country music stars came together on their own volition to honor a fallen comrade. No greedy managers, no shady promoters, just great music. Proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

After the concert ended, the stars were scheduled to leave the next day. Most of the stars decided to drive back to Nashville that night, but Patsy and Copas had flown in. Dottie West offered Patsy Cline a ride in her car, but Cline wanted to get back to Nashville as quickly as possible to see her children, so she declined. Billy Walker was supposed to go back to Nashville with Pasty and Copas, but he received an urgent phone call from his management to get back to Nashville right after the concert. Hawkshaw Hawkins had a ticket for a commercial flight leaving that night (March 3), and so he switched tickets with Billy.

Unfortunately, Cline, Hawkins and Copas had to wait another day to leave. High winds and inclement weather prevented the trio from leaving on March 4th. The three stars and the pilot finally left Kansas City on the afternoon of March 5th. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the plane took off for Nashville at 6:07pm. They never made it. The plane crashed in a forest near Camden, Tennessee, at 6:20pm (the time of the crash was known because it was taken from Patsy's stopped wristwatch). Apparently the pilot, Randy Hughes (who was not only Patsy's manager and guitar player, but Cowboy Copas' son-in-law), had plenty of flying experience, but was not certified to fly on instruments, meaning if visibility was low, he couldn't fly using just the gauges. When the plane was refueling, Hughes took the opportunity to call his wife to ask how the weather was in Nashville. She replied that it was fine. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to her, she was literally in the eye of a huge storm that was causing rain and floods all around Nashville. So Randy Hughes literally flew head on into the storm. Visibility was next to nil, and Randy, not having flown on instruments before, had no idea that the plane was going into a tailspin. The passengers probably had no idea they were in trouble until about one second before the impact. The plane and the passengers were literally shredded into pieces. They were only 70 miles from home. Country music would never see a bigger tragedy.

But it wasn't over yet.

As the world was mourning, the stars of Nashville were busy running from funeral to funeral for the three stars. One of them, Jack Anglin, was part of the duo Johnnie and Jack (Johnnie was Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells' husband and Jack Anglin's brother-in-law). On March 8th, Jack was on his way to Patsy's funeral, alone, when he took a curve too quickly and crashed his car in Madison, Tennessee, dying instantly.

Rock and roll may have had an awful day (February 3rd, 1959), but country music had an awful MONTH.

A few weeks before the crash, Hawkshaw Hawkins released his latest single on King Records - "Lonesome 7-7203". It had hit the country chart for a couple of weeks, then fell off. After the crash, it received constant radio play and became Hawkins' only #1 country hit.

Patsy Cline had a few posthumous hits (including her immortal version of Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams") and may have faded into the woodwork like Copas and Hawkins if a movie based upon her life ("Sweet Dreams", starring Jessica Lange) hadn't revived her career in a big way. Today, she's one of the most recognizable names on the classic country music roster.

As for Cowboy Copas, well, I decided to go back to 1949 for today's selection. "Hangman's Boogie" was one of a string of big country hits that Cowboy Copas had between 1946 and 1950. The cool thing about this record is that it (along with contemporary recordings by Hank Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford) prefigures rockabilly by a few years. Plus, it fits well within this post due to its macabre subject matter. But it's fun!

Hopefully, records like this will get people to remember that, great as she was, Patsy Cline was not the only great loss in that plane crash of March 5, 1963.

Cowboy Copas - Hangman's Boogie (King 811) - 1949


  1. Such a tragic story but a wonderful post.

  2. Rich, these posts are really, really, really great! I had never heard this story. Fascinating.

  3. Very informative post - thank you! I'd only been thinking a couple of days ago that I'd like to check out some Cowboy Copas.

  4. Thanks for all the comments! I'm very happy to know that I could bring this tragic story to light for folks who didn't know about it. It is a shame that country music usually gets short shrift in the media, and that this anniversary passed unnoticed by most people. But that's why I blog! Thanks again....

  5. Several years ago Jean Shepard was angry that one of the country news programs announced "On this date country music,Patsy Cline and two other musicians were killed in a plane crash coming back from a concert in Kansas City." She apparently called the producers to 'inform' them of thier erorr. Way to go Jean.

  6. Good for Jean Shepard! It's a shame that the history of music has been compressed into VH1-sized "sound bites" so that dummies can get a grasp and sound like they know what they're talking about. I fear that in 20 years only the million-selling artists will get written about and those who didn't sell as much but still had good records will be forgotten.