Here’s another post from our all-the-more regular contributor, Richard Thompson. He writes from England, where he is also a longstanding contributor to British Bluegrass News, a quarterly print publication where he also briefly served as editor.
Have you heard the rumours? Is there any truth in the rumours? Yes, Bear Family Records is releasing a set of early recordings by Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. Big Midnight Special (BF BCD 16751 DK), a 4-CD box-set is expected to be available during the April-May period.
Old time, bluegrass, traditional. Whatever you call them, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper kept it alive and kept it country. They sang and played their style of music as well as anyone ever has or ever will. The Grand Ole Opry and the Wheeling Jamboree made them stars…and stars they remained from the 1940s onward.
This compilation comprises 122 recordings from the Rich-R-Tone, Columbia and Hickory catalogues – including ultra-rare and unissued early recordings from the Coopers’ personal collection!
Every locatable recording between 1947 and 1964 is included. Among the traditional music classics in this collection are Little Rosewood Casket, Wicked Path Of Sin, Tramp On The Street, Willy Roy The Crippled Boy, Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill, Thirty Pieces Of Silver, Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow, Big Midnight Special, This Ole House, Wreck On The Highway and many more. They also recorded the original version of I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly Heaven, although it wasn’t released at the time (it is included here, though).
After switching to Hickory Records in 1955, the Coopers made some of the very finest new music in the old-time style, scoring hits with Cheated Too, Come Walk With Me, Big Midnight Special, There’s A Big Wheel, Johnny My Love, This Ole House, and Wreck On The Highway. All of them are here, together with every other extant Hickory recording. The best songwriters of their generation, including Don Gibson, the Louvins, and Boudleaux Bryant wrote for them, and Wilma Lee herself wrote many of their songs.
Stoney Cooper died in 1977, but Wilma Lee continued to make appearances, and became a spokesperson for the music she loved and the music she did so much to popularize and keep alive for future generations. This set is a trove of classic American traditional music, sung with the passion it deserves, and played by some of the best musicians of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Most of these recordings have never been on CD!
The set also includes a full-length biography by Bruce A. McGuire with many first-hand accounts from Wilma Lee Cooper herself, as well as rare photos and advertisements.
McGuire shares some information regarding his involvement with the project‚Ä¶‚Ä¶..
“Originally from Hickory, North Carolina. I grew up working in Southern Gospel. I started going backstage at the Opry at age 11 and that’s when my association with Wilma Lee began. By 16 when I could drive, I came to Nashville more frequently and would usually stay with Wilma Lee’s sister Jerry Johnson. Jerry had been Roy Acuff’s “girl singer” in the late 50s and is heard on some of Wilma Lee and Stoney’s recordings.
I moved to Nashville when I was 18. I hardly made enough money to keep a roof over my head, but when Wilma Lee and Jerry were in town, they would come by and take me out to dinner. Wilma Lee would say, “You might not eat good the rest of the time, but we know you’ll eat good tonight!” Jerry brought me groceries more than once back then and I never forgot it. I performed with Wilma Lee and other Opry stars on a few occasions and I took care of Wilma Lee for the first year after her stroke.
I’ve just started writing more in the last few years as more and more people kept telling me I should be and opportunities arose. I had hoped Bear Family would do a box set on Wilma Lee and Stoney for years. When I was contacted by Richard Weize at Bear Family to do the biography for the box set, I immediately said, ‘Yes.’ Having known Wilma Lee over 30 years by this time, I felt like I could do it as well, if not better than anyone else and certainly add details that otherwise would not be included.
I also wanted Jerry Johnson to get the credit she deserved for the recordings she participated in and was so proud of. Hickory records didn’t keep good session logs and what did exist has scattered over the years. I assisted with the discography and provided details of the sessions that Jerry was on and a session that Ira Louvin sang on with the Coopers. It was a lot of work, but I’m very proud of the end result and looking forward to seeing all these recordings finally made available again.”
Dale Troy “Stoney” Cooper passed away on March 22, 1977. His wife, Wilma Lee Cooper, suffered a stroke on stage at the Grand Ole Opry on February 24, 2001. She has never regained enough mobilization to return to performing, but occasionally makes an appearance to accept an award, or for special occasions at the Opry.