Friday, June 22, 2012

LEON'S LONE STAR COWBOYS – I'm Serving Days (Decca, 1937)

LEON'S LONE STAR COWBOYS – I'm Serving Days (Decca, 1937)

A resident of Shreveport from the 1910s to the 1960s, the life of Leon Chappelear included both dismal tragedies as well as fortuitous connections.  The high points involve playing in a popular band responsible for sizable hits in the 1930s (“Deep Elm Blues” and “Just Because” -- the latter covered by other musicians including Elvis Presley in 1954) and playing guitar on Jimmie Davis’s first recording of “You Are My Sunshine.”  The low points include a debilitating car wreck and suicide.

For those curious about Chappelear, there’s a rich amount of information already compiled and accessible thanks to music researchers and reissue record labels.  There are two CD compilations with extensive 20-page liner notes – Western Swing Chronicles, Vol. 2 (Origin Jazz Library OJL-1001) and Automatic Mama (Bear Family BCD 16254).  Also, here a couple online biographies – "Leon Chappel" by Jason Ankeny and "Leon Chappel" by Kevin Carey.

Between 1935 and 1937, his band recorded over 50 songs, which range stylistically from western swing, to sentimental country, to blues.  Most of Leon’s really great recordings appeared on compilation CD’s issued during the last decade.  In an effort to highlight one of his band’s less circulated songs, here’s their recording of “I’m Serving Days” from my scratchy copy.  The group’s fiddle player, Lonnie Hall, composed the song.  Hall was Leon’s close friend in life and cemetery plot neighbor in the hereafter.  Notice the song’s similarity to another popular tune coincidentally recorded in Shreveport eight years prior – “Sitting On Top Of The World” by the Mississippi Sheiks.

While much of Leon’s music, biographical information, and photographs are readily accessible to those interested in picking up his CD’s, here are a few rare items I’ve run across over the years:

It’s 11:55, do you know where your Lone Star Cowboys are?  Left to right: Slim Harbert, Buck Fields, Chris Herrington, Leon Chappelear.  (Photo postcard postmarked April 16, 1935.)

It’s 1937, turn your dial to KRMD at 1:30pm to catch the Lone Star Cowboys.  Don’t miss the Sunshine Boys and the Range Riders on KWKH, either.  (Shreveport Times [Shreveport, LA], January 22, 1937.)  Note: for legible display size, try this link.

“‘There’s not much to add to what we’ve already reported,’ Chappelear said.” (Lee Travis, “Hand-Picked For Plunder,” Startling Detective [January 1945.])

“The end and the reward of toil is rest.” (Leon Chappelear tombstone, Eppes Cemetery, Shreveport, Louisiana, summer 2006.)

For those curious about Leon’s life, but lacking the motivation to seek out and read 25-page liner note booklets, here are some of his biographical highlights:
  • grew up in East Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana (1910s and 1920s)
  • joined Bob and Joe Attlesey to form the Lone Star Cowboys, who are hired by KWKH radio station in Shreveport (circa 1930)
  • recorded solo for Gennett Phonograph Company in Indiana (1932)
  • Lone Star Cowboys travel to Chicago with their local musical pal Jimmie Davis; they serve as Davis’s backing band on a few of his recordings; they also make a few recordings of their own (1933)
  • Lone Star Cowboys split and form two groups: Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys and the Shelton Brothers (1934)
  • Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys begin making records for Decca (1935)
  • Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys in car wreck, Leon suffers head injury (1935)
  • Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys participate in more recording sessions for Decca (1936-1937)
  • Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys break up (1938)
  • plays guitar on Jimmie Davis’s first recording of “You Are My Sunshine” (1940)
  • revives recording career, releases records by “Leon Chappel” for Capitol Records (1950-1953)
  • dies as a result of a self-inflicted shotgun blast (1962)
  • resides in Eppes Cemetery (1962-present)

*According to Shreveport city directories, Leon’s employment includes these listings: musician (1935-1936), patrolman for Shreveport Police Department (1943-1945), salesman (1953-1955), pound master at the Shreveport Dog Pound (1956-1960), foreman at the Caddo-Shreveport Health Unit (1961-1962).