Clyde McCoy

Born

  • December 29, 1903/4
  • Ashland, KY

Died

  • June 11, 1990
  • Memphis, TN

Marriage

  • Maxine Means (1945)

Theme Song

  • Sugar Blues

Clyde McCoy

Best remembered for his theme song, ''Sugar Blues,'' trumpet player Clyde McCoy's career spanned almost seven decades. McCoy's range of techniques was wide. He could make his trumpet talk and cough in ways which few other artists could equal, and his distinctive ''wah-wah'' sound thrilled audiences around the country, turning him into a popular star. Though McCoy found his niche in Dixieland he was an extremely talented musician capable of much greater accomplishments.

A member of the Kentucky McCoy family involved in the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud, Clyde moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, with his parents in 1912, where he learned to play the trumpet. He soon began to perform for school and church functions and at age fourteen found work as a musician on the riverboats. In 1920 he assembled his own band for a two-week residency at a popular Knoxville, Tennessee, resort. Though the ensemble had never performed together as a unit they proved quite popular, and their stay was extended to two months. When the engagement ended the young McCoy decided to take his group to New York.

McCoy's outfit slowly worked their way to the Big Apple. Though they found steady employment on the East Coast real success eluded them, and in 1924 McCoy relocated the group to California. After spending a few years in the Los Angeles area the band began to tour. By that time McCoy had started to use a trumpet mute to produce the ''wah-wah'' that became his signature. Fame finally found him in 1930 when he first performed ''Sugar Blues'' at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. The song was an instant hit. Radio broadcasts brought national approval, and McCoy soon signed with the Columbia label, for whom his recording of that number sold several million copies in early 1931.

McCoy's orchestra remained in Chicago until 1935, residing at both the Drake and the Terrace Gardens. They also worked in vaudeville. In 1935 they switched to the Decca label, remaining popular throughout the rest of the decade with their own brand of Dixieland-tinged swing. McCoy's stage show featured a full-fledged vaudeville act, and he often arranged ''battle of bands'' against other top name groups, all of which ended as friendly ties. In 1936 McCoy hired the Bennett Sisters as vocalists. Wayne Gregg was male vocalist.

In 1942 McCoy and his orchestra enlisted en masse into the Navy, where they toured naval bases and hospitals throughout the war. Upon his discharge in 1945 he married Maxine Means, one of the Bennett Sisters, and set about reorganizing his band. His new group remained strong through the early 1950s, but by the middle of the decade he succumbed to the fading popularity of the big bands and called it quits. In 1955 he scrapped his band, and he and his wife opened a supper club in Denver, where they often performed. The endeavor ended in a financial disaster, and he resumed touring, this time with a scaled-down septet.

In the late 1970s McCoy semi-retired to Memphis, Tennessee. He taught music and continued to perform until the mid-1980s, working with small Dixieland combos. His last performance was in 1985. McCoy's health deteriorated in the late 1980s, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Clyde McCoy passed away in 1990. McCoy also co-founded Downbeat magazine in 1935.