Coolidge: A City That “Cottoned” to Twangy Music
Visitors to Coolidge, Arizona typically pass through the city on their way to the Casa Grande National Monument, the nation's first archeological preserve. These tourists, maybe focused on having breakfast at Tag’s Café or snagging a room at the Moonlight Motel, overlook one of the city’s most surprising facets: more than a half-century ago this place was a hotbed of musical talent.
The city of around 11,000 residents in the midst of cotton and alfalfa fields seems an unlikely place for musical innovation. However, four talented musicians began their rise to nationwide fame in this sleepy farming community located southeast of the Valley: Lee Hazlewood, Duane Eddy, Jimmy Delbridge, and Waylon Jennings. Although Coolidge was their incubator, their music would come to be known as “The Phoenix Sound” for the location of the studio where it was recorded.
Coolidge’s country twang story began in 1953 when Hazlewood was discharged from the U.S. Army and used the G.I. Bill to study radio broadcasting. His first gig was at KCKY-AM, Coolidge’s only radio station, located in a second-floor office in the Studio Theater. Audiences took an immediate liking to Hazelwood, with his cast of radio characters and on-air charisma.
Hazlewood soon met Eddy, who had recently moved to town when his father became the manager at the Safeway grocery store. Eddy learned to play guitar at a young age and was soon performing instrumentals on Hazlewood’s radio show. This pairing led to yet another guest on the show.
Jimmy Delbridge, a talented piano and guitar player who was raised in a deeply religious family, attended Coolidge High School with Eddy. After hearing him on the radio, Delbridge invited Eddy to his house. There, the duo picked a few tunes which led to them playing and singing live on KCKY.
A creative and driven soul, Hazlewood branched out from his radio duties. He wrote, recorded, and produced the first record by Eddy & Delbridge: “Soda Fountain Girl,” backed with “I Want Some Lovin’ Baby.” Hazlewood pressed 500 copies of the single for his label. The crudely recorded 45 only sold a few copies. “Most of them sat in Hazlewood’s garage because my friend Jimmy went and got saved—saved in church—and decided he could not play secular music anymore,” Eddy later said. The single is notable, however, because it’s the only time Eddy sang on a recording.
Hazlewood wasn’t deterred by the few sales of the single, and wrote another tune, "The Fool," in 1956. He asked a friend, guitarist Al Casey, if he knew of a tall, good-lookin’ kid that could sing. Casey suggested his friend, Sanford Clark, who had just been discharged from Luke Air Force Base.
Casey, Clark, and Hazlewood cut the song, which featured Casey’s repetitive guitar licks, at Ramsey’s Recording Studio near Seventh Street and Indian School Road in Phoenix. Within a year, “The Fool” broke nationwide and sold nearly 800,000 copies, climbing to No.7 on the Billboard chart. Casey and Clark went on the road, touring based on the single’s popularity. They were the first big musical success to come out of Arizona. The song was later recorded by Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney.
Hazlewood returned to his original duo, Eddy & Delbridge, after the latter backslid from his religious fervor. He shuttled them to Ray Odom’s Saturday night country music stage shows at Madison Square Garden in Phoenix. The weekly gigs were great exposure for their careers. “I had girls following me around in high school, they thought I was a big star,” Delbridge says. The duo also started appearing on a Phoenix TV show called the Hillbilly Hit Parade.
In 1958, Hazlewood finally struck gold. Eddy, along with session players Al Casey, his wife, Corky Casey, and engineer Jack Miller recorded “Rebel Rouser” at the same Phoenix studio that was now called Audio Recorders Studio. The song, credited to Eddy/Hazlewood, has been described as “The Twang Heard ‘Round the World.” "[The song] came from a mental picture I had of a street gang in an alleyway getting ready to rumble with switchblades and chains," Eddy said. The single sold more than a million copies and was included in the Forrest Gump soundtrack in 1994.
This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Mar/Apr 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.2.