An Interview with Haskell Cooley

I recently had the opportunity to interview Haskell Cooley, who played piano for the Cathedrals from 1974-1979. Listen in to this fascinating conversation!

Daniel: When did you first become interested in Gospel Music?

Haskell: All right. I was raised up in church, hearing the old hymns of the church, and hearing how beautiful the melodies were and still are. My mother was a piano player for the church. I became the piano player when I was twelve years old; she turned it over to me. I just grew up, and that’s all I ever knew. There was a lot of quartet signing going on at the church where I attended. I tried to lead songs when I was six, seven, or eight years old. I was leading the songs! You know, they’d have a singing in the church, and people would come up and lead a song. Of course, I couldn’t use my hands like a director would, but I’d get up. It was the way I was raised.

Daniel: You started playing piano for church at age twelve. What age did you start playing piano?

Haskell: Well, we got a piano at home when I was nine years old. I started beating on a piano – I wouldn’t say playing – and learning at nine.

Daniel: I guess your first exposure to touring Gospel quartets were groups in your church. Were these mainly groups from your area, or did your church have nationally known groups in?

Haskell: They weren’t nationally known. We’d have singings, and then have singing conventions. It was just from men in the community. The church where I grew would have a singing about once a month. These men would get together; there was a bass singer, and a lead, baritone, and tenor.

My brother was always in one, too. I had an older brother that really liked quartet singing. He was always in there, too.

Daniel: What was his name?

Haskell: His name was Doyle Cooley. He’s passed on now. He had a whole lot to do with me going to the Stamps Quartet School of Music when I was fourteen and when I was fifteen. That was down in Dallas, Texas. He took me to Gospel sings, Gospel quartets. They’d come to McAllister, Oklahoma, or to Oklahoma City, so I just got to hear quartets that way.

Then we started a Cooley Brothers Quartet when I was fourteen. It was part-time; we’d sing on weekends across Oklahoma.

Daniel: Did you make any recordings?

Haskell: No; we were on radio, but we didn’t make any recordings. I have some of the old tapes that we had done, and I made some on CDs.

Daniel: Who were the other members besides you and your brother, then?

Haskell: Well, another brother, and two other people who were not brothers.

Daniel: So with three other members, I assume you were just playing piano, and not singing, then?

Haskell: I was just playing the piano. One of the other brothers was the lead singer, and Doyle was the high tenor singer.

Daniel: Were you in any other groups before joining the Cathedrals?

Haskell: Yes, I was with the Weatherfords.

Daniel: Oh, yes, okay. What years were you with the Weatherfords?

Haskell: Okay, let’s see. Let me go backwards here. I joined the Cathedrals in 1974, so in 1972 I joined the Weatherfords. I was with them about a year and a half.

Daniel: Were they already based out of Oklahoma at that point?

Haskell: Yes, at that point. Of course, they had been going for years and years when I joined them, and they had moved to Oklahoma.

Daniel: Besides Earl and Lily Fern, who were the other members of the group when you were with them?

Haskell: Tank Tackett was the lead singer. They were just a trio when I first joined them. Tracy Dartt became the bass singer while I was with them. He didn’t stay the whole year and a half that I was there. But he became the bass singer very soon after I joined them. And then Fulton Nash returned to the Weatherfords.

Daniel: Now is Tracy Dartt the same gentleman who wrote “God on the Mountain”?

Haskell: Yes.

Daniel: Very interesting; I’m not sure I had known he was with the Weatherfords!

Haskell: He and I have written about three songs together, too, by the way. Of course, on “The Last Sunday”—have you heard “The Last Sunday”?—

Daniel: The one the Cathedrals did?

Haskell: Yes.

Daniel: Most certainly; yes, I know the song.

Haskell: I’m the publisher of that song; I own the rights to it.

Daniel: Really!

Haskell: I got that from Tracy. Of course, I wrote harmony to it, and put it out. The Weatherfords were the first group to sing it.

Daniel: Did they do that on a recording while you were with them?

Haskell: Yes, and the Cathedrals picked it up from the Weatherfords.

Daniel: They did it in ’73, before you joined them, right?

Haskell: Yes.

Daniel: It wasn’t that long before.

Haskell: While I was still with the Weatherfords.

Daniel: What Weatherfords recording was that on, if you happen to recall the title?

Haskell: They named it The Last Sunday. I’ve got the record around here somewhere; I have a whole bunch of records!

Daniel: Were you on any other recordings with the Weatherfords, if you recall?

Haskell: I was on several with them.

Daniel: One more Weatherfords question. Had you been familiar with them for quite a while before joining, or were you fairly new to the group at the time?

Haskell: I had been familiar with them, because they sang around Oklahoma some. I had already graduated from college. My wife and I were running a music store in Ada, Oklahoma. So I joined them, and left her in Ada to run the music store! Of course, I was home some, but she did most of that by herself!

Daniel: Moving on to the Cathedrals. When was the first time you saw them? Who was with the group when you first saw them?

Haskell: Let me see. George and Glen, Roy Tremble, and George Amon Webster.

Daniel: So you saw them a couple of years before you joined?

Haskell: Yes, when I was with the Weatherfords, we did some programs with them.

Daniel: So that was how you met George and Glen?

Haskell: Yes, when we did programs with the Weatherfords and Cathedrals together. And at that time, George Amon Webster was singing baritone and playing the piano. So they wanted someone to play piano so he could stand up and play the bass! That’s when I joined.

Daniel: Do you remember what led to you joining the Cathedrals? Did Glen or George give you a call?

Haskell: Yes, George gave me a call. I had quit the Weatherfords. I was with them a year and a half, and they stayed away from home twenty-something days at a time. And that just got to me, being away from home, with my wife at home. We had been married about three or four years. She was trying to run the store when I quit, so I quit.

I didn’t mean to go back on the road, either! But after two months at the most, about a month and a half, George called. He said they didn’t stay away from home as much as the Weatherfords, and they didn’t! So I joined them.

My wife and I sold our music store to someone else, and then we moved to Stowe, Ohio, a suburb of Akron. So we moved to Stowe, Ohio, in spring of 1974.

Daniel: Would your first recording with the Cathedrals have been Live in Concert, then?

Haskell: Yes, it was the first one. We made that after I’d only been with the group a few weeks!

Daniel: Now Rex Humbard gave the introduction; was that recorded at the Cathedral of Tomorrow?

Haskell: Yes. There was the big auditorium, where he preached, and they met each Sunday, but we did the recording at a smaller auditorium.

Daniel: Was that a somewhat stressful experience, having only been with them for a couple of weeks?

Haskell: Not so much, I guess, because I’d already done a lot with the Weatherfords, and a lot with my brothers. I’m not certain how I felt that night, that first recording. I had a good time, though!

Daniel: Now I was listening to it this morning. I heard a bass guitar, which I’m assuming was George Amon Webster.

Haskell: Yes, George Amon Webster.

Daniel: Now I also heard a drummer. Do you happen to remember who was playing drums that night?

Haskell: It was evidently someone in the area there. Vic Clay played the guitar. He was on all the recordings we made when I was with the Cathedrals. In five years I was with them, we did twelve recordings. He was the producer. All the other recordings were in the studio.

I have all the Cathedrals recordings I was on, and all the ones after I left.

Daniel: I was curious about The Cathedral Quartet Sings Albert E. Brumley Classics album, that came out in ’76 or ’77. I believe that Brumley himself passed away in ’77. Do you happen to know if that recording was made while he was still alive?

Haskell: It was. We met him. We went down to Missouri, I believe, and had our picture taken with him. He was alive then; I have a picture with him. It’s not on this record, though, but I have the picture.

Daniel: All right. “Gonna Shout All Over Heaven” was recorded on the album For Keeps. Which of your other songs were recorded by the Cathedrals during the time you were with them?

Haskell: “Get That Frown Off Your Face,” “Don’t Thank Us, Thank Jesus” … I think there was one on every recording, except the Albert E. Brumley recording! It might not have been on Live in Concert, the very first one, because I hadn’t been there long enough to teach them anything of mine.

Daniel: Do you have any favorite recordings from the different recordings you were part of making?

Haskell: None stand out. We always went down to Artists Recording in Cincinnati to record. We did everything there except that live one.

Daniel: Both the Canaan projects and the independently released projects?

Haskell: Yes. Everything was Canaan or independently released.

Daniel: Were there any particularly memorable venues you got to perform at with the Cathedrals, be they in the United States or perhaps overseas?

Haskell: We did not go overseas when I was with them. In fact, we didn’t even go even north into Canada. It started out probably two or three months after I left. Everything was Oklahoma to back East.

We did a program in downtown New York City once—well, more than once. We did it at a church, a black church in Brooklyn. And there was a college there.

Daniel: Were the Cathedrals part of the National Quartet Convention in the years that you were with them?

Haskell: Yes, we sang every year.

Daniel: I have read that at some point in the early to mid ’70s, the Cathedrals had a major bus accident. Was that during your time with them?

Haskell: No, if they did, it was before. We never did have a bus accident. I was there from the spring of ’74 to the spring of ’79. It would have been before ’74.

Daniel: They mentioned it in the book George and Glen did with Ace Collins; they mentioned it, but just in passing.

Haskell: Hmm. I don’t know. Of course, I have that book here!

Daniel: They mentioned it, but it’s a passing reference. They say very little about it. So you mentioned having the Cathedrals projects since the years you left them. Of all the Cathedrals projects you weren’t part of, do you have a favorite?

Haskell: Maybe Symphony of Praise, where they went over to England, and recorded some of the songs over there.

Daniel: And how about a favorite Cathedrals song, say, from the years you weren’t with them. Do you have any particular favorites there?

Haskell: Since I left them?

Daniel: Yes.

Haskell: “We Shall See Jesus.”

Daniel: Wow. Great song.

Haskell: That was never released as a single to the radio stations. But that touched me more. In fact, just thinking of hearing them them do it in person, oh, it was something. (He even chokes up a little.) “We Shall See Jesus.”

Daniel: Now in the years after you left, did you ever fill in for them for a weekend or two, when a pianist was out sick?

Haskell: No. Lorne Matthews came back as the piano player [when I left]. He had been a former piano player [for them]. When he left, about a year later, they called me and wanted to know if I would come back and play, and I said no. JoLee and I were traveling, and I just enjoyed being with my family, and that little baby boy! But we did some programs with them from time to time, but I didn’t play for them.

Daniel: Any standout memories from the Reunion video taping?

Haskell: I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember if there was a particular standout. They did “Gonna Shout All Over Heaven”; naturally, I’d think that, because my wife and I wrote that! That always went over well for them.

Daniel: When you left the Cathedrals, at that time you moved back to Oklahoma, correct?

Haskell: We moved to Wichita, Kansas.

When we first married, we moved to Oklahoma. My wife was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. I met her when I came up to live in Wichita about a year, something like that, and taught piano lessons at a music school up here. Then I was drafted into the Army. So when I got back out of the army, I came back and took a school-teaching job in Oklahoma.

I always came to Wichita to see, her, and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper if I married her and moved her to Oklahoma?”

But like I tell people on stage, when I tell them that part, I say, “You know, it wasn’t cheaper!”

Then, of course, after that, I went with the Weatherfords and the Cathedrals. After the Cathedrals, we moved to Wichita. Her folks lived in Wichita. I said, “You have followed me around all my life; this time we’re gonna go where you like!” I knew she’d like to move to Wichita and live with her parents.

Daniel: So you’ve pretty much toured with her since, correct?

Haskell: Yes.

Daniel: Now didn’t your children sing with you for a number of years along the way?

Haskell: Yes, they did. When I left the Cathedrals, our son was five and a half months old. He started singing on stage when he was two and a half years old! Of course, we’d just bring him up for a song or two. But then he sang with us until he left for college at Belmont University in Nashville.

Our daughter came along six years later. She sang with us, too. She’s married now, and lives in Alexander, Virginia. But they both made recordings with us when they were home.

Daniel: Neat. As a pianist, who are your favorite pianists to just sit back and listen to, and hear their style, how they interpret the music?

Haskell: I would say Lorne Matthews and Jeff Stice. We have some very good young piano players that have come along. Anthony Burger was one of my favorites, too; I guess Lorne, Jeff, and Anthony would be my three top ones.

Triumphant Quartet, the Booth Brothers, Legacy Five, and the Mark Trammell Quartet are some of my favorite groups right now. My wife and I opened for the Mark Trammell Quartet at a church in MacPherson, Kansas. We’ve opened for Legacy Five there, too, and we’ll be opening for Triumphant Quartet in August, for Jeff Stice, my piano friend!

Daniel: I think that some of my readers might not even be familiar with the fact that you are still touring. What is the best way for them to get in touch with you to read your schedule, to see if you might be in their area, or perhaps contact you for a concert?

Haskell: We send out a newsletter once a month that has our schedule in it. That would be the best way.

Daniel: How can people sign up for that?

Haskell: Just email me at [email protected] if you would like to receive the newsletter.

Daniel: Anything else you’d like to mention?

Haskell: I think the groups that are going today are really good. I like the songs they’re singing. I like the styling of most of them. I just want to brag on what the groups are doing, the way they’re singing!

Daniel: Thank you very much!

Haskell: Keep it up, and keep people up with what’s going on!

Daniel: Thank you very much; I appreciate it!

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