LEON CHAPPEL (By Kevin Carey)Born Horace Leon Chappelear, Gilmer, Texas, 1 August 1909
Died 23 October 1962, Gladewater, Texas One of the founders of what would become known as "Western Swing", Leon Chappel's career began when he teamed up with two friends, Bob and Joe Attlesey, as The Lone Star Cowboys in 1929, where they played local shows and radio slots on KGKB and, after moving to Shrevenport in the early 30's, on radio station KWKH. Leon Chappel's first solo recordings came about in 1932 when, without Bob and Joe Attlesey, he recorded some sides for the Gennett label based in Indianna. The Lone Star Cowboys cut their first sides for the Victor (Bluebird?) label in 1933 when they were asked to accompany Jimmie Davis, and recorded further tracks under their own name, including versions of Deep Elem Blues and Just Because. With musical differences becoming apparent, the Lone Star Cowboys split up, with the Attlesey's adopting their mother's maiden name before resurecting their careers as The Shelton Brothers. The split with Joe and Bob seems to have given Chappel the momentum to adopt a much higher charged, jazzed up, version of traditional music pioneered by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies, while still retaining the name of (Leon's) Lone Star Cowboys and holding a regular spot on KWKH; certainly, by the time the Cowboys recorded for Decca in August 1935, the transition to what is commonly known as Western Swing was complete. With the chance of success seeming tantalisingly close, returning from a dance in September 1935, the car Chappel was travelling in was involved in a collision which left him hospitalised with head injuries. It is open to conjecture, but it has been noted that he never fully recovered from the injury. However, 6 months after the accident, Chappel was again recording for Decca, playing the local fairs and fulfilling his regular radio spot, although below par performances led to the band losing their spot on KWKH, before moving to a smaller station, KRMD, before further personnel changes resulted in a much tighter sounding 12 piece band emerged in 1937 where they recorded their final sessions for Decca. The next 10 years of Chappel's life are shrouded in some mystery. It is known that he joined the police force during the war, but that his career was cut short when he was charged with accepting a bribe (some sources suggest he spent time in prison as a result). It wasn't until 1950 that Leon Chappel re-emerged, this time teaming up with two work friends (by this time Chappel had become a pipe fitter in Texas), where they performed as The Lone Star Ramblers, but it was when Chappel resurected his friendship with Jimmie Davis, by then the governor of Lousianna, that he found himself able to fully re-establish his career, albeit initially playing in Davis' backing band. Chappel's long standing friendship with Jimmie Davis clearly gave him a helping hand when it next came to getting a record contract and with Davis leaving Decca and joining Capitol, it is no surprise that it was with Capitol that Chappel recorded with in March, 1950. The move to Capitol also saw a change of style - gone was the Western Swing style to be replaced by a honky tonk style reminiscent of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. Chappel continued recording for Capitol until 1953, although sessions were, it seems, sometimes few and far between and in between spells Chappel took on truck driving or pipe laying jobs, so it probably wasn't too surprising that his sessions in April 1953 would be his last with Capitol (despite a good re-working of 'Do-Right Daddy' and a nice version of 'How Come You Do Me Like You Do').>From all accounts, Chappel returned to Shrevenport to work as a Superintendant at the city pound, until ill health - a legacy of his car crash in 1935 - forced his retirement in July 1962. Plagued by ill health, deeply depressed following his marraige breakdown and with his musical career a distant memory, on October 23rd 1962 Leon Chappel visited his sister in Gladewater, Texas, where he took his own life, with the inquest recording: Self inflicted death by gunshot wound. Recommended listening: Leon Chappelear / Leon's Lone Star Cowboys - Western Swing Chronicles, Vol 2 - Origin Jazz Library OJL 1001(27 early tracks, including Leon's first solo performances for Gennett label) Leon Chappel - Automatic Mama - Bear Family BCD 16254 AH (1950-53 Capitol recordings).
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