Spooky Cole (1942-2010)

Blues Vocalist, Calhoun City

Spooky Cole, born Britton Douglas Cole, on July 18, 1942, in Stonefield, Miss. is a blues vocalist based in Calhoun City. He was reared in Cascilla, Miss., a small community on the edge of the Delta and the Hills, west of Grenada. The son of a sharecropper, Spooky and his family worked crops up and down the rivers of the Delta region. Spooky is the fifth of twelve children. He went to school during the lay-by seasons but quit in the 10th grade. He started playing guitar at the age of 14.

“Before I learned how to pick a guitar, I started out with a gallon bucket. I had me a string on it. And I would pick that bucket and sing. We had one of these old-timey iceboxes and my brothers would lock me up in that thing and shut the door. And I’d play that bucket and sing. And they said you could hear, that it would ring out, they didn’t know what stereo was, but it sounded like stereo. I’d sing and sweat… I started out doing that.”

Spooky’s father showed him a few chords on the guitar, but he learned most of his guitar skills while living in Illinois and working factory jobs. Spooky says he learned by “playing the radio,” finding a blues station on the radio and playing along. He says he can’t remember the first time he heard the blues, but imagines it was when he was a baby.

“The first time I remember hearing [blues music] was this juke down there across from where we lived after we left Stonefield and moved to a place Daddy and them called the Valley. It was a little old place they called Leveritt and right down from it was a big juke called J.Y.’s. A black fellow, J.Y. Taylor, he owned it, and you could hear it from the house. I’d go out there and listen. I’d go out and watch those boys play the guitar.”

Spooky first performed in J.Y. Taylor’s place and played nothing but the blues until joining the Sparta Opry, a performance venue in east Mississippi where he has played every Friday night for the past 15 years.

“If you listen to a blues song, any one, just pick one out and listen to it. It will tell you a story and most of it is about somebody. About somebody’s bad luck or good luck. To me, the blues is like an aspirin when you have a heart attack. If you just sit down and listen to a little of it, it will soothe it and make everything turn out right. It will.”

Spooky says he was one of the only white people playing blues music in the juke joints when he was growing up in the Delta. Spooky’s mother did not approve of him playing blues music.

“Music is like dope. You get addicted to it. They may think they are going to stop you. But if you want to listen to it, you are going to find a way to listen to it. You are going to find a way to play it. And that’s what I done. I’d have to lie a lot and slip away from home, but I played it, and I listened to it and I sang it.”

After about two years in Illinois, Spooky moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and started playing blues music with his cousin. Spooky and his cousin would play blues at night and work the shipyards in the day. He says he could make more money in one night playing the blues than he could make in a week driving a tractor.

Spooky married his wife, Pauline, in 1965 and he has lived in Calhoun City ever since. Spooky formed a band with his brothers called “Spooky and the Sputniks” with several rotating members. He recalls the band playing regularly at the VFW in Grenada, a skating rink on Highway 8 near Houston and a few bars and jukes in east Mississippi. He says they most commonly played house parties; sometimes for three days at a time.

Spooky has an extensive collection of blues music on tape and has spent countless hours transcribing songs by hand into notebooks. Spooky estimates that he has over 600 hand-copied songs written in his notebooks. During his music career, Spooky has played electric guitar, dobro, and steel guitar, but due to several hand injuries, he can no longer pick the guitar. He still plays rhythm with his band at the Sparta Opry.

“If I can get a good band behind me, I’d rather play than eat if I’m hungry. I’ll quit eating and play and sing with a good band. Ain’t nothing no better than blues music.”

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