About The Artist
Cy Coben did not follow the typical path of a hillbilly music artist or songwriter. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey where his father, Jewish, was a cheese salesman. He studied music at a local music academy. In 1942, he had his first charted song by Benny Goodman's orchestra with vocals by Peggy Lee, "My Little Cousin".
Cy's songwriting career began just before he enlisted in the U. S. Navy for World War II. But up to that point, the tunes were pop-oriented. He began to turn to country music during his tour when the crew of the destroyer he was on had a band and were playing their country music favorites and giving Cy some ideas as well. He left the U. S. Navy in 1945 and wanted to return to songwriting. But he wanted to try his hand at the hillbilly genre he had been exposed to, so he wrote a few.
His initial efforts were met with what one 1952 article termed 'mild recognition' but it encouraged Cy nonetheless. Then things took off in 1949 when Eddy Arnold had a few hit tunes penned by Cy including "There's Been A Change In Me" and "I Wanna Play House With You".
In 1947, he collaborated with Charles Grean, who was working with RCA Victor at the time, on a novelty tune called "(When You See) Those Flying Saucers". That led to a long term team effort. Mr. Coben moved to Nashville in 1949 and soon became a part of the music scene.
He is perhaps most associated with Eddy Arnold for the hit tunes that Eddy recorded. His tune "Nobody's Child" that he wrote with Mel Foree was even recorded by The Beatles as well as Hank Snow's classic recording.
In fact, the association with Arnold may have caused confusion with some fans. In a question to Bobby Gregory in Country Song Roundup in 1953, one fan indicated she had heard that Eddy Arnold was writing songs under the name of Cy Coben. Bobby reassured her that they were indeed two separate people but it is also an indication of the hit tunes that Cy had penned for Arnold.
The list of tunes written by Cy Coben are a walk through country music history:
In a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006, Jack Clement said, "He should have been in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, but the young folks just don't know about him. ... Cy was one of the first Northern guys who made it big here in Nashville, and boy did he know how to write a song. He wrote a lot of stuff, and he was great."
He even wrote the theme song for the Jackie Gleason show.
That 2006 article also told you a bit of the standards by which Cy lived his life. His life partner for 17 years, Liane Dozier was quoted:
"Cy used to joke with Chet and his closest friends about being the token Jew among the hillbillies, and they'd all laugh because they knew he was just kidding around," she said. But though his humor and talent helped him crest the mid-century racial tensions, he had little tolerance when he found it in other quarters, she noted.
In 1967 Cy was a part of a unique celebration and tribute for Chet Atkins on the eve of his 20th anniversary with the RCA Victor label. A group of musicians got together to record a special recording called "Chet's Tune" (No. 47-229) by "Some of Chet's Friends" took a few weeks and was done in "...subterfuge and stealth..." to keep Chet out of the loop. The words and music were by 'award-winning' writer Cy Coben. It was said to be an up-tempo, toe-tapper that featured 20 top country and western artists who combined their efforts with the master technicians at RCA Victor's Nashville studios.
The 45 rpm was to be released May 23, 1967. That same week, a "Tribute To Chet Atkins" was to be held at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium. Bill Walker, Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis guided each artist that taped a single verse late at night, or on the weekend behind locked doors in Victor studios. The only segments not cut in Nashville were recorded in Chicago by Homer and Jethro.
The twenty artists, per the article in the July 1967 issue of Country Music Life were, in the order of their appearance: Floyd Cramer, Eddy Arnold, Dottie West, Archie Campbell, Bobby Bare, Norma Jean, George Hamilton IV, Skeeter Davis, Jimmy Dean, Hank Locklin, Jim Ed Brown, Hank Snow, John D. Loudermilk, Connie Smith, Homer and Jethro, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner and Don Bowman.
Background vocals were done by The Nashville Sounds. Bill Vandervort was the engineer that expertly spliced together all of the tracks. The flip side of the record was an insturmental tune by Chet, "Country Gentleman". The article also mentions that Jerry Reed played guitar segments on Chet's favorite guitar "...while the honoree was out of the city on business."
He married Shirley Nagel after meeting her on a blind date for tennis two years after that match in 1948. The settled down for a time in Weehawken, New Jersey and one of the first songs he wrote was a tribute to her, "A Good Woman's Love". She passed away in 1973.
We thought we would close this one with a few words from a songwriter, Lawton Williams, who
wrote for a "Song Writers Corner" column for Country Song Roundup. He was writing about song writing
styles in one column and wrote:
"Many great writers have no particular style, but write great songs. Think of all the big country hits written by Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Wynn Stewart, Cy Coben, Bill Anderson, Hank Cochran and other great writers too numerous to mention."
If there is an overlooked songwriter and an accolade that is long overdue, it is the induction of Cy Coben into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame. To ignore his contribution is one of those injustices that Nashville and the industry needs to correct. There is just no excuse.
Credits & Sources
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