One could say Clay Cooper has been groomed all his life for his current position as host of his own show “Clay Cooper’s Country Express.” Born to a musical family in Wylie, Texas, his grandmother played the piano for the Wylie Baptist Church, and gave piano lessons for twenty years. His dad played guitar and performed at all local Opry shows. Clay first began singing at the Wylie Opry at the age of fourteen, and continued to perform there until 1986, when he then joined the Texas Goldminors and moved to Branson, performing at the Ozarks Country Jubilee. Since 1986, Clay has worked for many area shows, including the Country Review Show in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the Down Home Country Show, the Buck Trent Show, the Jim Owens Show and Country Tonite, where he spent nine years as lead vocalist and emcee. In 1989, Evergreen Records released a single by Clay titled, “A Little Ground in Texas” which went to #60 on the Cash Box Charts. In 2003, Clay joined his buddy, Paul Harris, as the featured male vocalist in Paul Harris Live. Clay and his wife, Tina, began Clay Cooper’s Country Express in 2005 in Branson, Missouri. Clay loves Branson and feels privileged to do what he loves while actively raising his boys, Colton and Caden. His oldest daughter, Cassidy, is now living in Texas pursuing a career in photography. Both Tina and Clay are truly thankful for the opportunity to perform with such a talented cast and supportive staff.
Oklahoma’s own, Tina Cooper, was born to perform! Tina began dancing at the age of three at her mom’s studio in the garage of their home! Tina continued her training through high school and graduated with a BFA in Music Theatre from the University of Oklahoma. Tina worked at Frontier City and Opryland amusement parks. She worked for Holland America Cruise Lines for two years and then headed for Branson, Missouri. Tina has been seen on several Branson stages performing in shows including Country Tonite, Celebrate America, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Dino’s Christmas Spectacular, Red Hot and Blue!, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Tina met Clay when working at Country Tonite and they married in 1999. They had Colt in 2003 and Caden in 2005. When Tina isn’t performing or managing the theatre, she enjoys working out and spending time with her family. Tina thanks her father, John, for believing in her dreams and in her husband. Tina and Clay thank God for the opportunity to do what they love with their family right here in Branson, Missouri!
Colton Cooper made his debut performance at 14 months in the Paul Harris Show in 2004. Being a native to Branson and the son of entertainers, Colt felt at home on stage and has continued performing in Clay Cooper’s Country Express since 2005. Colton primarily sings in the show, but he has definitely been known to throw in some dance during his performance. Colton loves the stage, but he also has a passion for several sports, primarily football and basketball. When Colton isn’t onstage or playing sports, he loves spending time with his friends and family, and even works in other departments at the theatre.
Caden Cooper is no stranger to the entertainment world. His days are spent with singers, dancers, musicians, and the techs at Clay Cooper Theatre. Caden loves music and spends a lot of his time exploring all styles including rock n roll, hip hop, country, contemporary, and the great standards of yesterday. During his free time, Caden likes to play basketball, and football, and baseball. He enjoys playing video games with his friends and has high hopes of being a YouTuber. He also enjoys hanging out with all the kids at the theatre!
Matt Gumm literally grew up around variety shows at Lake of the Ozarks, so at the age of 30, he takes to the stage like a seasoned pro. Of course, growing up with Thom “Gabby” Gumm as your dad & mentor didn’t hurt. In fact, he learned so well, Matt was added to the Main Street Opry act at the age of seven. Long before that, though, he seemed to know what he was going to do with his life. His mom Sandy will tell you that he spent everyday up on his bed, with a make-shift curtain that hung from the ceiling, with wigs and props doing his “show”. It was in these very early years that a family friend thought it would be “funny” to buy Matt a toy set of drums. Well, the joke was on him, because Matt started playing those things and he was a natural! All that practice may have been painful at times for the family, but it definitely paid off. While in High School, Matt was the only student chosen out of his class to attend the Missouri Fine Arts Academy because he excelled in Music, Art & Drama. Fresh out of high school, Matt spent 5 years developing his own reputation as a gifted comedian and musician on the stage of the long-running Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry in Osage Beach, Missouri. Once again, his family ties drew him back to work along side his dad and mom at the Main Street Opry in Osage Beach. There he honed not only his comedy skills with his dad, but he came into his own with his impersonations. He’s brought the house down with his take on such artists as Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart & Sammy Davis, Jr., just to mention a few. Clay Cooper caught his act and knew he wanted to be the first to introduce Matt to Branson. Currently, he is the craziest addition to Clay Cooper’s Country Express where you can experience Matt’s family friendly, high-energy fun, visual humor, and surprising abilities on some unusual instruments. When he’s not performing, he enjoys spending time with his wife Katie, daughter Norah Sue, and son Nash.
Kari Garrison was born and raised in Denison, Texas, in a musical family where harmony-filled living room jam sessions with her dad and other family members were a part of her daily life. It was there Kari developed her love and passion for singing. After high school, Kari moved to Virginia and over the next 5 years she shared the stage, as well as the recording studio, with many of the industry’s most promising bluegrass artists. Then in 2001, following a dare from her younger sister, Kari moved to the Branson. After performing in several shows in town, Kari took a job at “The Paul Harris Show,” which changed her life forever, as it was the first time she met Clay and Tina Cooper. While working for Paul, Clay and Tina’s son Colton and Kari’s son Drew were born 11 days apart. Since that time, there has been a “family” connection that is still as strong as ever. Kari went on to sing with the legendary entertainer Moe Bandy for eight consecutive years. After years of working down the “76 Strip” from each other, Clay and Tina brought Kari into the Country Express family and love working together!
Jordan Dickison was born in Utah into a family who loves the arts and encouraged him vocally and theatrically from a young age. He started performing as an extra in Disney Channel movies at the age of 13 and quickly transitioned to community theater and musicals in high school. He received an Associates of the Arts at Western Wyoming Community College and a Bachelors of Music, Dance and Theater at BYU. While attending BYU, he had the opportunity to be a member of the Young Ambassadors performing group. He was able to serve others and praise God as he toured the US and Scandinavia performing for everyone from royalty to children’s outreach and loved every minute of it! Out of college he performed in a couple of shows at Tuacahn Theater in St George, UT including Greece and the first regional performance of The Little Mermaid. He moved to Branson in 2013 were he was blessed to have performed at the Showboat Branson Belle. Jordan loves Branson and considers it his home. He loves running with his son Brigham and exploring the beauty of Branson. He would like to thank his amazing wife Sarah for her endless support. He is thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to work with the incredible cast and crew of Clay Cooper’s Country Express, Hot Rods and High Heels, and #1 Hits of the 60’s!
David Griffin is originally from Denison, Texas. He has been performing in Branson for 11 years now. He has performed with Little Texas, TG Sheppard, Collin Ray, Marty Haggard, Debbie Boone and Restless Heart. In 2009 he went on Operation Iraqi Children (OIC) to Iraq to perform for the troops and deliver schools supplies to the Iraqi Children. David performed in Country Tonite for 3 years. For the Last 7 years he was on the Showboat Branson Belle. David is so grateful to finally be a part of the Clay Cooper Country Express. He would like to Thank Clay and Tina for this wonderful opportunity to share his gift from God with everyone in the wonderful cast.
R P was raised in Lufkin, Texas, where he began playing professionally in 1967. By 1969 he was on the road full time, with regular appearances at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. During the early 70’s he also began a career in the recording industry, which led him to his first love of producing, engineering, and performing on recordings. He married his wife, Debbie Sue, in 1972, and they toured the U.S. and performed together through 1982. Through the 80’s he alternated touring and recording careers. Since moving to Branson in 1992, R.P. performed and toured with Rex Allen, Jr. and Roy Clark. In 1994 he joined “Country Tonite” when it opened in Branson. During his ten years with the show, he was the director, musical director, pianist, vocalist, and production manager. He either produced or co-produced several seasons of the show as well. He was voted Branson’s “Piano Player of the Year” for three consecutive years, and inducted into the Branson Entertainer’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Mark Evans is originally from Sandpoint, Idaho. At only 16 years old, Barbara Mandrell hired him as the bass player for her show, and he performed the Grand Ole Opry with her. Mark later toured with Johnny Paycheck and then decided to take a break from performing. He worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, Bristol Bay, and Southeast for halibut, salmon, and shrimp. He later came to Branson and performed in several shows in town including 50’s At the Hop, Breakfast with the Classics, Moe Bandy, Barbara Mandrell, Barry Williams 70’s Show, and now Clay Cooper’s Country Express. He has also played with Kathy Mattea, Red Simpson, Nat Stucky, George Jones, Billy Dean, and the Edgar Winter Band. When he isn’t working, he enjoys taking long walks, fishing, and spending time with his beautiful girls, Madison and Shelby.
Jimmy Hyde, originally from Hibbing, Minnesota, is definitely a favorite here in Branson. Jimmy left high school and received an Associate of Arts Degree in English Literature. He spent another year of school at the University of Minnesota. Jimmy then moved to Nashville and toured as the drummer for several artists including Kitty Wells, Exile, and spent 20 years working for Eddie Rabbit. Jimmy came to Branson in 2002 as the new drummer for Country Tonite and joined the Country Express cast in 2007. In his spare time, Jimmy enjoys solving crossword puzzles, watching the History Channel, and riding his bike. You have to have a great drummer when performing live music with singers and dancers, and we are all very thankful to have Jimmy!
Barry Bales, originally from Alton, Missouri, began playing the guitar in the late 60’s and was highly influenced by guitar greats such as Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Don Rich, Roy Nichols, Hank Garland, Leon Rhodes & Joe Pass just to name a few. After several years of playing night club circuits all over the country, he landed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he performed in a prominent stage show. From there he moved to Branson and has worked on several Branson stages with Joey Riley, The Rankin Brothers, Red Hot & Blue, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Barry has played guitar with the likes of Moe Bandy, Joe Stampley, Jean Shepard, Leona Williams, Pake Mclntyre, Wanda Jackson & was a member of the world renowned Statesiders band with Mel Tillis. He has also performed at the Grand Ole Opry numerous times including during their national television broadcast on GAC Network. When he has a little free time, Barry enjoys spending time with his wife, Jenny, their three daughters and his grandkids.
Jonathan Black was born in Jasper, Alabama, and is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He moved to Branson in 1995 to perform with Barbara Fairchild. Jonathan has since performed with Lost in the 50’s, Stuck on the 70’s, Cowboys Heroes and Friends with Canadian artist Eli Barsi, The Buck Trent Morning Show, The Baldknobbers Jamboree, Grand Gospel Jubilee, Grand Country Jubilee, The 70’s Music Celebration starring Barry Williams, and Hot Rods & High Heels. Jonathan also had the opportunity to perform with such artist as Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Chubby Checker, Bebe Winans, Mark Lowry, Gary McSpadden, Lulu Roman, Tony Orlando, Billy Dean, Leona Williams, and Michael Peterson. In 2017 he joined the band of Clay Cooper’s Country Express playing saxophone and keyboard. He is listed in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame as a musical achiever and was awarded 2016 Branson’s Best Keyboard Player Terry Award and 2011 Critic’s Choice Best Keyboard Player of the Year. In his spare time, Jonathan practices martial arts. He is in the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2010 for Outstanding Martial Artist and won 2012 Black Belt of the Year.
Jenn Turner grew up dancing in upstate NY where she received a BFA in Dance Performance from the State University of New York at Buffalo. After graduation, she landed the role of Velma in “West Side Story”. From there, she began to perform as a singer/dancer with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. She then came to Branson, MO where she has performed in “The Kirby VanBurch Show”, “Celebrate America”, “The Promise”, “Dino’s Christmas Extravaganza!”, and “Country Tonite”. In 2009, she had the amazing opportunity to travel overseas with Operation Iraqi Children. On this trip, she performed for troops in Baghdad, Iraq, and Ramstien, Germany. She also teaches at local studio Dance Branson School of the Arts. During her spare time, she enjoys working out and spending time with her children, Savannah and AJ. You can find them performing in the Clay Cooper’s Country Express Christmas show! She loves sharing the stage with all of the wonderfully talented cast members and loves being a part of this amazing theater family.
Kelly Smith has been singing and dancing professionally for over 20 years. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in Vocal Performance/Music Education, (is a loyal Hawkeye fan), and has been dancing since the age of 6. Favorite performance credits include Hello Dolly, A Chorus Line, La Boheme, and the world tours of Up With People’s Roads and A Common Beat. Locally, you may have seen her in The Shoji Tabuchi Show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Celebrate America, The Promise, 50’s at the Hop, or Andy Williams’ Christmas Show. She’s also choreographed productions of Crazy for You, West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Bye Bye Birdie and The Music Man. Kelly loves being a part of Clay Cooper’s Country Express and is thankful that coming to “work” is so much fun! Kelly is married to her husband Zack, and they have three beautiful children. She praises God for a job she absolutely loves!! There’s nothing like living your dream!!!
Kristen Chandler is definitely known as an incredible dancer here in Branson. Kristen was born in Dowagaic, Michigan, and began dancing at the early age of three. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Dance Performance from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Kristen spent her summers performing in several theme parks during college, and moved to Branson shortly after her graduation in 2001. Kristen became a show favorite quickly here in Branson, as she landed jobs with Shoji Tabuchi, The Promise, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Celebrate America, Country Tonite, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Kristen enjoys spending her time with her two lovely girls. She also enjoys working out, knitting, and baking.
Born and raised here in Branson, Missouri, Elizabeth Sparks began dancing and performing as a child. At age 14, she joined the cast of the Jim Stafford show in Branson and went on to work at Shepherd of the Hills, The Gatlin Brothers Show, and Silver Dollar City. In high school, Elizabeth developed a passion for color guard. She continued color guard as a member of the Missouri State University Pride Color Guard in Springfield, Mo., traveling all over the United States. During that time she also worked to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Elizabeth now teaches color guard at Marionville High School and Missouri State University. When she has some time to herself, Elizabeth enjoys reading, arts and crafts, and spending time with her husband Derek.
Samantha Stephans grew up in the Branson area and began her dance training at the age of five. Over the years she has trained in a wide variety of techniques including tap, jazz, ballet, pointe, modern, and musical theatre. At the age of 10, she began training more specifically in classical ballet and pointe, under the direction of Ashley Paige Romines at the Springfield Ballet in Springfield, MO. During those years she performed in the Nutcracker, annually, as well as other ballet performances such as Peter and The Wolf, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella. In her senior year she also had the opportunity to choreograph and perform an original contemporary ballet piece. She attended the Summer Wind Youth Ballet Summer Intensive at the University of Oklahoma, both in 2010 and 2012, as well as the Springfield Ballet’s summer intensive in 2010 and 2013. Samantha has also performed for several years in Silver Dollar City’s Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade. Samantha is so thankful for the opportunity to dance alongside the talented cast of Clay Cooper’s Country Express! In addition to her love for dance, she also has a degree in public relations and works as a social media coordinator. When she’s not working she enjoys spending time with her husband, Tyler, and their dog, Sadie.
Nate Bittner grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area in Illinois. Coming from a musical family, it was natural that he wanted to perform. Country music was something that Nate gravitated to, although as he pursued more classical vocal training, his taste in music broadened. He started his professional performance career at the age of eleven with the St. Louis Muny. During high school Nate was not only involved in the theatre department, but he sought to improve the community by creating a special program for elementary students in the local area, “Just Gotta Be Me,” an anti-bulling and self-esteem centered program. He continued his career around the U.S. from Carnegie Hall in New York City all the way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the opening of “South Pass” The Musical and then to Branson, Missouri. Nate now performs in Clay Cooper’s Country Express and Hot Rods and High Heels. When he’s not performing, he is pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in Management.
Nathan Applegate is a “true blue” local, having been born and raised in the Ozarks. Growing up in the Branson area provided several performance opportunities for him as a young entertainer. After graduating high school, he headed to New York City to study at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy under many veteran and current actors from Broadway, film, and television. After living and working in the Big Apple entertainment industry for five years, Nathan was ready to come home to the Branson stage once again. He has been blessed by the opportunity to perform at the Clay Cooper Theatre for several years in both Clay Cooper’s Country Express and Hot Rods & High Heels 1950’s show. He also has the privilege of giving back to the area youth as a choreographer for the Hollister School District. When not on stage, you can find Nathan exploring and enjoying the beautiful Ozark Mountains with his family, friends, and his camera!
Jacob Deck is a performer/choreographer from Kennett, MO. He began singing and dancing at a very young age, and continued to pursue this passion throughout high school and college performing in numerous theatrical productions. Most recently, he has been seen in Shrek the Musical at The Welk Resort Theatre, and as a dancer in The Daniel O’Donnell Show. Jacob spends his free time directing and choreographing at The Historic Owens Theatre, choreographing for Forsyth High School’s Theatre Arts Department, and is an interim teacher at Dance Branson School of the Arts. He is so thankful to be performing along side so many wonderful professionals. “The only way to do great work, is to love what you do!”
Alex Kaskie was always active as a child participating in extreme sports and high school sports, but never really had an interest in dance even though his mother is a dance teacher. His dance career started when he was 20 years old taking classes at his mom’s studio in Carson City, Nevada. Within a few years he was training in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Sacramento and various places along the west coast. Although he continues to study various dance styles, he dedicated most of his years to the many facets of hip hop styles. He has trained and worked with big names in hip hop and is now living in Branson, Missouri, happy to be a part of the Clay Cooper Theatre family dancing in Clay Cooper’s Country Express.