Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview with David 'Fathead' Newman

During the many afternoons I spent with Leroy Hog Cooper he talked about so many of his friends. Some of these people were relatively new friends, people he knew during his 20 year stint at Disney World playing in the Dixieland band, the jazz band and at private functions held in the park and hotels on property. Others were people he met after he retired and became more involved in the local jazz, blues and society bands that filled up his calendar and kept his lips on the mouthpiece of his various horns.

However, in the beginning of our time together, Leroy spoke mostly about his old friends. The ones he knew growing up. The ones that he played with in the school band. And the ones he played with in clubs. Probably the most important one of these was a fellow who was a couple of years younger than Leroy that he knew in school. They both played saxophone. And eventually, this friend would be the one that changed Leroy's life forever. His name was David Newman, also known as Fathead.

Here is the transcript of a telephone interview I did with David on April 23, 2007. Unfortunately, at that time I didn't have enough information to ask more relevant questions and my interview was mostly targeted at his relationship with Leroy. David was soft-spoken, warm, friendly and expressed his love for Leroy, just as Leroy had expressed his love for David.

Susan Cross:  How long were you with Ray Charles?

David Newman:  From September 1954 to 1964; 10 years. Then I went back in 1970 to 1971, so altogether 11 years.

Susan Cross:  What was your relationship with Leroy?

David Newman:  We were very good friends and colleagues. We go back a long way. Growing up in Dallas, I was a few years behind Leroy in school, being younger than he was. We got to know each other when we both had the same band director at Lincoln High school, Mr. Miller.

Susan Cross:  Was that Uncle Dud?

David Newman:  Yes. That was his nickname. I lost touch with Leroy when he went to college and then into the Army. When he got out and came back to Dallas, we got back together.

Leroy joined the Ernie Fields big band and was playing the baritone sax by then. He had started on the alto, but he was such a big man he was blowing the buttons off of it, not literally, but figuratively. The baritone was very fitting for him being the big guy that he was.

Susan Cross:  How did Leroy join Ray’s band?

David Newman:  Ray’s band needed a baritone sax and knowing Leroy, I recommended bringing him into the band. Later on, I also got James Clay to join.

When Leroy joined, it was a small band. It became a big band in 1960.

The movie, Ray, was inaccurate and so unfortunate.

Susan Cross:  When did you start playing the sax?

David Newman:  When I was about 8 or 9.

Susan Cross:  Was it your first instrument?

David Newman:  No. My mother had me taking piano lessons for about 2 years and the other kids were calling me a sissy. So I told my mother that I wanted to play a more masculine instrument. She asked me, like what? I said, I don’t know. A horn, maybe, a saxophone. So I started taking lessons on the alto sax which was the second smallest, soprano being the smallest. Mr. Miller gave me lessons.

In our youth, there was a place called the American Woodlands Hall. All the musicians would go there and jam and get to know each other. That went on for years.

Leroy’s dad was a fine musician. I never heard him play, but Buster Smith was my (and Leroy’s) main influence growing up, and he knew Leroy’s dad and said he was a fine musician.

Susan Cross:  Who are your favorite sax players today?

David Newman:  James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson.

At the end of the conversation, David told me to feel free to call any time if I had more questions. Unfortunately I did not make a second call. David died less than 2 weeks after Leroy in January 2009. Their music lives on. You can learn more about David 'Fathead' Newman click here.

2 comments:

Jai Joshi said...

You have so many fascinating stories to tell about your experiences talking to and getting to know these extraordinary people. What was really interesting to me was how David Newman mentioned that the movie Ray was so inaccurate and unfortunate. I wanted to ask how, why, what parts were unfortunate.

Such a shame that he's gone now.

Jai

Susan Cross said...

Hi Jai, I transcribed this verbatim and left that in since it is what he said. I already knew what he was talking about from things Leroy had told me. Perhaps those will be posted later. Mrs. Newman was kind enough to give me permission to post this today, exactly as he said it.