Leroy Cooper, Ray Charles and ...


Click here to get an audio introduction:  Opening the show:
"Up Blues Outro" with Ray Charles, Ernest Vantrease and Mr. Leroy Cooper

The gentleman seated at the keyboards in front of Ray Charles with the large Afro 'do' is the very talented Mr. Ernest Vantrease, also known by Ray and his fans as The Deacon. Mr. Vantrease played with The Ray Charles Orchestra until the end. After a couple of years hiatus, working on his ranch, he was summoned by B.B. King to join his band and is currently playing keyboards with Mr. King.

* * *

I met Leroy Cooper in Orlando, Florida where he was playing with a local blues band. Once I realized that he had been with Ray Charles for almost 20 years I requested an interview. He humbly agreed to talk with me at his home. We talked for an hour or so as he told me about his background as Ray's bandleader and baritone saxophone player from 1957-1977 and how he ended up in Orlando.

At the end of the interview, Leroy asked me if I would write his memoir. He said he felt so comfortable talking to me and always wanted to document his life and career. The little voice in my head said, "How many times have you said no to your children and grandchildren? Just say no. It's too much work." And yet I heard the words slip out of my mouth as if in a stranger's voice, "It would be an honor."
 Leroy and I got together during afternoons between that time and December 2008. He told me stories and I recorded them, then transcribed them. It was a joy spending time with him. I didn't interview him, we had conversations. There was a tremendous amount of work to be done to get the stories into a comprehensive order and in the end Leroy passed away in January 2009 so the book was never published.

In order to keep his stories alive, I have decided to post them here. People who knew Leroy Cooper or fans of Ray Charles and his 5 piece band which turned into a full orchestra might like to learn more about him. A lot of this information is personal and some about the changes in the changes in this country in regard to civil rights which my generation fought so hard to change.  I am also including interviews I did with many musicians who played with Ray Charles and knew Leroy from those years. Little by little, I want his memories to trickle out so that he is not forgotten.

Click the links below to view the stories that have been posted so far and check back for those that will continue to be added.

Leroy Cooper, Robert Murphy: 2 musicians, 2 separate paths

Austin Musicians, playing with Johnny Mathis

Leroy Cooper talks about Las Vegas

Leroy and Marcus Belgrave; Interview with Belgrave

Meet the Beatles, and Billy Preston

Writing Leroy Cooper's Memoir

Leroy Cooper, The Righteous Brothers and Glen Campbell

Leroy Cooper - One Man Band - In his own words

Interview with David 'Fathead' Newman

Leroy Cooper on Frankie Lee Sims and Sun Ra

Leaving Ray Charles - the First Time

Home: A Place without Race

Leroy Cooper, Ernie Fields, Charlie Barnet and Uncle Sam

Leroy Cooper's Army Days

Ray Charles - Traveling in the South

Leroy Cooper talks about Nat King Cole