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.
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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