Friday, July 31, 2009

First gig in Vegas with Ray Charles

Here's a little teaser from the book about the state of the country before Ray Charles was recognized as a musical genius.

Segregation in Vegas

In Vegas, we went to the Flamingo. We were the main feature. On our breaks we were sitting on the apple crates. Billy Eckstein was a big man. He came out and told Ray, who was outside with us and was telling jokes, “You’re the headliner in here. You’re supposed to be in here with the rest of the stars.” So Ray went in and played slot machines. The guys were peeping and saying, he’s playing the slots, in other words, it’s alright for him. Ray was the only one that could stay at the Flamingo. But that first year he stayed there by himself.

The next time the Flamingo invited us up, we couldn’t even live at the hotel. We were living in the black part of town called the Dust Bowl. We were living there in a motel with the kitchen and lunch counter downstairs and we could only get cold sandwiches. Very different.

That time, Ray said, “I’m not coming back unless my band can stay.” They said, “Okay, there’s some cabins in the back.” This was about a year later. There was a big difference. The police gave us a speech. They said, “We’re going to watch you guys. Don’t you be having no drugs.” Duke Ellington had just been through there and they busted about eight guys in Duke’s band. The word was out, so that all the guys that messed around had to keep their noses clean out there. It was January and cold in the desert and we had cabins out behind the club. It was nice, very nice, like a village. We had about two hours between shows. Everyone would go out to their cabins and do whatever they wanted to do.

Every night it was real cold. We’d be bundled up going to our cabins. The police would be watching us. They would watch us like we were criminals. That was because we were black and because we were musicians, both. There were no blacks staying in the hotel; just the employees.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Never underestimate the power of Twitter

Through a little help from Twitter (never underestimate the power of Twitter) I have secured some old photos of Leroy Cooper when he played with the Ray Charles band and orchestra. The upcoming book will feature photos from the old days to the final days. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy. Why did I think it would be? I had low expectations to avoid disappointments. My how things have changed.

Let me repeat, never underestimate the power of Twitter. If you search for a keyword and find people with whom you share a common interest, you might just hit on the right one. I did. Fate? Luck? Or all those many books I read about writers building a platform through the so-called social networks? Even Larry King claims to use Twitter (Leroy Cooper didn't know how to turn on a computer let alone use MySpace, where I maintain his page, or Twitter) and they're about the same age. Of course Larry has small children and a staff who can handle his computer needs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Did I say deadlines?

I'm staying up 'til 2 AM and every day I find one more detail that needs to be addressed. Just when I thought I was closing in on my final 'to do' list and getting my manuscript ready for the editors. I'm not complaining, just frustrated.

Looks like I've secured more photos of Leroy Cooper with Ray Charles from the olden days that will definitely add value and credibility to the context of Leroy's memoir. They're worth waiting for. In addition, I finally made contact with Cynthia Scott, a former Raelet, who just returned from Japan. I'll be doing an interview with her on Monday.

As if that's not enough, and it's not, I will also be interviewing renowned baritone sax player Howard Johnson who played with Charlie Mingus, Hank Crawford, Miles David, Taj Mahal and other jazz greats. Sharing their love of the baritone, he and Leroy were close so I can't leave him out.

View Cynthia Scott's Official website and listen to current music:

View Howard Johnson's Official website, sit baack and listen:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This close to playing with Count Basie

Over the years, Leroy Cooper met and mingled with so many jazz, blues and big band musicians. Count Basie was one of the favorites. Everybody wanted to play with his band. Leroy told me a story about an opportunity to play with Count Basie that slipped through his fingers in just a few moments.

"Count Basie used to have a song called Every Tub. Every tub sits on its own bottom. That meant that everybody had to give it all they got. That was a wonderful band. I always wanted to play in that band. I was about 5 or 10 minutes from it; we were on tour with them in London. The baritone player got detained in some way so they asked me to sit in. But by the time it took for me to get on the bandstand, he popped in the door. That’s the closest I ever got."

The bari player was a friend of Leroy Cooper's. When Leroy left Ray's band to go work at Disney, he tried to get him to take his place but it didn't work out.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Procrastination is an obstacle that has challenged me all my life. After spending 2-1/2 years working with Leroy Cooper on his memoir, the time has finally arrived for me to complete the project. It should have been easy. I had the material. My plan was set. Cooper had told me all of his stories and I knew what needed to be done.

I was writing magazine articles every month and always completed them before my deadline (editors are always impressed by writers who come in early) but there were always excuses - not reasons, but excuses - to delay the project.

My mentor, a very successful author gave me a valuable piece of advice. "Set a deadline," he said. I was silent. "Set a deadline and then meet it." I promised him I would and within a few days I had done it. In the past three weeks I have completed more work than I thought was possible. I've stopped accepting assignments from magazines in order to meet this deadline and complete the memoir.

Now I have a plan. Meet deadline. Manuscript to editors. Work with publisher on cover art. Make changes. Turn it over to the publisher. Then the marketing campaign begins. But, as Oprah would say, "That's another show."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Josh Miller & the Blues Revue

The last time Leroy performed was January 10, 2009 with the Josh Miller & the Blues Revue. That night, Josh said he no longer felt comfortable with the name of the band since Leroy Cooper had joined, so he was now just going to call the band The Blues Revue.

The band's repertoire spans the history of blues of all styles from all cities; N'Orleans, Dallas, Chicago, Memphis and others. But that night, the entire show was dedicated to Coop. All songs performed were from recordings he had played on during his lengthy career. It was truly a tribute to the man who had played with so many recognized blues musicians but rarely got a mention. Five days later, Coop passed away.

Last night I saw Josh Miller & the Blues Revue for the first time since the funeral. The drummer was new but he settled in perfectly with Josh on guitar and vocals, and Kenny Clarke on his Hammond organ.

The content was different - a wide variety of blues with Josh's soft and raspy voice showing his usual humility. The one song I had never heard him do before was Amazing Grace. He and Kenny played it to honor those he had lost this year, the first of which was Coop.

I was reluctant to see Josh for fear that the emotional impact would be overwhelming. To my surprise, Josh had recovered and I found that I had, too. Listening to him was very soothing. It only surprises me that more people don't recognize his name.

This video was shot in a small club but features Cooper on sax. Listen up!

Friday, July 24, 2009

And who is David Ritz?

Brother Ray - Ray Charles' Own Story was David Ritz's first published memoir. What a place for a writer to start! He worked tirelessly with Charles to give the world a glimpse into the life of the musical genius. The sadness associated with Ray's illness and death affected Ritz personally, as he recorded in the Last Days of Brother Ray and the Afterword, sections added to the publication of the original book.

David Ritz has co-authored several memoirs and autobiographies of musical celebrities including Etta James, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Mable John (former Raelet) and the Neville Brothers.

Ritz's love for music was an asset in working with these legendary musicians. Unfortunately he has suffered the loss of some and was touched by the request to deliver the eulogy at David 'Fathead' Newman's memorial service in Dallas, where Ritz, Newman and Cooper grew up.

Ritz was a lifelong friend and fan of Leroy Cooper's music. I am honored that he will be writing the Foreword to my upcoming book. View his webiste at

Let it not go unmentioned that Ritz also co-wrote Major League Baseball's Gary Sheffied's book about his career. Ritz's most recent credit is Rickles' Book, which he co-authored with the enormously successful comedian, Don Rickles. This book rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in a hurry. Besides memoirs and autobiographies, Ritz is credited with co-writing several novels.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Unveiling of the Title of Leroy Cooper's Biography

After torturous deliberations, numerous surveys, pages and pages of working titles, I have finally, finally, come to a decision for the title of the book along with the cover art.

Writing, transcribing, and putting the contents into order turned into a unanticipated challenge. But it never occurred to me how difficult it would be to choose the exact title.

And now, for the big announcement, the cover text will read:

Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax

Foreword by David Ritz
co-author of Brother Ray, Ray Charles Own Story

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leroy Cooper's Obit, Aug 31, 1928-Jan 15, 2009

Click on image to read obituary posted in Orlando Sentinel

Ghostwriters in the wind

May We Have A Word
By Susan Cross

There is a great distinction between a ghostwriter and a co-author. In my case, I was never hired to be a ghost (I'm not transparent and I'm still alive) which is good. On the other hand, there is a benefit to being a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters exchange their services for money -- up front before a project has begun. In addition to selling their services, they give up the right to use their name on the book cover or get any credit for what they've done.

I suppose if I were offered an up front payment that covered the cost of my time and expenses, plus compensated me for lost income during the course of the interviews, editing and writing process I might have considered accepting the job and taken no credit -- just money. However, my services included much more than simply interviewing and transcribing.

I spent countless weeks researching and corroborating stories. It occurred to me that there would be added value to interviewing my subject's friends and colleagues to add substance to the person that he was from the perspective of others who knew him. A complete discography needed to be provided and I had to verify everything on the list. I was fortunate to find an expert who could help with details and professional photographers who could provide excellent photos going back to 1975 during the peak of Cooper's career.

Putting everything in order, making sense out of disconnected memories, deciding what should go into the index...well I won't bore you with the specifics, but in retrospect, whatever payment I would have received up front would simply have covered my being a ghost. None of the other work would have been done. The result would have been a relatively short, one-dimensional transcription of memories. The memories are good, and they are entertaining but the additional material transforms what might have been a memoir into a well-rounded, full-length book, based upon conversations with Leroy Cooper about his life and the wonderful contributions from his old friends of whom he talked so fondly.

By the way, if anyone knows the origin of the term ghostwriter feel free to leave me a comment. I really don't think Caspar, as smart as he was, could do the work I'm doing.

Note: Most of you are too young to remember Jim Morrison's song, "Riders in the Wind" (ref. title to this post) so forgive my reference (but check out the song, now I can't stop singing it).

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

10 tips to a successful book release party

The key to a successful book release party is addressing your target market. My book is a memoir about a musician so people wandering through book stores are not likely to find my book more interesting than a new novel or a book on how to lose weight.

Instead, I'm planning to celebrate the release of my book at BB King's Blues Club in Orlando on a Sunday afternoon when the club would normally be empty. The club is not charging me because they hope to sell food and drinks to people who show up. The musicians will perform for free as a tribute to Leroy. So I have nothing to lose.

Here are some tips that might work for you:
  1. Pick a day and time that might suit your genre; Sunday afternoons are good for most people
  2. Choose a venue that serves food and will welcome new customers
  3. Create a mailing list and contact people through meetup groups that relate to your genre
  4. Put a notice at the local college, which isn't a bad place to hold your party, either
  5. Get your potential buyers involved; example: for horror/vampire genre, have people paint their faces
  6. Send a notice to any clubs or stores in your area that spBulleted Listecialize in related products
  7. Dress up like one of your characters and read his dialogue; invite an attendee to read another character's dialogue to interact with you; be dramatic
  8. Contact everyone you know; your friends will buy your book because you wrote it so have them come to the party and celebrate with you!
  9. Offer a drawing for a free book as a door prize or to someone who answers a trivia question relating to your genre
  10. Advertise it as a party, not as a reading. Parties are fun; readings can be boring.

After the show, have the books on a table and sign them with a personal message. Hopefully this will prevent them from selling the used book to someone else after they read it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Writing a memoir is like giving an exam

Beware: Extracting information from a subject for a memoir can cross the fine line into a question and answer session that doesn't reveal any character. Phrasing questions to elicit paragraphs not single word or simple sentences without background is the key.

Think about college exams. There are pages of multiple choice and then the grand finale: the essay question. The instructions say, "Answer in complete sentences" but people don't always read (or heed) the directions. Students often start out with a dependent clause such as, "Because the event led to..."

The key to a successful memoir is to start with the essay question and then ask the test questions to clarify the answers. Sounds like a piece of cake. You sit down with your subject fully prepared and the session begins. Try to think like your subject and anticipate the direction his answers will take.

When you can't specify the length of the answer your subject may start rambling. This puts the ghost writer/editor in a precarious position. If you stop him, you may miss some key memory that contains the story that will make your book a success. If you let him wander down the stream of consciousness the result will most likely cause the editor a great deal of work later on.

Assume you are working with an elderly person who has many years filled with experiences. If not, you you'd be doing an interview not writing a memoir. An event that happened last year leads back to a colorful memory that happened in childhood that in some way relates, at least in the mind of the speaker, to what he was saying. The task of putting things in order is very difficult in the end process because your reader hasn't made the connection clear enough for the reader to follow.

The challenge is to let the subject talk, interrupt him to ask "Do you remember what year that was?" or "What city were you in when that happened?" in order to get some reference points that will help you later on.

Without these bits of information you may find yourself asking that age old question: Which came first -- The chicken or the egg?

Here is a link to an interview that could have gone terribly wrong if the subject was not young and expressive. Imagine saying to a 78 year old man, "Please introduce yourself."

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Hog" blowing the bottom out of that baritone!

Even at 78 Leroy had a set of lungs!
Photo Courtesy of BV Photography, Altamonte Springs, FL

Thursday, July 16, 2009

David Ritz, author & Joel Dufour, Soul Bag Magazine

The cover art is almost complete. Wait 'til you see it -- it is gorgeous! If you could tell a book by its cover, this book is going to be fabulous!

David Ritz has agreed to write the Foreword. You all know David, I'm sure. He wrote Brother Ray, Ray Charles' autobiography. David was actually the ghost writer. (I hate that term. David is not a ghost, but he is a writer.) He worked with Ray throughout the process, spending hours upon hours with him until the book was completed. I'm very excited about having him involved since he knew Leroy and Fathead when they were both youngsters.

Joel Dufour, contributing writer for Soul Bag Magazine in France is also providing a lot of help. He's known as a top Ray Charles archivist and discographer. He is putting together Leroy's discography for the book.

I'm gathering photos that many of you have never seen before, both from the old days and after Leroy left Ray's band. I have two professional editors and one proofreader ready and waiting for the manuscript. Once they tear me to shreds, I can make any necessary edits and then it's off to the publisher to be paginated. Pagination will facilitate the building of the Table of Contents and Index.

Then galleys, publishing and then the BIG PARTY!!! The first book release party will be here in Orlando. Location is being worked out but most likely it will be at a major blues club (hint, hint) in late October. There will be live music performed by members of the bands that Leroy played with during the last years of his life. Tissue boxes will be on every table. More about the party as deadlines are met and the release date is determined. That's the news for today.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blue Note Books to publish Leroy Cooper on Sax

It's All About Leroy
By Susan Cross

Looks like I've found a publisher and chosen a title. Blue Note Books, a small publishing house, is very excited about this project. The title: Leroy Hog Cooper on Sax.

We have set a very aggressive schedule with a target date of October 15 to have books in hand. My to do list is as long as my grocery list but one by one I'm picking the items off the shelf and crossing them off.

Yesterday I sent a "Request for Permission" letter to Perseus Books asking if I could use a quote from page 302 of Brother Ray where Ray Charles speaks about Leroy Cooper and his contribution to Ray's success. My hope is to use that quote on the back cover so that Leroy's fans will know just how Ray Charles felt about his long-time bandleader. The quote also mentions other members of the band, some of whom I have spoken with and have received permission to use their interviews in the book.

Now I'm moving on to requests to use photographs of Leroy taken with Ray Charles during the '60s. Both photographers are French and knew Leroy to some degree. Their pictures would add another dimension to photos taken in the last years of Leroy's life.

I've lined up 3 professional authors/editors to handle that process and next week I'm pursuing the issue of cover art. I want to oversee that process personally since I have a vision for my book.

Check! Check! Check! I have lined up a row of dominoes and when the check marks are next to every item on the to do list and the book goes to the printer, I'm going to tap that first one and watch them all fall, pop a balloon and eat some cake with buttercream frosting. Yum.

Then the first half of the work is done, leaving the second half which may require more work than the initial steps: marketing the book. I have a marketing strategy but am still fine tuning the plan itself which will become an ongoing project. Once the first printing is sold, (hopefully within the first month -- I have been known for my optimism) we will move on to the next printing. By then I will have a stack of excellent reviews and endorsements to select from for the back cover, if I have room.

Somewhere, I have to leave room for my little tiny head shot to give myself some credit. Leroy gave me the story but I'm doing all the work. I don't like the sound of 'ghostwriter' since I am not a ghost, I am a writer. The inability to edit someone else's words is the part of writing a memoir that makes it frustrating, but I can cope. It's not about ego. It's all about Leroy.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Leroy Cooper and the Ice Capades?

Taking Notes 
By Susan Cross

Leroy always greeted me at the door with a large smile, a hug and a kiss. I miss him terribly. We would go into what he referred to as the prayer room. We sat opposite each other – Leroy on a black and white hounds-tooth chair and me on a white chair. I placed the little recorder on the hounds-tooth ottoman between us. I pushed the tiny red record button and then the stories began.

While Leroy was on a break from the Ray Charles band he told me about an unusual gig he played in Vegas.

“We were working intermissions for the Ice Capades in the Latin Hotel. We were the opening act. They’d put plywood on the ice and we’d be so cold. I was with the house band. The name of the show was Funky Soul. Good show. A lot of people was on the show. A lot of no names. Most of them almost made it. We had one hour of happiness. We played through the show until the end. No stopping.

“I was trying to keep up with the band with the baritone and they were telling me to kick your legs up high. I said, ‘Give me a break.’ I had a little comedic spot. The guitar player was about 6’4” and skinny, and they used to have us stand next to each other because I was so large.

"That’s when Metrecal was popular. All this stuff was going on and then it would get quiet and I’d be standing with Terry and they’d say something like, “I thought you were on Metrecal.” People would howl with laughter.”

For those of you who don't remember Metrecal, it was the magical weight loss potion of the day back in 1960.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How it all began - Leroy Cooper

The first time I met Leroy Cooper, he was the new member of a band called the Smokin' Torpedoes. They were at a little cigar bar called Harry's Cigar and Brew in Oviedo, Florida. Leroy was a large man with a large baritone sax.

I approached him during the break and learned that he had played with Ray Charles for 20 years. He had also played with many other famous musicians. As a writer, I asked to do an article. He invited me to his home and I interviewed him there.

After we were done he told me that he wanted to write a memoir but he didn't know any professional writers. His tendency was toward passive aggressive innuendos. In other words, the meaning of his statement translated to "Would you write my memoir?"

In my life I said the word "NO!" to my children many times, but with Leroy, I seemed to have forgotten how to pronounce it. Alas, it was too late. I committed. Or maybe I should have been committed. Leroy died on January 15, 2009, 5 days after his last gig with the Josh Miller Blues Revue at Harry’s Cigar and Brew. It seemed only fitting that our first and last encounter took place in the same venue.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved