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HT Jazz History Vol 2: Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper

“I went in for a brief call-in and ended up being in the band for 20 years.”

Leroy "Hog" Cooper (August 31, 1928 – January 15, 2009) was a jazz and R&B baritone saxophonist, most known for his 20-year association, some of the time as musical director/bandleader, with Ray Charles. From 1948 to 1951, Cooper toured with Ernie Fields' territory band.

A childhood friend of David "Fathead" Newman, in 1954 the two played together in the sax section backing Lowell Fulson on his first single for Chess Records, "Reconsider Baby".

In 1957, Newman recommended Cooper to Charles, who joined Charles' band the same summer as bassist Edgar Willis, both musicians staying on with Charles for some twenty years.

Cooper also played, recorded or toured with Lightnin' Hopkins, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lowell Fulson, The Righteous Brothers, Dr. John, Del Shannon, Bobby Short, and Joe Cocker. Performed locally in Orlando till the time of his death with the Smokin' Torpedoes & Josh Miller Blues Band.

Leroy started playing music in high school, and attended the prestigious Huston-Tillotson College (now called Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas on a music scholarship. While Cooper attended, his 18-piece school band – the Huston Collegians – opened frequently for Nat King Cole. Jackie Robinson was the basketball coach there, and when he left to become the first African-American to play in baseball’s Major Leagues, Cooper’s college band provided the music. “Nobody could believe us, that as college boys we could play like we did,” he said. It was also during college that he acquired his nick-name. “Some little guy in college called me, ‘You big hoghead’. Boy, everybody thought that was hilarious. I was ‘Pig’ first, then I went to ‘Hog’. Too much spaghetti and wine!” Leroy said, laughing.

When Cooper left school and joined the Army, he played in the band in the 315th Army in Korea, honing his horn chops. “I met a lot of celebrities-to-be in the Army, guys that went on to be famous, like Pepper Adams – who would become a big jazz artist,” Hog said. It was during Cooper’s Army years that he first met the legendary Ray Charles. “I grew up with Fathead Newman, and he was in Ray’s band,” said Cooper. “And I had been hearing about this fantastic piano player that was blind, so one day I went to hear him. This was at the 1952 session with Zuzu Bollin. I was just a spectator that day,” he told us.

When Cooper got out of the Army, he returned to Dallas and began working in local bands. It wasn’t long, though, before childhood friend Fathead Newman, who frequently played with Cooper, asked him to join Ray’s band in 1957. Cooper told us that Fathead was on the baritone sax and wanted to switch to tenor. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come play baritone and I’ll play tenor?’ and then Ray Charles’ manager called. I couldn’t believe it,” said Leroy. “I went in for a brief call-in and ended up being in the band for 20 years.”


As a sideman

with Ray Charles

with Hank Crawford

* 1960: More Soul (Atlantic)

* 1961: The Soul Clinic (Atlantic)

* 1962: From the Heart (Atlantic)

* 1964: True Blue (Atlantic)

* 1965: Dig These Blues (Atlantic)

With Curtis Amy

* Mustang (Verve, 1967)


* 1954: "Reconsider Baby" – Lowell Fulson (Chess)

* 1975: Hollywood Be Thy Name – Dr. John

* 1978: Luxury You Can Afford – Joe Cocker

* 1988: Big News from Baton Rouge!! – Kenny Neal

* 1990: Return to the Wide Open Spaces – David Newman

* 1990: Noble & Nat – Noble "Thin Man" Watts and Nat Adderley

* 1991: Walking on Fire – Kenny Neal

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