Flying with Ray Charles

Excerpt from Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper on Sax

© Susan Cross, 2009

“While I was with Ray, the first plane was a Marin, the same as Frank Sinatra had, and the same that Otis Redding died in. Then he got a jet plane. He had three, plus he had a small individual plane. The Martin was for everybody. It was a 50 place, (not a 50 seater) then the jet he got was larger than that. In his small plane, a little Piper, it was just him and his pilot.

“We used to meet artists in the airports like James Brown who had his Lear Jet. He would come around and that only had about seven or eight places there, but he could get to his gigs faster.

“Jackie Gleason, Fats Waller and B.B. King never liked to fly. They took the train.

“I saw a nice sun shiny day and all buckled up when the pilot in Germany came in for those power landings. Getting to the gigs was horrifying. We had assigned seats and the guy across the aisle from me always kept some kind of bottle of something in his carry-on bag. During turbulence, when the plane would start to bounce I would look at him and I would just reach in and I didn’t care if it was scotch or gin. Then the road manager said, “No drinking on the plane.” Yeah, right. It helped me through a lot.

“We had a chartered plane in France; very exciting. They gave you wine on that plane as soon as you got on that bad boy. It was the roughest ride you could imagine. I was drinking that French wine. I stayed away from those little planes.

“I had to get a flight from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois one time. They sent us to a far point in the airport and I knew it was either a big plane or a small one. They let everybody wait until about 15 minutes before boarding. “Here comes your little plane.” We saw this little plane come up with these little donut wheels. Oh boy. That was the most exciting trip. That little thing climbed up and it was filled with almost all state politicians, all prim and proper with their attaché cases and their newspapers. There wasn’t that much space on the plane because the luggage was inside with us. When that little plane started to bounce around people began to look at each other.

“I said, ‘When we leave Springfield I’m getting the bus.’ It was just that one time I had to fly in a place with just 12-13 people and it was too exciting for me.

copyright Susan Cross August 2009


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