I interviewed Mr. Murphy in 2009 after his grand daughter contacted me via Leroy's original MySpace page (no longer updated). Although the interview is not entirely about Leroy, it gives insight into African American history as well as their friendship and music.
Susan Cross: Did you go to school with Leroy?
No. I went to St. Peter’s Academy from first grade to 12th grade. Fathead went there for maybe 2 years. I can remember we used to line up to go into school by grades. Another boy played drums while everybody marched in. Fathead was below me in school.
Leroy and I played together with our fathers. Our fathers played together in the Fred Cooper Orchestra and we played with them.
I hadn’t seen Leroy until he came out to the house with Ray once. The last I heard of Leroy he was working at an amusement center [Disney World] down there in Orlando.
I never knew his family. I always regretted that. I assume he got married and had a family.
I went to UCLA and then I went to a University in New Orleans because my brothers told me that they had a very good music program. I got my degrees in Music Education and started teaching. I went on and got my Masters in Administration. I retired from that.
I played until 1992 and had a stroke then. I haven’t played since then but I still have my drums set up in my music room. When I was teaching my band director and myself we had a band in East Texas and we were in a train one night. I was mostly a trumpet player. I always wondered what happened to Leroy. When Ray came to Dallas, he got Fathead and then Leroy and my dad wouldn’t let me go. I was playing trumpet then. When I grew up I started playing piano when I was 6 or 7 years old. I was up on the bandstand with my daddy and my uncle. He had perfect pitch. It was actually the band called the Satisfied Five. There were times there were 3 of us or 9 of us or 6 of us and I played the horn when they needed a horn and when the piano player got sick I played piano.
Susan: Can you tell me something special about Leroy that stands out in your mind?
Obviously he liked to eat. I used to tease him about that. He was quick to catch on. He told me one time about his father. His father played clarinet, alto and baritone. I have a picture of the band. My father played the piano, soprano and the bass sax. That the only time I’ve ever seen a bass sax and I haven’t seen one since then. Leroy used to tell me that my father was his inspiration. He said he always wanted to play like my father. My father had one of those soft tones. We’d laugh and joke. We’d go to dances sometimes and Leroy would never get up. He’d sit and I’d be dancing and come back to the table and sit there with him at a table and get back out on the floor.
We were in our teens when we played with our fathers. Our fathers and our families were good friends. Everyone in that band was friends. His uncle played drums. His father was Leroy Cooper, Sr. and his cousin played drums in the Fred Cooper Orchestra. We learned to read music playing with our fathers.
Susan Cross: Do you regret not going on the road like Leroy did?
I don’t know. I lived a pretty good life. I didn’t do a lot of traveling overseas or out of the state. My father told me that the road was not the place to be and he showed me by not going with a lot of people that came, like Count Basie, Cab Calloway. Cab Calloway was into music and he just didn’t want me to do that. Being a dutiful son I didn’t do that. So Leroy and Fathead went on with Ray and I went to school and stuck with teaching.
I was a band director for 6 years in one place in ’49 at Crocket State. I went to Anouac TX halfway between Houston and Beaumont and I was a band director there for about 5 years. I moved to Houston and went into administration because at that time integration hadn’t set in and they didn’t have a space for a band director. They had three of them that weren’t about to go anywhere. So I went into administration in elementary education and started teaching. One of my students happened to be a deputy constable and got me into that so I was keeping pretty busy.
Susan Cross: Did you grow up in a middle class neighborhood?
Actually I had a lot of help going to college. One of the things I remember from my father is that he was what they called an elevator starter in a building in downtown Dallas. His pay was 15 a week. They took out 15 cents for Soc Sec. His pay was 14.85. I went to a Catholic School. We didn’t do a lot of playing together. We both lived in South Dallas but several miles away from each other. I lived on one side of the town and he lived on the other. Our families would have picnics. We were just like normal boys but on the bandstand we were big shots. All the kids at school looked up to us because we were musicians on the bandstands with our fathers. Our fathers learned to read music. They played off arrangements. They could buy the arrangements at the music store for about 75 cents. Playing on the bandstand was a different situation than just sitting and playing piano lessons. We enjoyed that. I had a friend in Dallas who played trombone. We used to call each other up on the phone and play trombone together. In those days we didn’t know too much about blues because there were no blues stations in Dallas. We played Glenn Miller arranged songs. Every now and then we played the St Louis blues songs that were most popular. It was more the big band sound. Our fathers played Tommy Dorsey for white clubs and mostly white places so that was where we played that music. Every now and then they’d say play that stomp down music. They called in boogie-woogie so they could dance.
Susan Cross: Did you go in and out the back door?
Yes. But we didn’t think about it because that was just what everybody did.
I have 6 children 3 girls and 3 boys, 11 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.
Leroy told me when he called me one time that he was playing with a trio or quartet walking the grounds there at the park. [Disney World, Orlando, FL)
When we were growing up and went to dances he sat at the table drinking beer. One time I remember him taking some marijuana. I asked Leroy years later, “Does Ray let you get high on stage?” He said, “As long as we don’t get any higher than he is.”
I had a stroke a few years ago that took out my right side. While I was in the hospital my daughter told me about Natalie Cole recording with her father, Unforgettable. I asked her to bring it to me at the hospital. I sang with the record at the hospital I met Nat Cole. I have his autograph on my student activity card from UCLA when I was there. One of the ladies from the hospital told me that there was nothing more they could do for me. They got my arms and my legs working. I said, Okay. Don’t worry about it. I went home I got in front of the TV. I put that album on and I sang with Natalie, I conducted that band, and got my range of motion back so now I can use my right arm. It got me between that and Natalie and praying, I got up.