Helen Leatherwood Letter

 
 

Webmaster Note: What follows is a very interesting footnote to Julie London’s musical legacy by someone who was there. You will not read this anywhere else.

For about the last 15 years, the Satin Doll Trio, out of Washington, D.C., has been entertaining audiences in the intimate fashion of performers in classic 1950s and 1960s night clubs such as Julie London performed in during her public singing career. The Satin Doll Trio came across my julielondon.org site and we began a dialog. The trio had been in contact with a daughter of Ray Leatherwood, Lynn. The Satin Doll Trio has shared some very personal correspondence with Helen, the wife of Ray Leatherwood, Julie London’s bassist at the Julie’s first musical gig at Johnny Walsh’s 881 Club in 1955 and on her debut album, “Julie Is Her Name” also recorded and released in 1955.

Ray Leatherwood died in August 1996, and the following letters are the first-hand history of the period told by Ray’s wife Helen. It is a treasure.

As additional perspective, Bobby Troup died 2/7/99, about a year-and-a-half earlier than this letter. Julie London would join Bobby and Ray in heaven about two months later 10/18/00. Let the music begin anew with an audience full of angels.

I think Helen Leatherwood was about 80-years-old at this writing. I have transcribed Helen Leatherwood’s letter from a PDF scan of her hand written note to the Satin Doll Trio. Ken Kilpatrick, of the Satin Doll Trio was kind enough to edit and double check my transcription and suggest several improvements. We thank him.

Austin Kearney


July 5, 2000

Dear Patrice, Fred and Ken,

Glad to receive the new CD’s and I will see that Carol gets hers.  Glad to see that you are so busy and having so much fun.  It’s always wonderful when you are doing things you enjoy.  I asked Ray once, if you had to choose between your music and your aircraft company and flying, which would it be.  He answered right away, I could not choose one over the other.  Our youngest son Rick, who is president of the company now, just last week said Mom, how did dad do it? --- He plays guitar but never went professional --- played up at Big Bear last weekend and back at work on Monday --- He said Dad was playing every night and was in the office at 8:00 a.m.  I said that’s because your Dad loved what he was doing.  He was really special --- and he knows that.  He is only 45 years old.

You picked some great tunes for your CD --- love them all.  How about ‘Swonderful, the flip side of ‘Cry Me a River’. That’s the one they expected to hit ---- but it was ‘Cry Me’.  I love the tempo on ‘Swonderful.  Too much ----

The big news this year is that I became a Great Grandmother.   Carol’s daughter, Jennifer Rae had a baby boy two months ago.  Now I have four grand daughters and one great grandson.  I was hoping for a girl then I would have had ‘A Chorus Line’.  Being an ex-chorus dancer, I could put them to work!  Just kidding.

Love,

Helen


August 8, 2000

Dear Satin Doll Trio,

My new friends, Pat, Fred and Ken. I have received your letters, one to Carol and one to me, also the CDs. Thank you so much. I have enjoyed listening ---- thanks for all the nice things you write about Ray, wish you could have known him, he was really special ---- a guy from Itasca, Texas (about 70 miles from Dallas) he and Tex Beneke were playing together when they were 17-years-old. Tex, from Ft. Worth, Texas.

You wrote you met our wonderful daughter Carol Lynn (I call her Lynn) ---- and for years and years I have told her I wish I had 10 just like you. She just rolls her green eyes and says ‘please Mom, don’t embarrass me of course you have two wonderful sons’, Tom our oldest and Rick the youngest. They are five years apart. We sorta planned it that way to get to know each one before the next ----we were awful busy in those days ---- and Ray was on the road and chasing Bob Hope around the world.

Well I could go on and on, but you asked me about 1955 ---- as I recall, Barney Kessel called Ray for the job in Beverly Hills with Julie. I think Ray had left Les Brown at that time, sick of being away from the family on the road all the time.

At this time I was expecting, hoping for another baby girl like Lynn. Well Barney, Ray and Julie went into this swanky nite spot, I can’t think of the name of the place, and they were a hit. Ray kept asking me when I wanted to go and hear the trio. Well I made it over one nite. I think it was about a week later when they closed, September 17, 1955. I had a 9 lb. baby boy named Rich Leatherwood. I was only 5’2”, well that was a surprise!! And what a joy he is today. He is now President of our Aircraft Co. that Ray and I founded in the 1960s (that’s another story for later.)

To get back to the trio, they recorded the album and the last nite they were at the club and recording it got to be the wee morning hours. The controller said we have room for one more tune so Julie said, “lets do Cry Me a River!” I don’t think they had any music, they just started playing. Barney said “you start Ray” and away they went. It all meshed together ---- wonderful.

Julie said, (Barney who was contractor) “do you guys want to wait and see what happens or do you want to get paid for the nite?”

Well Ray couldn’t say anything and Barney, the contractor, said I do this for girl singers all the time. Ray, let’s just get paid. So they got scale, $45.00. ---- Need I say any more?

Neither one of them thought.  When it hit, it went right to the top, and Julie was on top ---- and we were happy for her.

Ray was never called again to play with Julie, and even Barney for that matter. She recorded with a huge orchestra but I noticed how they copied note by note what Ray played that came out of his head, on Cry Me a River.

When Ray passed away in Paso Robles, of all places, (that’s another story) we had a memorial service at the airport, our son’s business home. It made it hard cause everyone in L.A. wanted to come (musicians) but we couldn’t do that ----300 miles away.

I was shocked when I got a phone call from Bobby Troup calling me from L.A. ---- to Paso Robles, he was very upset about Ray. We hadn’t heard from him in years. That was so nice of him. I asked about Julie and he said she couldn’t come to the phone but sent love. I asked how Julie was and he said she had broken a hip and then soon after she got out she broke the other hip. Bobby said, “it’s hell to get old” ---- and here he just died about a year ago. He was a wonderful guy. Don’t know how Julie is today.

I don’t believe this, just as I wrote this, in my kitchen with the radio on ---- just now ---- the next tune came on and it was (the original) “Cry Me a River” ---- and there they were. Wow!! It sounded so great.

Oh . . . the memories really hurt sometimes.

Well my dears, I’m sorry about the messy writing. I don’t have an office anymore. My kids took it over. They gave me an old computer. Set it up and said “play with it.” ----Ha! I tried that.

Thanks again for the CD, enjoy every minute of life. I’m so glad to have been in show business since I was 14-years-old. I feel blessed. It’s been some ride.

Love,

Helen

 

July & August 2000