Ray Leatherwood, his surname providing raw materials for both his instrument and a case for it, played bass and tuba professionally since saddling up with an outfit known as the Mustang Band on the '30s Texas territory band scene. He has since been featured on more than 120 jazz albums alone, keeping his hand in during his senior years with challenging rehearsal groups such as Dick Cary's Tuesday Night Friends. Pile the entire Leatherwood discography in a mound and chances are good most listeners will leap over it to get to one particular title, singer Julie London's Julie Is Her Name, Vol. 1 album, recorded in a period of several months between the end of 1955 and the outset of the following year. For this masterpiece the sultry London is accompanied only by stuffy, conservative, but flashy guitarist Barney Kessel and the Leatherwood bass. One song from this session, "Cry Me a River," flowed right onto the hit parade. The entire record -- like the duet session featuring Sammy Davis, Jr. backed only by guitarist Laurindo Almeida or Ella Fitzgerald's many sides featuring only piano -- demonstrates the incredible power of vocal music when arrangements are stripped down to the gun and holster, so to speak.
If a bassist is involved, this process works best when the player comes from the old school of providing foundation, shorn of extra noodling or portamento that sounds like a dolphin being massaged. Leatherwood is a reliable rhythm section player following in the bass patterns of Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown, and Red Mitchell. He performed with violinist Joe Venuti in the late '30s, going on to the groups of Bob Chester and Tommy Dorsey in the ensuing decade. Leatherwood's years in the service were spent organizing armed forces bands in California. He stayed put after the end of the war, gigging in California clubs and getting into the rhythm section of bandleader Les Brown from 1947 into the early '50s. Freelance activity continued on the Los Angeles scene, the bassist showing up on pop recordings by Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney, even handling a session for country & western fellow Sonny James.