Roy L. "Tanglefoot" McCoy, a jazz trumpeter whose 60-year career took him from the stage of Baltimore's Royal Theater to New York's famed Apollo Theater, died Monday of pneumonia at St. Agnes HealthCare. He was 80 and had lived in Baltimore.
Mr. McCoy was an integral part of the Baltimore music scene for more than 60 years. He played with some of America's greatest jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton. In addition to the famed Royal on Pennsylvania Avenue, a major stop for African-American entertainers, he played the Ritz, the largest club on The Avenue, and other local clubs.
The 6-foot-4-inch trumpeter wore size 14 shoes, earning him the nickname "Tanglefoot" after the big-footed horse of that name in Mickey Mouse cartoons.
In an oral history recorded several years ago for the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Mr. McCoy reflected on his career. "I played for Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway ... Flip Wilson, Little Richard, the Drifters, the Coasters, Moms Mabley and Harry Belafonte. I used to play rock 'n' roll, and I played for James Brown," he said.
Mr. McCoy "could make a trumpet growl in the old blues tradition, trying to make it imitate a voice. He could play a straight melody so well that you thought you were in church, and he could start a slide and always end up on the right pitch," said Dr. Reppart Stone, a retired Howard University musicologist.
Born in Stanton, Va., Mr. McCoy moved to Dolphin and Division streets in 1931 and was educated in city public schools.
One day, he and a friend went to a rehearsal of a drum-and-bugle corps sponsored by the Afro-American newspapers, which provided instruments and instruction. He went home carrying a bugle.
Several months later, he saw Louis Armstrong play at the Royal, and the trumpeter's performance inspired Mr. McCoy to take up the instrument. "[The horn] was just shining," he recalled, "and the notes were just coming out, and I thought, this is what I'm going to do." He saved money he earned as an Afro-American newsboy and bought a used trumpet.
His break came at 16 when a trumpet player quit Sammy Louis' band, which played at the Ritz, and he took his place. By the late 1930s, he was a member of the Royal Men of Rhythm, the house band at the Royal led by Tracy McCleary, who hired him.
"Tanglefoot developed into a really fine trumpet player and was a consummate musician," Mr. McCleary said.
He joined Mr. Hampton's band in 1942 and toured for a year, playing the Apollo in New York. When a booking at the Capitol Theater was canceled, he returned home, broke and out of work.
Mr. McCoy also worked in camera departments for 20 years for Sears Roebuck & Co. and retired in 1985. He was an avid photographer of city scenes.
Services will be held at noon tomorrow at the Joseph Brown Funeral Home, 2140 N. Fulton Ave.
A son, Roy L. McCoy Jr., died in 1964, and a daughter, Ernestine LeCator, on Jan. 24.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Regina Fields; a son, Donald L. McCoy of Baltimore; two granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.