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Sugar Ray Leonard's Fight 'In And Out Of The Ring'

The former boxing champ won world titles in five weight divisions and received a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. In his new autobiography, The Big Fight, Leonard details the obstacles he battled — including sexual abuse and addictions — during his career.

21:13

Other segments from the episode on June 6, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 6, 2011: Interview with Sugar Ray Leonard; Interview with members of the rock band Los Straitjackets.

Transcript

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Sugar Ray Leonard's Fight 'In And Out Of The Ring'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross.

My guest today is boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard. Over a 20-year professional
career, he won championships in five different weight divisions. In a world of
heavy-hitting bruisers, Leonard was a nimble five-foot-nine, defeating
opponents with quick hands and great footwork and winning fans and media
approval with his good looks and personal charm.

Leonard will tell us about taking on tough opponents like Roberto Duran and
Marvin Hagler and about the world of boxing. How he learned to take a punch and
psych out adversaries and how he managed and mismanaged his personal life after
he became rich and famous.

Sugar Ray Leonard has a new memoir called "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of
the Ring." I spoke to him last week. Leonard grew up with his parents and five
brothers and sisters in a working-class community in Maryland. He went to a
neighborhood gym and fell in love with boxing at age 14. After a six-year
amateur career, he won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. I asked
him if he expected to turn pro at the time.

Mr. SUGAR RAY LEONARD (Professional Boxer): I had no intentions of turning
professional. In fact, because my hands - both of my hands were very fragile
and I would soak them in ice and ice water and they would pain me so much. I
mean, each fight was - the pain that my hands would receive was so much worse
than the punches in the head. And I saw myself as, you know, just trying to
accomplish the ultimate as an amateur competitor. And that was the Olympics. I
wanted to win the gold medal and then go home and then pursue my education or
further my education in college.

I had no intentions whatsoever to become a professional fighter because I've
heard horror stories about former boxers, former champions who made money, but
in the end ended up with nothing. And I didn't want to be one of those guys.

DAVIES: So, what changed your mind?

Mr. LEONARD: What changed my mind was reality. My dad, who was sick during the
Olympics, he never told anyone. My dad is a very proud man. He's a country boy.
And, you know, he was taught to never show weakness, so my dad was suffering
from spinal meningitis and tuberculosis, but he never said anything. He
couldn't urinate for weeks at a time. And when he got home, he went into a
coma.

And the family was just devastated. We had no money. My mom was, you know, she
was dealing with her own health issues because she had kind of a heart ailment.
So we needed money right away. And the only way I felt I could make money - and
this was from James Martin, who eventually became my trainer and my mentor - he
said, you turn pro and you make money. You pay your father's hospital bills.
And I did that. I turned professional for that reason.

DAVIES: I want to talk about boxing, about getting ready for it, about what the
experience is like. First of all, when you're training for a fight, you're
sparring a lot. And I always find this interesting because I'm trying to
imagine how you get anything like the experience of being in the ring when
you're with a sparring partner.

And I think of, like, baseball players. I mean, they take batting practice
every day and they can work on their hitting mechanics, but that's nothing like
seeing a Randy Johnson fastball. How do you try and replicate the experience of
a real fight in sparring rounds?

Mr. LEONARD: Well, you simulate that by having an opponent or a sparring
partner that is very, very similar to the guy you're about to face with height,
with reach advantage, with speed, with power. And you work on - well, I work on
certain moves that will be a factor in the contest. Whether I have to bob and
weave or constantly being mobile, don't be a stationary target. All those
things - because I choreograph my fights in my head and in the ring before I
face the opponent.

And it's always come to fruition. I means, it happens. It always happens,
except a few times when people try to ad lib. But for the most part, my
choreography has benefited me tremendously.

DAVIES: So if you're going to fight somebody who is big and likes to head butt,
then you get a sparring partner who's big and likes to head butt.

Mr. LEONARD: Yes. I mean, I fought Roberto Duran the first time and he won. He
beat - he won that fight. So the next fight, I had a guy, Dale Staley, who was
just, first of all, he was - he idolized Roberto Duran, he fought like Roberto
Duran. He used his head. And he was - dirty tactics and what have you. So I had
him in my training camp and he tried to - he tried to do those things to me.
And it made me more aware from a defensive standpoint so that when I faced
Duran, I was prepared for that.

DAVIES: He was the guy who called himself the American Assassin.

Mr. LEONARD: That's the same guy. Yes.

DAVIES: The right guy for the moment when you're fighting Duran.

Now, the other thing that was interesting about the book was that you say that
people send spies to their opponent's training camps to watch them train. You
did this on one occasion, right?

Mr. LEONARD: Yes. I did that. Actually, I did that with Duran. No, I did it
with Marvin Hagler, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I sent a few spies, if you will,
to see exactly what Hagler was doing or to see what exactly what Roberto Duran
was doing in training camp and that's very valuable.

DAVIES: And do you remember anything that you picked up, say, from Hagler?

Mr. LEONARD: The thing with Hagler, J.D. Brown, my guy, you know, who's been
with me for many years, he went to Hagler's training camp. I believe it was in
Palm Springs. And what he noticed was that Marvin Hagler, for so many years has
always believed that the first fighter to the center of the ring, when the bell
rings, would win the fight. That's one of those idiosyncrasies. It's one of
those things he would always do.

DAVIES: The bell at the beginning of the round, you mean, right?

Mr. LEONARD: Yeah.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. LEONARD: Once the bell rings, he has to be in the middle of the ring - or
the center of the ring to start the contest and he believed in that. It's one
of those things. And I broke that because I would be in the middle of the ring
before he got there.

DAVIES: One of the other interesting things about preparing for a fight, I
mean, those of us who are ordinary people watch a boxing match and see you guys
take punches that would lay me out for a week. How do you prepare yourself to
withstand that kind of punishment?

Mr. LEONARD: I'm glad you asked me this question because of all the things I
miss in boxing, I miss training camp. I miss the preparation of a bout. I miss
choreographing the tactics and moves and things like that. I miss all my guys,
my entourage being around me and working out with me, getting in better shape
than they were three, four months ago.

The beauty of smelling a gym. The first week, you know, you're really getting
yourself - you're getting pounded by your sparring partners because you're not
in great shape yet. But it's a gradual progression of getting better. And as
the weeks go by, you look into the mirror and you see a different person. You
see a different animal. You see a fighter. It evolves. You know, one minute you
look kind of soft, then all of a sudden, within six to eight weeks, your have
muscles. The definition, all those things appear because a mirror doesn't lie.
It tells you exactly what you are.

DAVIES: Let's talk about being in the fight itself. There's, you know, you get
one minute between three-minute rounds. And we see guys come back to their
corner after a round and, you know, somebody squirts, you know, empties a
sponge over your head to cool you off. You might get, you know, grease on your
cheeks to let punches slip. They might tend a couple of cuts. And then your
corner man is talking to you.

And I always picture, I mean, I can imagine your lungs are burning. You're in
pain. You're exhausted. And I hear the guys in the corner saying things that
you probably already know. You know, get in close. Move away from the ropes.
What makes a good corner man? Are you even hearing what's going on then?

Mr. LEONARD: There are different stages of that. When you are losing, you
really don't hear, or you don't want to hear what your trainer has to say. And
he might be telling you the right thing, but you are so exhausted and you are
so pounded up, you're so beat up, that your lungs are burning, your legs are
tired. I mean, everything. And you've given up because 89 percent or maybe 90
percent of guys go back to the corner in a tough fight, they're about to give
up. But there's the few that has that intestinal fortitude and they want to win
at any cost. That's the guy who's listening to whatever his corner has to say.

The key is having someone who's composed, someone who has experience, someone
who wants you to get off that stool and go at that guy, but not sound so
desperate or frustrated. And Angelo Dundee was that guy who was in my corner
who said the right things at the right time, the perfect soundbite. Like when I
fought Hearns and he said, you're blowing it, son, you're blowing it. And I was
so exhausted in that fight back in '81, 'cause it was over 100 degrees in that
ring. And Tommy had pounded my left eye to - it was almost closed. And Angelo
said just the right thing at the right time that got me up out of that stool to
win that fight.

DAVIES: And why was hearing, you're blowing it, son, from Angelo Dundee the
right thing at that moment?

Mr. LEONARD: Because he didn't freak out. He didn't sound desperate. Although
there was a sense of urgency I heard in his voice, but not desperate. Those are
two different words.

DAVIES: Now, when you're in a fight and you really get tagged, either knocked
down or just hit square and it hurts, how do you recover and stay on your feet
when the round's still going? Are there techniques you have for that?

Mr. LEONARD: There are pointers that you are given because when you get knocked
down, the first thing you do is try to compose yourself and not rush up. Don't
jump up because of embarrassment, because what happens, your equilibrium is
still off. And if you step up too fast, you're going to stumble. You're going
to fall back. The key is to hopefully be near a rope where you can use as a
brace to help you up. But, also, while you're doing that, getting up, eye
contact with the referee to let him know or give him a sense of, I'm OK.

It's just little pointers just like golf, you know, make those little
adjustments. The same thing occurs in boxing. You make adjustments that keeps
you in the game.

DAVIES: And what does it feel like when you really connect?

Mr. LEONARD: There is no sweeter feeling than when you throw the right, the
perfect punch, the perfect right hand or left hand or left hook, whatever punch
you threw or executed, because you get a signal. You get this little tingling
sensation that shoots up and down your arm to let you know that you've hit the
jackpot. And you'll know. You know right away that guy's gone.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Sugar Ray Leonard, former boxing great. He's
written a new memoir called "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring."
We'll talk some more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard.
He has a new memoir called "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring."

Now, you write that in the weeks leading up to a bout that the key to winning
was understanding the essence of your opponent. How do you get that? Can you
give us an example of somebody that you felt you got that on?

Mr. LEONARD: Well, Tommy Hearns is a perfect example of what all this means
because Tommy's 6'2" and just, when he fought his opponents, he just
annihilated guys. I mean, he had some of the most dramatic knockouts. And we
knew he could punch and I knew he could punch, but I tried to focus in on what
I knew he didn't have and that was that calmness. 'Cause he was always uptight.

So I tried to play on that because in the first fight, if you go back and watch
it on tape, you see the first round, he could not really land a solid punch.
And I'd tap him on the forehead or I tap him on the side of the head, and I
said, I gotcha, sucker. And he hit me back because he was upset that he could
not land a solid punch.

DAVIES: Just to clarify, this was actually after the bell had rung and the
round had ended, right? You just - you reached for him and gave him a love tap
on the head.

Mr. LEONARD: Yes. That was it, a little love tap on the head. And I saw his
reaction because, you know, it's just a bravado. It's like he's the man, he's
the hit man. And he responded just as I predicted with, I'll get you back. He
was upset. He was mad.

DAVIES: So then he fought out of control and you boxed.

Mr. LEONARD: Eventually. Eventually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: He could throw a punch, couldn't he?

Mr. LEONARD: Tommy Hearns hit, I mean, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran were two
of the hardest punchers I've ever faced. I mean, he - because Tommy's height
and reach advantage gave him such incredible leverage with his punches that if
you were there and he hit you, nine times out of ten you were gone. You were
out.

DAVIES: Well, this maybe is a moment to mention one of the other remarkable
things about your career. You said Tommy Hearns was six foot two, right?

Mr. LEONARD: Yes.

DAVIES: And your height is?

Mr. LEONARD: Well, I'm a shy 5'9", but I always say - I always round it off and
say 5'10".

DAVIES: OK. So, many, many times you really - you played, I mean, you boxed out
of your weight class, moved up like that. I just can't imagine how you could
stand in a ring against, you know, a bruiser like Hearns and give five inches
of height.

Mr. LEONARD: Well, my speed nullifies all that - all those other factors.
Because if you're not a stationary target and if you have great footwork and if
you, you know, play your cards right and really just not be the stationary
target, you can win that fight. There's ways.

DAVIES: We got to talk about you and Roberto Duran. I mean, your rivalry, if we
call it that with this man, is really one of the great stories in boxing. He
was from Panama. Tell us about him, his style, his image as a fighter as you
guys approached.

Mr. LEONARD: Well, I knew of Roberto Duran when I was an amateur boxer. I knew
of Roberto Duran when I came from the Olympics in 1976 and I went to see him
fight in Las Vegas. And I was sitting, God, at ringside and I saw one of my
favorite actors, Jackie Gleason, who was a big boxing fan. And I said, I'm
going to fight that guy one day, just pointing to Duran. And Jackie looked at
me, he said, son, don't you ever say that, you know, he will kill you.

And when he said that, I was, like, what? 'Cause I was so, you know, I won the
gold medal so I figured I was, like, the guy that could beat a little guy like
Duran 'cause back then he was, like, 135, a lightweight. But I watched Roberto
Duran for years and he to me was one of the greatest fighters that stepped into
a boxing ring. He didn't get credit for it because he was always so tenacious
and aggressive and physical, but he was a great boxer, too. He was very
illusive. He was a boxer that understood sweet signs of boxing.

DAVIES: Yeah, and of course the image was quite the opposite. I mean, he was
regarded as this aggressive brute whereas you were the guy with, you know,
great footwork, quick hands and an engaging personality. In a way, I mean, you
and Duran were a great story when you finally paired off in 1980. And there was
this interesting encounter when you had the news conference announcing the bout
at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. What happened?

Mr. LEONARD: Well, I'm there at this incredible hotel in New York City. And
what is probably one of the - back then one of the biggest non-heavyweight
fights in quite some time and I was eating all that up. I loved all the
excitement and all the accolades and the cheering and the receptions and what
have you.

And then Duran, who came on stage and we took some pictures together and he had
these huge boxing gloves on, these really, you know, exaggerated boxing gloves.
And we took a few pictures together. Then at some point, he started punching
me. And it was cute, but he kept punching me harder and harder and harder. And
it got to a point, I was, like, hey, hey, buddy, you know, ease up now. But
then he started cursing me out. You know, he called me every name in the book.

And I said, this guy is crazy. And I was always taught to smile when the
camera's on and I did that. So while he's punching me and now it's starting to
irk me and starting to hurt a little bit more, and I'm smiling and he took that
as a sign of weakness. So he continued on. And by the end of the press
conference, I was just - didn't want to be near him because he was like a
bully.

DAVIES: So, you who had made a habit of getting inside the head of your
opponents now had a guy who was getting inside your head, right?

Mr. LEONARD: Because he was smarter. He was more experienced. He knew exactly
what buttons to push and he pushed them time and time again to a point that now
we're about to fight and I change my whole fight plan because I was
discombobulated. I was, like, he blew a fuse in my head, if that's - hopefully
that makes sense. That the fight plan or strategy went totally out of the
window.

DAVIES: Right. So, instead of using your footwork and staying and moving, you
decided you would go toe to toe and hammer it out with him, right?

Mr. LEONARD: I tried to hit him like he hit me. I stood toe to toe.

DAVIES: So you lost a 15-round decision. It was your first professional loss,
right?

Mr. LEONARD: That loss to me, and in fact, in about the 14th round, 13th, 14th,
I knew the fight was his. And when they announced the decision, I felt I gave
100 percent, I just fought the wrong fight, but the devastation, the emotional
devastation that went across the board to my family and friends was
unbelievable. My wife fainted. My brothers, my brother Roger was, like, he was
so distraught. My friends, I saw them crying, I mean, everyone was crying but
me.

DAVIES: Sugar Ray Leonard's new memoir is called "The Big Fight: My Life In and
Out of the Ring." He'll be back to tell us about his rematch with Roberto Duran
in the second half of the show.

I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

We're speaking with boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard. He won world titles in five
different weight divisions and he has a new memoir called “The Big Fight: My
Life In and Out of the Ring.”

When we left off, Leonard was talking about his devastating loss in 1980 to
Panamanian bruiser Roberto Duran. It was Leonard's first professional loss and
he gave up his world welterweight title. Leonard said he'd trained and planned
poorly for the fight giving Duran a mental and physical edge.

You asked for immediate rematch and you met him again a few months later in New
Orleans and you tried to correct some of these mistakes, right? I mean you, one
of the things, you decided that you would make fun of him in some way?

Mr. LEONARD: Well, I when I decided to fight him because I knew Duran's
history. I mean I studied Duran, you know, even as a commentator and I knew he
put on weight very fast after each fight, and so I wanted to get him back to
the ring, so I asked for a rematch, which I got. And because Duran would go up
from 147, which is welterweight, to 200 pounds, and he did that. So making,
weight for him was, especially those months leading to the fight was very
difficult for him and I played on that.

DAVIES: So the second fight, the rematch comes and by this point you have a
much more disciplined game plan. You'd streamline your training routine. So
let's listen to this. This is one of the most memorable moments in professional
boxing. This is your second fight with Duran. It's a competitive fight. And
then hear in the eighth round, let's listen to the ringside announcers.

(Soundbite of 1982 fight rematch, Leonard vs. Duran)

(Soundbite of shouting fans)

Mr. LARRY HOLMES: Give him a right hand by Duran that time.

Mr. BARRY TOMPKINS: Nice. Sugar Ray on the ropes. He gets away immediately. And
what’s happening? Duran says no. I think he's quitting. What is he saying,
Larry?

Mr. HOLMES: Says no. I don’t understand it.

Mr. TOMPKINS: He’s saying no, no – he quits.

Mr. HOLMES: I don’t understand it.

Mr. TOMPKINS: I think Duran quit.

Mr. HOLMES: I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what happened.

Mr. TOMPKINS: Ladies and gentlemen, Roberto Duran...

Mr. HOLMES: This is not like Duran.

Mr. TOMPKINS: ...threw his hand up and said I quit.

Mr. HOLMES: I don’t understand this.

Mr. TOMPKINS: And he almost got in a fight with Leonard’s brother. The police
are in the ring and we have a very, very unpleasant situation in there.

Mr. HOLMES: I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what I'm...

DAVIES: Wow, what a moment. The second. The second fight...

Mr. LEONARD: Wow. Wow.

DAVIES: ...second fight between our guest Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Yeah,
what memories does that bring back?

Mr. LEONARD: Oh, god, I mean vivid memories, because I remember when the
referee indicated to me that that was it. Because I thought Duran was trying to
lure me in, it was a trick. And my brother, Roger, because he claimed that
Duran punched him in the first fight after the fight was over with and this
time my brother was going to the ring to punch him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEONARD: You know, it was crazy. Wow.

DAVIES: So the ring dissolves into bedlam. And the legend is that, in fact, the
memorable two words from this fight are no mas - which is what it’s alleged
that Duran said. You know, meaning no more. I've had enough. Did you hear him
say it?

Mr. LEONARD: I never heard Duran say no mas. In fact, if you said that I didn't
know what it meant anyway. But when the referee indicated that it was over,
because Duran - if you look at the tape, he waves away. He waves his hand in
like no more. No more. But I never honestly heard him say no mas.

DAVIES: You believe you were ahead in the fight at this point, right? I mean
you were getting the better of him. But he wasn't like he was defenseless and
beaten. How do you explain this? It’s sort of, it's one of the mysteries of the
sport, isn't it?

Mr. LEONARD: You know, my brother Roger, he was the one who came up with the
bolo punch and pushing Duran's head down and dancing and making him look silly.
It was his thought that if I made fun of Duran, not that Duran would quit but
Duran would be really, really mad. And that came to fruition because it did
happen. Because when you laugh at a guy like Duran, you know, he couldn't take
that. And I looked at him as being humiliated and threw his hands up without
realizing the repercussions it would have on his legacy because, you know, the
no mas thing is really, really, - it’s true but it shouldn't be his legacy, if
you will.

DAVIES: Because the one thing a fighter doesn't do is quit.

Mr. LEONARD: Fighters don’t quit.

DAVIES: Now, you came from a large family. Certainly weren't well off. And
then, you know, once you started winning professional fights you were suddenly
rich. How did that affect your relationships with your siblings and your
parents and other relatives?

Mr. LEONARD: It hard because. man, now that I'm making money and the fame comes
with that, I felt a little awkward having and they didn't have. So I shared the
wealth. And I tried to give them a home. In fact, I bought homes for pretty
much most of my family members. And I bought cars. I know the first car that I
bought, I bought about six cars, eight cars, 10 cars, they were Pintos.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEONARD: But they were free. And I just tried to help them because they're
my brothers and sisters. And, you know, things just got out of control. Things
became too frequent. You know, asking. Because there's no book to tell you how
to deal with instant success and all of a sudden, you have this fame. It's
powerful. It's crazy.

DAVIES: Right. Ray, can I have $500? Ray, can I have $1,000?

Mr. LEONARD: Yeah, $500, $1,000 here, a $1,000 – and the thing about it though,
even with my friends too, because they asked for $1,000 and they say just
$1,000 but $1,000 20, 30, 40 times, that's a lot of money. They didn't
understand that. And my people told me, or my attorneys or my accountants said
Ray, you can't continue to do this. And I felt I could because, you know, I
fight Duran for whether it’s $8 or $10 million, to me that should last a
lifetime. But if you're not putting back what you’re taking out it won't last a
lifetime.

DAVIES: So what did you do? You did not return calls? Did you tell people no

Mr. LEONARD: No. I resorted to drinking. And then when I retired, it was even
worse because then all of a sudden that's when another friend - supposedly
friend, cocaine, came into the atmosphere and that was like a cushion to not
let me feel as bad as I would if I had not given it to them.

DAVIES: You write in this book about two incidents when you were young, once as
a teenager, where an Olympic boxing coach attempted to involve you in sexual
acts and your description in the book is pretty cryptic. It's not clear exactly
how far this went. But how do you think these two incidents affected your
psyche?

Mr. LEONARD: I don’t know because I always suppressed them. I didn't tell
people what happened. I told no one. I didn't tell my parents. I didn't tell my
wife, my brothers. I told no one, my friends because I was, you know, it's like
a paradox, it's like contradiction. I'm a fighter but yet am so fearful I don't
fight back or I don't tell anyone. I don't confront it. So I lived with that,
those periods for 30-some years. But I remember too that when I drank heavily,
when my emotions were not as stable as they normally would be when I'm not
drinking, depending upon who I was with, I would, well, it didn't matter who I
was with, I would cry and sob and just the pain. And it felt good. I felt
embarrassed but I felt good because I released some of that, those memories of
that poison that was in my stomach. Because everything manifests itself to my
stomach because when I feel bad or I'm hurt it always goes to my stomach for
some reason.

I know some people ask why I say it now, why did I reveal that? I also, I saw
an episode of “Oprah” and Todd Bridges, you know, he finally came forth and
said that he was sexually abused. And I hear people always say that when you
surrender and admit these things, it's a sense of freedom too.

DAVIES: You'd always said you wanted to be a fighter who knew when to quit,
that didn't hang on too long. And, in fact, what you did, I guess you retired
and un-retired, is it four times?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Last time in the ring was in ‘97 against Hector Camacho, right?

Mr. LEONARD: Yes.

DAVIES: I don't know. Why do you think you took that course?

Mr. LEONARD: You know, again, I was in limbo. I was still searching for
something. There was a void in my life. Although I had an incredible wife,
Bernadette, four beautiful kids, I wasn't free. Something was wrong, something
and I kept and fighting to me was that pacifier. It was something that kept me
alive, if you will. You've got to be a fighter to understand where I'm coming
from. Was it smart? No. Would I do it again? You know what? I am who I am
because of what I've done. I'm who I am now because of what I've been through.
So, what I do it again? Yes. Because that's, I'm stubborn. I'm hardheaded. And
I've always said I'm going to be different than the other guys and I know when
to retire, I know when to quit. I've always said when the other guy gets me
more times than I hit him that's when it's time to retire. And that happened
that last fight and it's over.

DAVIES: And, you know, since you mentioned the difficulties with cocaine and
alcohol, I mean you write in the end of the book you finally did go to
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Have you stayed sober?

Mr. LEONARD: Yes. It'll be five years in July.

DAVIES: And how is your life different without alcohol?

Mr. LEONARD: I see things that were always in front of me. I see my wife. I see
my kids. I see and hear my friends. I see, I am present. I never understood
that. My wife always say you're not present. You’re not present. And I'm saying
I'm physically there but I was never present just to listen. Just listen to her
saying hello or good morning. I was never present until five years ago.

DAVIES: Do you ever get into the gym anymore? Do you ever hit the bag?

Mr. LEONARD: I have a punching bag in my house and I do still go to the gym. I
workout every day. I just do enough just to satisfy my day. And it feels good.
It feels great.

DAVIES: And you're not going to get back in the ring, right?

Mr. LEONARD: I will get into the ring just to pose for a picture. That's the
only way I will get into a ring.

DAVIES: Well, Sugar Ray Leonard, it's been great. Thanks so much for joining
us.

Mr. LEONARD: Thank you, man.

DAVIES: Sugar Ray Leonard’s new memoir is called “The Big Fight: My Life In and
Out of the Ring.”

Coming, we listen to our 2007 concert with the indie rock band Los
Straitjackets. The band's co-founder and guitarist Danny Amis is battling bone
cancer and there are benefit concerts this summer.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Los Straitjackets: Helping Out Bandmate Danny Amis

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Los Straitjackets is a band whose signature sound is the instrumental guitar
rock of bands like The Ventures and Link Wray. Their signature look is wild,
with colorful Mexican wrestling masks on the face of each band member as they
play.

Los Straitjackets is on tour this summer, but without one of their founders and
guitar players, Danny Amis. Last year Amis was diagnosed with a form of cancer.
He had a stem cell transplant last month and this week, many of his musician
friends are holding benefits across the country to help with his medical
expenses.

Tuesday night, Conan O’Brien’s band, the Basic Cable Band, will host a concert
at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, which will feature many artists such as
Big Sandy, El Vez, Exene Cervenka, Ben Vaughn, members of Los Lobos and Conan
O’Brien himself.

Back in 2007, Los Straitjackets came to the FRESH AIR studio and performed
songs from their album “Rock En Espanol,” with Chicano rockabilly singer Big
Sandy.

Here’s part of Terry's conversation with Danny Amis of Los Straitjackets.

TERRY GROSS: Welcome to FRESH AIR. And I'd like to start, Danny, by asking you
to introduce the first song as if you were introducing it in concert.

Mr. DANNY AMIS (Guitarist, Los Straitjackets): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of song, “All Day and All of the Night”) (Foreign language spoken)

LOS STRAITJACKETS (Indie rock band): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

GROSS: That’s great. But you know it as “All Day and All of the Night.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, that sounded so fantastic. And that was Big Sandy singing, Eddie
Angel on guitar, Danny Amis introducing the song for us. How did you get the
idea to do these Spanish versions of early rock 'n roll songs?

Mr. AMIS: Well, there’s, it was quite a popular genre. In the early 60s in
Mexico there were quite a few groups inspired by the arrival of Bill Haley who
was down there avoiding income tax evasion.

GROSS: Wait, Bill Haley was in Mexico?

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. He moved to Mexico City for a while and inspired a whole scene
in Mexico City and there were all these groups doing American rock 'n roll
songs in Spanish. And they changed the lyrics sometimes drastically. Some were
faithful translations, but a lot of them were just completely different. And
it's wonderful. I love these records and I've been collecting them for a long
time. And we've known for years we needed to do an entire album of Mexican rock
'n roll with Big Sandy and we finally got around to doing it this past year.

GROSS: A wise choice to have Big Sandy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIG SANDY: Why, thank you. (Unintelligible)

GROSS: Love your singing. So you were mentioning that the lyrics for the
Mexican version, the Spanish language version of the songs were sometimes
close, sometimes not so close.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: What about the lyric we just heard? How close is it to the Kinks’
original?

BIG SANDY: It’s fairly faithful to the original.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

BIG SANDY: But, you know, some poetic license there. But, yeah, that was one...

Mr. AMIS: Yeah, that was really close.

BIG SANDY: But there's other ones like, you know, like what is it?

Mr. AMIS: “El Microscopio Bikini”...

BIG SANDY: Yeah.

Mr. AMIS: ...which was "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and they changed it to a song about a
girl on the beach with a tiny bathing suit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: As if it were itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dots.

BIG SANDY: Exactly. Yeah.

Mr. AMIS: Similar to that. Yeah.

GROSS: Which it wasn’t.

BIG SANDY: Exactly. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So, how about another song?

BIG SANDY: All right.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

BIG SANDY: Let’s see. This is – if you don’t mind me saying it.

GROSS: No. No. No.

BIG SANDY: This song was originally done by Brenton Wood who is kind of like a
local hero in East L.A. We thought it would be cool to do a Spanish language
version of it. So we got a friend of ours who is in a band called Lil Luis Y
Los Wild Teens. And he did a great its own translation of this song. But later
we found out that there is, there was of Mexican version of the song.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. We got our friend Lil Luis Arriaga to translate this for us
because we couldn't find a Mexican version. And then after we recorded it, I
played it for some friends of mine in Mexico City who told me yes, there was a
version by Roberto Ordon. So I spent the whole year trying to find that record
and I couldn't find it anywhere. And I was in a flea market in Mexico City and
I found a picture sleeve of, “Mohair Sam and Land of 1,000 Dances” by Los
Hitters, and I was happy to find that. I pulled out the record to check and the
condition to see what it was in and it was the wrong record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: But it happened to be (Foreign language spoken). Which is a version
by shear luck. So...

BIG SANDY: Which is the version we were looking for.

GROSS: That’s amazing.

Mr. AMIS: It was really a funny coincidence.

GROSS: Well, Danny, you should introduce this the way you'd introduce it on
stage.

Mr. AMIS: (Foreign language spoken) Eddie Angel and Big Sandy Con, (Foreign
language spoken) “Dame Una Senal.”

(Soundbite of song, “Dame Una Senal”)

LOS STRAITJACKETS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken) Just give me some kind
of sign girl, oh my baby. Show me that you're mine girl. All right. Just give
me some kind of sign girl, oh my darling. Show me that you're mine girl. All
mine. (Foreign language spoken) Come one now. Sing it. Just give me some kind
of sign girl. Now give some kind of sign girl. Oh, give me some kind of sign
girl. Ooh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: We’ll get back to our conversation and concert with Los Straitjackets
and vocalist Big Sandy after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2007 interview and performance with the
indie rock band Los Straitjackets and featuring Big Sandy on vocals, Eddie
Angel on guitar and Danny Amis who’s introducing the songs in Spanish. Amis is
battling cancer. A series of benefit concerts are planned for the summer.

GROSS: Danny, do you have any like Spanish background or is it just the music
that you love?

Mr. AMIS: None whatsoever.

GROSS: It’s not...

Mr. AMIS: No I just – I first...

GROSS: Not like an ethnic heritage kind of thing?

Mr. AMIS: No. I heard some rock 'n roll records in a Mexican restaurant in
Nashville.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: And when I heard that I went okay. I've got to go to Mexico and look
for some of these records. And that's why I went to Mexico. And then I fell in
love with the culture and I've ended up spending more time there than I do at
home.

GROSS: You should describe the mask that you're wearing that you always wear
onstage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: Well, this is the Daddy-O Grande mask. It’s silver and blue...

BIG SANDY: Quite stunning, I should add.

Mr. AMIS: Well, thank you. It was, it was inspired by the mask of a wrestler
named Atlantis. And actually, the man who makes my masks is the same guy who
makes the masks for the wrestler Atlantis.

GROSS: It’s I think when you walked in my engineer didn't understand why you're
wearing the mask and I think she might have thought you were a highly
decorative robber.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that.

BIG SANDY: The Federal Reserve Bank is next door.

Mr. AMIS: It helps me. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: It helps me to get into character.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Danny, how did you learn to speak such good Spanish or
at least sounds good to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm not Spanish speaking.

Mr. AMIS: It’s a good trick. No, I just, just from going to Mexico and I've
made a lot of friends down there and I just spent a lot of time down there and
I just picked it up there.

GROSS: What’s it like when you play in Mexico? How does the reaction compare to
when you play the states?

Mr. AMIS: Well, we have a pretty strong following down there. At first, I think
a lot of the band, I wasn’t as worried as the rest of the band. But I think a
lot of the band was worried how we'd be perceived showing up wearing the Lucha
Libre masks and speaking in Spanish and...

GROSS: Like you were just appropriating their culture.

BIG SANDY: Right.

Mr. AMIS: Right. But, yeah and they could tell that we were actually paying
tribute to it. And the first time we went down there to play you would never
catch a hipster on the scene wearing a Lucha Libre mask. After we left, within
a year, there were over 20 bands in Mexico City wearing masks and doing
instrumentals. And it's almost like, well, a friend of mind, and I don't want
to compare us to the Beatles, but a friend of mine said it was kind of like
when the Beatles came here and sort of spoon-fed our culture back to us that we
neglected. I think a lot of people didn't realize they have some really cool
aspects of their culture they were ignoring.

GROSS: Can I ask you to do one more song for us?

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. Sure.

GROSS: You do “Lonely Teardrops,” which, you know, Jackie Wilson had the big
hit of. I'd love to hear you do it.

BIG SANDY: Okay. Yeah. Let's try that.

GROSS: And we should ask Danny to introduce it.

Mr. AMIS: Okay. (Foreign language spoken) Muchas gracias. (Foreign language
spoken) Big Sandy and Eddie Angel, “Lagrimas Salitarias.”

(Soundbite of song, “Lagrimas Salitarias”)

LOS STRAITJACKETS: (Singing) Shoo we doo whop bop, bop, hey, hey. Shoo we doo
whop bop, bop, hey, hey, hey. (Foreign language spoken) Just give me another
chance.

DAVIES: Danny Amis and Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets and Big Sandy on vocals
recorded in 2007 in the FRESH AIR studios. Danny Amis is battling cancer. A
series of benefit concerts is planned for the summer. You can find out more by
visiting our website freshair.npr.org.

For Terry Gross I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: After abruptly departing MSNBC in January, Keith Olbermann returns to
broadcasting later this month with a new version of “Countdown” on the Current
TV network.

On the next FRESH AIR we talk with Keith Olbermann about why he left MSNBC and
about his plans for the new show. Join us.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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