Saturday, 23 January 2010

... Me gotta add.

When revising the previous entry and searching for more images online I came across the very LP of cherrypicked Armstrong/Russell Decca sides whereof I spake, so shall reproduce it here, along with the tracklisting. I borrowed this not from Motherwell Library, but nearby Hamilton, some ten years later - don't know whether there was some kind of Okeh/Decca reissue turf war going on there. 

Not every side has the Russell Orchestra backing him, but the whole is very listenable. Ev'ntide and another song, can't remember which, are by Hoagy Carmichael.

Side 1 : Thanks a Million / Lyin' to Myself / Ev'ntide / Swing That Music / Thankful / The Skeleton in the Closet / Jubilee

Side 2 : Struttin' With Some Barbecue / I Double Dare You / You're a Lucky Guy / Ev'rything's Been Done Before / Hey Lawdy Mama / Groovin'

Thanks a Million is probably not the best song in the world, but sung from the heart by Armstrong for a moment it seems to be. And it's a perfect example of what he once said about only needing to play the melody. No real fireworks on display but it's enough to explain why the young Humphrey Lyttleton enjoyed the Decca sides. The clip embedded below seems to be of a 78 with a few bumps along the way, but it still sounds pretty good to these ears.

Here's one of those Hoagy Carmichael songs. You will search for it in vain in Carmichael songbooks (I know; I've tried), and Armstrong's performance may not be the best guide to the composer's intentions, but I'd imagine he approved anyway.

The version of Struttin' With Some Barbecue here comes from 1938. I read on the sleevenotes that one musician had been mistakenly instructed to take a solo and so a better performer was left out: a note had been left on the wrong chair. Presumably that referred to the clarinet, which sounds okayish to me, but I'm no expert. I will mention a few experts at the end, so hold on if you are already becoming annoyed and frustrated.

The next side I'd like to bring to your ears is Hey Lawdy Mama. This is the number which caused Max Jones to write: "When Louis plays the blues - hold everything." This is a small group, sort of a group-within-a-group, a la Benny Goodman, though I don't know whether this would have been a regular thing when Louis played live with the Russell Orchestra. As Jones implies, this is fairly sedate but pleasant until the trumpet solo. No, make that sedate-but-sprightly:

I have just looked up Hey Lawdy Mama on Ricky Riccardi's highly recommended Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong blog. Apparently it came from one of two 1941 Decca session which may have been put together as a way of cashing in on recent reissues of original Hot Seven sides: The 1941 group-within-a-group was indeed a septet and called the Hot Seven. You can read more here, although Riccardi's focus is on some other songs from those two Decca sessions. The lineup is as follows:
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; George Washington, trombone; Prince Robinson, clarinet; Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid Catlett, drums.
It's nice to hear Luis Russell given a piano solo on Hey Lawdy Mama - not great but pleasant. And the guitar's good too.

 And finally, in this skim through the LP, the final track, which places Armstrong in a swing context where he doesn't quite fit, though he goes for it like a good sport. This youtube clip sounds as though it's been taken from a fake stereo source, unlike the Decca album, but that added whiff of phoniness also fits - and besides, I can't find an alternative:

Rather than embed all the other sides on the album, here are a few of my favourite Armstrong numbers from elsewhere. First, another small group, with some Russell sidemen, from 1929, when Luis Russell's orchestra was still a powerful force in its own right. Good sound on this clip too:

And another from the same period, Dallas Blues. I love this one in particular, more than the other side of the original issue, St Louis Blues. As I may have written elsewhere, I once put the radio on and heard this for the first time, but knew immediately it was Luis Russell's band, even seemed to recognise the "room."

And lo, the track ended and "Chuckles" Larkin, he who had named St Louis Blues the Hottest Record Ever then seemingly recanted, was speaking.

Maybe, like me, he realised that Dallas Blues was just ... better. Dunno why. Oh no, wait a minute, I do. Sort of. Larkin wrote that St Louis Blues was more than "mere rhythmic excitement" and cited a comparatively leaden Cab Calloway version to bolster his case. But with Dallas Blues, there's an interesting tension between gutbucketty things and musically, jazzy things. (As, I fancy, Max Jones might have put it.) What I mean is that there are decorative details in the arrangement of Dallas Blues which are about more than raw emotion, although the emotion is there too.

Well, that's as precisely as I can put it, and as the balance of probability is that your eyes will only be flicking past these words as you scan the post for non-existent downloads I don't suppose it matters too much.

Finally, a couple of  Armstrong sides which I heard when young and grew to love. Indian Cradle Song, in particular, is an example of a song which would probably mean very little handled by anyone else, but becomes affecting because Armstrong appears to be investing something in it.

Indian Cradle Song is described in detail in The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong, here, and you can hear the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra's version too.

And finally, Body and Soul, which is undoubtedly a good ol' good one. I would also have liked to include Walkin' My Baby Back Home, but couldn't find a youtube clip.Those two sides are familiar to me from a cassette on the Neovox label, issued by Norman Field, my constant companion (the cassette, not Mr Field) in my university days: I would often walk at night round a country park with those recordings from just over fifty years ago playing through my walkman, carrying their brightness and warmth through the dark and cold of a Scottish winter night.

That previous posting was the first piece here which can't offer any pretence to be about doo wop or rock'n'roll-related matters, so I suppose this is not going to be the doo wop-dedicated blog I intended after all. My apologies to those who only want to read about that, but it seems right to have that material here rather than start a separate blog; it's music I discovered around the same time and still love. My interest stops around 1945 (Charlie Christian is my limit), so it all fits neatly into place: there's Too Soon to Know by the Orioles in 1948, so I've just got three years to fill ... Oh, and of course, the first version of Gloria Mk. 1 was in 1945, as you can check in these very pages (additional notes for Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 39, here), sung by Herb Jeffries, former lead singer with Duke Ellington, so (rather to my surprise) it all stitches together rather neatly.

Besides, as I've just realised, with the mention of that Cheapo Closed pic, I'm still grieving over the loss of Cheapo, despite my brave attempts to pretend otherwise at the top of the previous post, so you've got to cut me some slack anyway.

Back to rock'n'roll - plus at least one (count 'em) tender doo wop moment from otherwise inarticulate males, guaranteed - next time, when we leave the vinyl of Motherwell Library to travel, oh, a good twelve miles at least, for a solid slab (clue) of screwball comedy from the man who dared to rewrite Little Richard without being Pat Boone.

[revised December 2012]

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