Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 11-15

This is the third part in what will be a very long series examining the music Louis Armstrong dubbed to tape and cataloged, as well as the collages he designed, in the last two years of his life. (In case you missed it, here’s the links to Part 1 and Part 2.) Today, we continue with Reels 11-15, all of which were originally created in the 1950s, yet pulled off the shapes and re-numbered and re-cataloged in late 1969 or early 1970.

Reel 11
Accession Number 2003.197.13

This is a rare completely non-musical tape; it’s also one that is completely unsuitable for children. Side 1 features what Louis described as “Riske [risque] Joke Telling” backstage at the Chicago Theatre in 1954 with Velma Middleton, Shiek Pittman of St. Louis, Ernest “Big Six” Smith of the Grand Terrace ballroom and Hiram Myers of Chicago (Hi Myers and his brother “Dite” were two of Louis’s favorite joke-tellers). Though Louis first purchased a tape recorder in 1954, it seems his friends still weren’t quite used to sessions like this. At one point, Louis mentions marijuana and Velma Middleton flips out, “Pops! The tape!” Louis good-naturedly responds with some vulgarities that this is his hobby so he can listen to the tapes in his spare time when he’s back home in Corona and that nothing would be off limits. Everyone laughs and agrees….and the jokes and stories continue uninterrupted from that point forward.

LAHM 1987.2.23-31

Side 2 has more of the same, this time with the location of Winnipeg, Canada. A few post on this “That’s My Home” site will feature the theme of Louis and comedy so we might pull a few samples to share in the coming weeks (such a post would also be unsuitable for children!).

LAHM 1987.2.23-32

The front of the tape box features old tape and descriptions from 1954 but the new reel number “11” was added c. 1969.

LAHM 2003.197.13

The back cover features an example of Armstrong’s original handwritten cataloging system, where he would just write the contents directly on the back of the box. He tries following the topics of jokes and conversation on Side 1 but ultimately settles for “Etc. Etc. Etc.”

LAHM 2003.197.13

Reel 12
Accession Number 2003.197.14

Reel 12 is another older tape but one that spans three different periods and one that features some abysmal sound. There’s a reason for this, one we haven’t gotten into on this site but now might be a good time. In our first post of this series, I mentioned that in 1958, Louis bought a new tape recorder and started a new series of numbering his tapes, numbering almost 200 before running out of steam in 1961 and putting his tape habit aside for a few years. He made many new tapes, but he became very interested in consolidating his older tapes.

And this became a problem. Many of Louis’s tapes from the first part of the 1950s were recorded at 7 1/2 speed and sound quite good (the above tape, Reel 11, is one example). But in this late 50s series, he realized that he could take multiple 7 1/2 tapes and combine them onto one reel if he dubbed them at the lesser quality 3 3/4 speed. That’s bad enough but Louis’s method of dubbing seemed to be by playing the old 7 1/2 speed tapes and recording them at 3 3/4 speed just by using a microphone, knocking down the quality substantially. I’ve always wondered if Louis knew he was doing this or if he got carried away in consolidating the old tapes that he didn’t really realize that he was severely compromising the quality until it was too late. At that point, he also taped over many of those original tapes, meaning they only survive in subpar, sometimes unlistenable quality.

This is one such tape, opening with a very interesting interview with Louis conducted in 1960 when he and Lucille had to temporarily move to Palm Springs because of extensive remodeling being performed in their Corona, Queens home. I’ve never been able to find a print article that grew out of the interview, which makes the fact that the raw conversation survives on tape something to celebrate. But after the interview, Louis grabbed a 1954 tape when his friend William Green visited from Washington D. C. and dubbed a series of 78s.

LAHM 1987.2.23-33

William Green’s 78s continue on side two, opening with performances of “Honey Boy” and “Sitting on Top of the World” by an unknown vaudeville duo (Louis has written “Two comedians” in his tape index), “Everybody is Crazy About My Dog Gone Blues” (Marion Harris). “In the Land of O Yamo Yamo” (Billy Murray) “I’m on My Way to Mandaly” (Albert H. Campbell and Irving Gillette [i. e. Henry Burr]), “Dancin’ Around” by an unknown artist and something by Al Jolson that’s difficult to decipher in the reduced sound quality.

Armstrong then moves on to a 1957 state at a hotel in Oneonta, NY (notice his slightly phonetic “Onyonka” on the page), introducing a Redd Foxx record, Laff of the Party Volume 7, which continues on the next reel.

LAHM 1987.2.23-34

No collages to speak of on this box, but always good to see Louis’s handwritten numbers on the newly affixed pieces of white tape.

LAHM 2003.197.14
LAHM 2003.197.14

Reel 13
Accession Number 2003.197.15

Reel 13 picks up where Reel 12 left off with the continuation of a dub of Redd Foxx’s 1957 LP Laff of the Party Volume 7, followed by Foxx’s 1957 DooTone R&B single, “It’s Fun to Be Living in the Crazy House.” You’ll then notice “Louis Armstrong – Narrator,” calling our attention to one of those fabulous segments where Louis plays disc-jockey, introducing the next recording, Nightsounds, by pianist Joe Bushkin and talking about his admiration for his friend “Josephus.”

LAHM 1987.2.23-35

Bushkin’s LP continues on side 2, followed by Armstrong introducing and dubbing Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie’s album Trumpet Kings, which we covered on our post about other trumpet players in Louis’s record and tape collection. The reel ends with Armstrong introducing and starting to dub the 1957 LP George Antheil’s music from the film The Pride and the Passion, starring Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra.

LAHM 1987.2.23-36

Once again, no collage on Reel 13 but it does appear that a couple of piece of tape might have flaked off over the years.

LAHM 2003.197.15
LAHM 2003.197.15

Reel 14
Accession Number 2003.197.16

The catalog page for Reel 14 opens with Armstrong writing “Recording – Big Band Harry James – Solo.” Armstrong’s ears let him down here as it’s not a James recording but rather the 1956 big band record, “The International Jazz Group,” featuring Taft Jordan, Vic Dickenson, Budd Johnson, Andre Persiany, Arvell Shaw, George Berg and Gus Johnson. Louis and friend talk throughout the recording and at one point, demonstrates a music box (leading him to notate “Chimes Music” in the catalog entry). At the end of the taped conversation, Armstrong let his unidentified friend go home with a copy of the LP, which is why Armstrong probably couldn’t recall exactly what it is on the tape.

There’s actually a moment on the tape where Armstrong searches to find the sleeve for the record and when he does, it is occupied by Hugues Panassie’s A Guide to Jazz, an RCA Victor compilation. Louis decides to to dub that LP next, though they talk throughout (some interesting stuff such as Louis owning everything Bunny Berigan ever recorded, as well as Jelly Roll Morton’s Library of Congress recordings). Here’s a list of what they dub, only casually alluded to in the index: “Sugar Foot Stomp” (Fletcher Henderson); “Grand Terrace Shuffle” (Earl Hines); “Really the Blues” (Sidney Bechet and Mezz Mezzrow); “Swingin’ Uptown” (Jimmie Lunceford); “Black Bottom Stomp”; “Sweet Like This” (King Oliver); “Black Raspberry Jam” (Fats Waller). They run out of tape in the middle of the Waller romp (shortly after Louis stops the tape to point out that Waller’s real name was “Thomas”).

LAHM 1987.2.23-37

Side 2 continues with the dubbing of A Guide to Jazz, picking up with Waller’s “Black Raspberry Jam” and continuing with Mellow Blues” (Jimmy Yancey); “Some Sweet Day” (Louis Armstrong, pointing our attention to Music Director Zilner Randolph in his handwritten catalog page); “One O’Clock Boogie” (Count Basie); “Shake it and Break It” (Sidney Bechet); “Hear Me Talkin'” (Johnny Dodds); “Working Man Blues”; “Black and Tan Fantasy”;”Don’t Be That Way” (Lionel Hampton); and finally “My Blue Heaven.” Throughout, Louis and the friend (whom he calls “Brother Joseph” at one point) talk the entire time, work on collages, test out Louis’s “vibrating” chair and discuss the importance of Swiss Kriss. It’s a shame Louis didn’t identify “Brother Joseph” further because on the tape, he called it “one of my pleasant days” and concluded “this reel will live with me forever.”

At this point, it cuts to Louis and a different friend listening to Louis’s brother-in-law Charlie Phipps’s 1960 Capitol single “Hold My Hand” and “Was There Once (A You and Me).” What Louis describes simply as “Dixieland” in the tape catalog is Sharkey Bonano’s 1953 album Midnight on Bourbon Street . The “foreign singers” is really just Marlene Dietrich’s single of “Ja So Bin Ich” and “Wo Ist Der Mann,” while the “Blues singing woman” is Victoria Spivey doing “Black Snake Swing” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

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Our collage-less streak continues but for completeness, here’s the front and back of Reel 14 (once again, it appears some original Scotch tape rectangles flaked off at some point).

LAHM 2003.197.16
LAHM 2003.197.16

Reel 15
Accession Number 2003.197.17

Reel 15 is similar to the previous reel in that it was originally recorded in the 1950s (though this one remained at 7 1/2 speed) and though music is played throughout, our ears are attracted to what Louis describes as a “Chop Session” with himself, Velma Middleton, Trummy Young, Doc Pugh, and the Jones Brothers, Max, Clyde and Herb, of Boston. Rumor has it that the Jones Brothers were Armstrong’s Boston marijuana connection but they were also a popular trio, singing vocal harmony and playing multiple instruments (read more about them here). Everyone takes turn playing their own records with the Jones’s offering some of their now-rare sides, Louis dipping into his Decca and RCA bag (and closing with 1931’s “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”) and even Trummy Young playing some of his old Jimmie Lunceford features. Throughout, the group talked animatedly, with Velma worrying at one point that the tape was capturing too much talk between songs; Louis disagrees, calling it “Impromptu.” Bless him for always keeping the tape player going!

LAHM 1987.2.23-39
LAHM 1987.2.23-40

Still no collage on the front of Reel 15 but on the back, an early example of Louis attempting to type the contents of each tape directly on the back of the box.

LAHM 2003.197.17
LAHM 2003.197.17

That concludes part 3–we’ll be back with a look at Reels 16-20 next Friday!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

I am Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

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