Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 71-75

We’ll open with a plug for our previous entry in this series, as it set up the recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and Armstrong’s January 13, 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, each also featured in today’s post–AND included the audio of both! If this is your first time stumbling upon this series, catch up on the first 70 tapes here, and read below for an analysis of Reels 71-75!

Reel 71
Accession Number 1987.3.371

Side 1 of Reel 71 is almost a complete duplicate of material featured on Reel 70, opening with Armstrong’s appearance on Cavett, followed by a portion of Dr. King’s funeral, and then a segue into dubs of V-Discs featuring Hot Lips Page, Fats Waller, and Benny Goodman:

LAHM 1987_2_23~156

Sie 2, though, contains something different, a recording of a special edition of NBC’s Today show that also aired on January 13, 1970 titled “From Ragtime to Rock: A History of American Music” and hosted by Hugh Downs. Louis was featured doing “Someday from the Goodyear Jazz Concert of April 1962, which probably made for an uncomfortable comparison for those who stayed up late to watch Armstrong on Cavett that same night perform the same song in a weakened state (audio in our previous post). The show eventually went through swing, bop, and cool, before ending with “You Better Listen” from The Jam Factory (not “The Can Factory,” as Armstrong calls them!):

LAHM 1987_2_23~157

In that aforementioned previous post, I introduced the figure of CBS engineer Tony Janak, who seemed to keep a reel-to-reel tape recorder running on his television set 24 hours a day. I hinted that the coverage of Dr. King’s funeral and Louis’s appearance on Cavett came from Janak and here’s the proof that the Cavett and Today show audio was created “For: Louis, From: Tony.” Louis being Louis, he took Janak’s original blank black box and filled it up with birthday greetings to Lucille–who turned 56 on January 14, 1970, the day after all these television appearances–including messages from Lara Saint Paul and Pier Quinto Cariaggi on the front (the other one is illegible but possibly “Mr. and Mrs. Edward T. Dobson”) and a Swedish fan, “Astrid,” on the back:

LAHM 1987.3.371

Reel 72
Accession Number 1987.3.372

Need further proof that Armstrong wasn’t embarrassed by his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on January 13, 1970? Here it is on the third straight tape! (And I’ve discussed on Facebook since publishing that audio, it’s really not exactly “embarrassing”; Louis has no upper register but he still finds new ways to phrase in his lower registers and still swings, only really running out of gas during his later solo and aborted closing cadenza; I don’t know whose idea it was to have him play an arrangement with so much trumpet built in after a year-and-a-half off, but he still did his best in his weakened state–his chops would improve as 1970 wore on, though, so stay tuned for that!) This reel only includes the recording of his Cavett appearance and nothing on Side 2:

LAHM 1987_2_23~158
LAHM 1987_2_23~159

And now, finally, we get to see the original “Direct Recordings” reel that Tony Janak sent to Louis, with the Cavett show on one side, and the coverage of Martin Luther King’s assassination and funeral from April 1968 on the other, which made up the contents of Reel 70; Armstrong just stuck a “72” sticker on the outside and didn’t worry about creating a collage:

LAHM 1987.3.372
LAHM 1987.3.372

Reel 73
Accession Number 1987.3.373

Reel 73 opens with a pair of Armstrong classics from 1931, “Star Dust” and “Lonesome Road,” before switching to the ubiquitous Lara Saint Paul (“Negroe Italian Gal Singer from Milano Italy,” Louis tells us) and her self-titled 1967 album, containing songs like “Mi Va Di Cantare” (which Louis recorded), “Fascination Blues,” “Domenica Pomeriggio,” and many more. Staying over in Europe, Armstrong concludes Side 1 with a 1959 EP from one of his British protégés, trumpeter Nat Gonella’s Salute to Satchmo (love the name of the band: Nat Gonella and His Strong Men!).

LAHM 1987_2_23~160

The Gonella album concludes at the top of Side 2 before Louis switches to Volume 1 of The Rarest Fats Waller, a gift from All Stars clarinetist Joe Muranyi (not notated here, but rather on the back of the LP, which is inscribed, “To Pops – Sept. 1968 / A belated birthday present / Happy Birthday / Joe Muranyi.”). Louis lists all of the Waller songs, calling out his idol Bill Robinson on that album’s “I’m Livin’ in a Great Big Way.” But notice the last line–Armstrong closed this reel by dubbing a composition by his friend Lorenzo Pack, “This Black Cat Has Nine Lives”–repeated three times. He would eventually record it for the album Louis Armstrong and His Friends on May 29, 1970, so it’s quite possible, even probable, that Armstrong was in the early stages of plotting a return to the recording studio:

LAHM 1987_2_23~161

Lucille’s January birthday was still fresh on Louis’s minds as the box or Real 73 is made up of more greetings, with Louis’s own on the front (“From the one who loves you Dearily, Your Husband, Satchmo”) and various others on the back, including Lucille’s sister Janet (note Louis finding room for a little leftover “Leave It All Behind Ya” slogan from one of his Swiss Kriss cards!):

LAHM 1987.3.373
LAHM 1987.3.373

Reel 74
Accession Number 1987.3.374

Armstrong’s plans to get back in the recording studio seemed to become more serious at the start of Reel 74, which begin with a slew of “Demos” of songs written by Paul Johnson. Louis sure never got to any of them and he wasn’t alone; a Google search shows none of the compositions ended up being recorded by anyone (“Diddy Wah Diddy” is NOT the song of the same name by Bo Diddley). Was this something passed along to Louis by Oscar Cohen to get ideas for something he might want to record? Louis does repeat everything twice, which was usually his practice method, so it’s possible. Then again, everything sounds a bit amateurish so it could just be a submission from a fan that ended up being immortalized on this reel.

After that, Louis dubbed Columbia’s 1967 reissue (in its new “Hall of Fame” series), The Lunceford Special, a compilation of Jimmie Lunceford tunes from the Swing Era. Armstrong clearly enjoyed Lunceford’s music but he spoke on multiple tapes about not being impressed by Lunceford himself, who just “waved a baton” in Louis’s estimation!

LAHM 1987_2_23~162

With the Johnson demos and the Lunceford recording, we’re now at the start of a run of tapes that do not feature Armstrong’s music, a rarity of late. Side 2 featuring the conclusion of The Lunceford Special before Armstrong dubs Pearl Bailey Sings For Adults Only from 1959. Armstrong and Bailey appeared together on The Mike Douglas Show in March 1970 and I do wonder if she laid a few copies of her albums on Louis because as we’ll soon see, Louis wasn’t done with Pearl yet:

LAHM 1987_2_23~163

The collages on Reel 74 seem to be ones originally created in the 1950s and now affixed with gobs of new white athletic tape and a new catalog number. On the front, Louis and Trummy Young pose with a pair of unidentified fans:

LAHM 1987.3.374

On the back, two separate photos, one of Louis and two unidentified fans, and one of Velma Middleton with an unidentified man (like we saw last week, Louis was in a habit of calling out Velma on his collages in this period; I think he really missed her):

LAHM 1987.3.374

Reel 75
Accession Number 1987.3.375

The Pearl Bailey hit parade continues on Reel 75 with the 1960 compilation Naughty But Nice, plus a compilation from the 1950s, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, including records from not only Bailey but also Rose Murphy and Ivie Anderson.

LAHM 1987_2_23~164

The Bailey-Murphy-Anderson continues on Side 2 before Armstrong dubs Volume 2 of The Rarest Fats Waller. The reel ends with what Louis once again calls “Demo Recordings,” two songs from the film The Adding Machine, starring Phyllis Diller and released in September 1969.

LAHM 1987_2_23~165

The collage on Reel 75 is another most likely created in the 1950s, with clippings spotlighting an All Stars performance at the Orpheum Theater in Seattle from September 1959. There’s also a couple of images of the trumpeter, the famed Ambassador Satch cover photo and a small photo of Louis playing cornet from the 1947 film New Orleans:

LAHM 1987.3.375

On the back, a rare photo of the front line of the 1952 edition of the All Stars, probably taken during their European tour at a venue where the audience sat on the stage. The rhythm section was most likely being featured, allowing Louis, Trummy Young, and clarinetist Bob McCracken to take a short break:

LAHM 1987.3.375

75 tapes down, about a hundred or so to go–we’ll be back in a few days with the next installment in this series.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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