Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 76-80

In our previous installment of this series, Louis finally started moving away from dubs of his own recordings and started listening to music old (Fats Waller, Jimmie Lunceford) and new (Lara Saint Paul, music from the 1969 film Adding Machine). That trend continues today with Louis almost exclusively listening to releases from the late 60s.

Reel 76
Accession Number: 1987.3.376

With Reel 76, we enter a new phase on Louis’s tapes: the Broadway “original cast album” era. This is pure speculation but there’s really no evidence that Louis and Lucille were attending all the hot new shows on Broadway in early 1970 (though having said that, it’s entirely possible they saw a few). My gut feeling is Oscar Cohen, Armstrong’s new manager, was looking for a hit and, remembering how good Broadway was for Louis in the 1960s–“Hello, Dolly,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Cabaret,” “Wilkommen,” “Mame,” and more–wanted Louis to listen to the scores of the latest shows to pick out something he’d want to record. As it happened, Armstrong picked out….nothing, but he certainly spent a good amount of time listening to the sounds of Broadway in early 1970.

Up first was Purlie, written by Ossie Davis and featuring Tony-winning performances from Clevon Little and Melba Moore and a strong supporting cast with the likes of Sherman Helmsley, Alan Alda, Godfrey Cambridge, and others. Purlie opened on Broadway on March 14, 1970, but from what I can tell, the original cast recording wasn’t issued until late April or early May, which seems a little late; perhaps Armstrong was slipped an early demo recording of the score (which will make more sense in a bit) as I still feel we’re in February-March 1970 in terms of when exactly these tapes were made and catalogued.

One reason for that hunch is–after another quick dub of Lorenzo Pack’s demo of “This Black Cat Has 9 Lives,” which was also on Reel 73–the very next item on Reel 76 is Jemsides, a 1969 album from the Swedish hot jazz group, Kustbandet, then managed by Armstrong super-fan Gösta Hägglöf. Hägglöf had sent Armstrong two Kustbandet records and received a handwritten reply from Louis himself dated February 18, 1970:

LAHM 2011_21_38-03

For those who can’t read it, Louis wrote, “Dear Sir, I received the records and I am enjoying them very much. Even my friends and my fans are enjoying listening to them. And I want to thank you very much. Regards, Louis Armstrong.” Here, finally, is the catalog page:

LAHM 1987_2_23~166

Kustbandet opens and closes Side 2, with the conclusion of Jemsides opening it and the opening of their 1969 album Honey Pie closing it. In between, Armstrong dubbed “This Black Cat Has Nine Lives” yet again, before a real curiosity, the music of the Broadway production of Gantry, starring Robert Shaw and Rita Moreno. As I hinted at with Purlie, this is more evidence that Armstrong was slipped demos and not the finished original cast albums because Gantry infamously opened on February 14, 1970–and closed after a single performance! It was not enough time for a cast album to be recorded, though the website CastAlbums.org has an interesting note that a noncommercial recording exists, “Recorded from the audience during previews. There was to have been an original cast album recorded by RCA but it was canceled when the show closed.” This must be what was sent to Armstrong documented on Reel 76:

LAHM 1987_2_23~167

We’ve alluded to Swiss Kriss, Armstrong’s laxative of choice, a few times but here is the real deal–an actual sample packet is taped to the front of Reel 76! Surrounding it is a nice shot of Louis at the microphone, and a snapshot of the mid-50s All Stars in action with Louis, Velma Middleton, and Edmond Hall visible:

LAHM 1987.3.376

On the back, Louis and Lucille enjoy a meal with “writer of Blueberry Hill.” Of course, “Blueberry Hill” had three songwriters–Larry Stock, Al Lewis, and Vincent Rose–but in our Archives is a 1975 letter from Stock to Lucille reminiscing about a Thanksgiving eve meal he shared with Louis and Lucille, so that gives some stock to it being Stock (sorry).

LAHM 1987.3.376

Reel 77
Accession Number: 1987.3.377

Reel 77 is a real hodge-podge, opening with the conclusion of Kustbandet’s Honey Pie album. (“Duke Ellington’s Tune” in Louis’s handwriting is “The Mooch.”) Armstrong then reached back for NBC’s coverage of his 69th birthday, when Gabe Pressman visited Louis at his Corona home. It’s a nice little segment and is definitely worth sharing a watermarked version now:

Following this is a tribute to Louis recorded for his birthday by V. Edward Brady; this is definitely the creation of a fan as the edits are a bit rough and Brady apologizes for the quality, but it’s done with affection and Louis must have been touched enough by it to include it on tape. Finally, something a bit weird: Vic Damone covered “We Have All the Time in the World” in January 1970 and Louis finished off this side of Reel 77 by dubbing it–over and over, including an instrumental version. Armstrong usually only did this when he was learning a song and sure enough, he performed it twice on national television in February and March 1970 so perhaps he was re-familiarizing himself with the song he introduced in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service–but why listen to Damone’s version and not his own? An unsolved mystery….

LAHM 1987_2_23~168

Side 2 requires far less explanation, a dub of the bulk of the 2-LP set, Memoirs of Willie “The Lion” Smith, produced by Mike Lipskin and released by RCA Victor in the summer of 1968:

LAHM 1987_2_23~169

Reel 77 has the feel of another collage Louis originally made in the 1950s and reinforced with new white tape and a new catalog number in 1970. The front and back feature images of Louis with unidentified fans, posed in front of that set of blinds that appears on many of the tape boxes.

LAHM 1987.3.377
LAHM 1987.3.377

Reel 78
Accession Number 1987.3.378

The conclusion of Memoirs of Willie “The Lion” Smith opens Reel 78, before something pretty cool: Armstrong doing a commercial for Midas Mufflers! It’s not known when exactly this was recorded but we have the contract–Armstrong made $25,000 for the spot–and it was signed November 5, 1969, so it was most likely recorded between November 1969 and February 1970. Here’s the audio, with Louis reading and singing in multiple tempos–and in multiple languages!

LAHM 1987.3.378

Side 1 concludes with Armstrong indulging in his love of classical music, with a rare LP by the Great Vienna Broadcasting Orchestra, Adagio Lamentoso And Other Orchestral Works by Alfred Eisenstein . The LP is so rare, I couldn’t find a release date and Google only has a handful of references to it, but on Archive.org, you can listen along and even read the liner notes.

LAHM 1987_2_23~170

Side 2 opens with another album from the late 60s, blues guitarist Mel Brown’s Chicken Fat, produced by Bob Thiele for ABC Records in 1967. Thiele connected with Armstrong in March 1970 to begin planning what became Louis Armstrong and His Friends so perhaps this was a gift of the producer. Next up, British traditional jazz singer Beryl Bryden’s Greatest Hits album with the New Orleans Syncopators. This was reissued in 1970 as part of CBS’s Greatest Hits series so I originally thought perhaps Louis had that issue, but Bryden herself remarked in a Melody Maker column that she had the Artone label send a copy of the original 1967 pressing to Louis so that’s most likely what he used on this tape.

After Bryden, it’s back to Broadway for a dub of the original cast album of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! as issued in 1962 on RCA Victor:

LAHM 1987_2_23~171

Armstrong took a break from making collages for the next few tapes, just sticking on his labels noting the reel number and the tape speed. Definitely not as interesting as some of the ones we’ve shared but for the sake of completeness, we’ll keep sharing these images, too:

LAHM 1987.3.378
LAHM 1987.3.378

Reel 79
Accession Number: 1987.3.379

After finishing off Oliver! on Side 1 of Reel 79, Armstrong throws us another curveball with another greatest hits compilation, this one the Rascals’s Time Peace. When folks sometimes wonder what Louis was listening to in his spare time in this period, here’s your answer. No late Coltrane or electric Miles Davis for him; he was digging “Mustang Sally,” “A Beautiful Morning,” and other gems from Billboard’s number one pop album of September 1968!

Of course, he still listened to traditional jazz and concluded Side 1 of Reel 79 with a release on the Canadian Sackville label, The Jazz Giants, featuring Wild Bill Davison, Herb Hall, Benny Morton, Claude Hopkins, Arvell Shaw, and Buzzy Drootin. Once again, this is speculation, but I do wonder if this was a gift of Arvell Shaw. Shaw and Armstrong had a falling out after Shaw left the band in 1956 and though they reunited between 1963 and 1965, they didn’t seem especially close. But in 1970, they made peace when Armstrong performed at a benefit for Shaw, who had a mentally disabled child. As will be discussed in the next installment, Armstrong and Shaw began trading letters and tapes by April 1970 so it’s possible this Jazz Giants LP was a peace offering gift from Shaw.

LAHM 1987_2_23~172

Continuing the “and now for something completely different” theme of these tapes, Side 2 (erroneously listed as “Side 1”) opens with the soundtrack of the 1968 musical comedy film, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, which starred Jason Robards, Britt Ekland, Bert Lahr, and Elliot Gould, among others. Next up, Swinging and Singing, 1967 album by Doc Severinsen and Friends. At the time, Doc was also booked by Associated Booking and we’ve already shared a photo of Louis and Doc at the Plaza in June 1970 that appeared in one of Louis’s scrapbooks. June seems a too late for where we are in the tapes, but Louis did appear on The Tonight Show on February 13, 1970, which seems to be the sweet spot, so perhaps it was a parting gift.

Then again, the very next item on this side (it’s tough to read as Louis tried cramming everything onto this single page) is from another Associated Booking client, B. B. King’s 1968 release on ABC/BluesWay, Blues on Top of Blues, so perhaps ABC was sending Louis some music by their recently signed artists (or perhaps Louis just enjoyed B.B.’s music, purchased the LP when it came out and just got around to dubbing it in 1970–sorry for all the speculation in this post!).

My February 1970 hunch grows stronger as Armstrong then dubs the audio of his appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, filmed in Philadelphia on February 26, 1970. Louis left his trumpet at home but sang “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” and “Rockin’ Chair” with excellent backing by Joe Harnell’s band of top Philly musicians. Louis must have enjoyed himself as he would return to Douglas’s show numerous times over the coming months. And another gift for reading through all of my detective work, here’s the watermarked audio of this February 1970 appearance!

LAHM 1987.3.379

We’re still not through with Side 2 though (this side alone is 1 hour and 57 minutes at 3 3/4 speed), as Armstrong managed to start dubbing the soundtrack to the 1969 film Goodbye Mr. Chips, starring Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark.

LAHM 1987_2_23~173

Again, a simple reel number for the outside of this box:

LAHM 1987.3.379
LAHM 1987.3.379

Reel 80
Accession Number: 1987.3.380

The soundtrack of Goodbye Mr. Chips continues on Side 1 before another detour to traditional jazz with a dub of the very first LP ever issued on George H. Buck’s Jazzology label, Tony Parenti and His New Orleanians (I’ll have my own theory about Parenti in the next installment). From there, it’s back to Broadway for the score of Jimmy, a musical starring Frank Gorshin about New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. It opened in October 1969 and closed on January 3, vanishing into obscurity, but Armstrong at least documented its songs for posterity.

LAHM 1987_2_23~174

After finishing up Jimmy, Armstrong stuck to jazz for the rest of reel 80, beginning with Louie Bellson’s 1968 album Breakthrough featuring the likes of Marvin Stamm, Pete Chrislieb, Sam Most, Jimmy Cleveland, Ross Tompkins, Benny Powell, George Duvivier, Barry Galbreath and more, performing everything from “Ode to Billy Joe” to “I Remember Bird.” Armstrong went on a Pearl Bailey kick a few tapes earlier so perhaps he acquired this at the same time he acquired those Bailey albums, given that Bellson was her husband. (Actually, I just recalled that Bailey and Bellson visited Armstrong backstage at the Latin Quarter in April 1968 and given the 1967-1968 release dates of many of the albums mentioned today, maybe Armstrong received the records then and didn’t get around to dubbing them to tape until after his hospital stays and convalescing. The plot thickens….)

After Bellson’s more modern sounds, it was back to traditional jazz for a Jimmy McPartland date originally released on Epic in 1957 and reissued on Harmony as simply Dixieland! in 1968. Then it was back to more modern sounds with Woody Herman’s 1969 release Light My Fire, which found the clarinetist taking on the title track by The Doors, “I Say a Little Prayer,” “MacArthur Park,” and other hits from that era.

LAHM 1987_2_23~175

One more once, the same design for Reel 80:

LAHM 1987.3.380
LAHM 1987.3.380

The conclusion of Woody Herman’s Light My Fire will be featured in our next installment, which will include some more surprises but also a welcome return to Armstrong’s own music.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected