Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 96-100

Before diving into today’s post, you might want to clear off your schedule for a while because unlike many of the posts in this series, today’s offering has lots of choice audio you won’t find anywhere else. (And as always, catch up on the entire series here.)

Reel 96
Accession Number: 1987.3.396

We’re jumping right in with Armstrong’s appearance on The Merv Griffin Show on March 10, 1970, where he appeared alongside guests Phyllis Diller, Godfrey Cambridge, Al Capp and pop rock singer Oliver. Sadly, the video no longer survives of this episode, but at least Armstrong kept audio of the entire broadcast. For our purposes, here’s watermarked audio of Louis’s segment, opening with a long interview with Merv and Arthur Treacher. There’s lots of good stuff here, including another discussion of his reel-to-reel tapes, the story of his stopping a war in Leopoldville in 1960, his favorite King of England story, and tales of growing up in New Orleans. After all that, Armstrong performs two numbers he rarely did on TV, “We Have All the Time in the World” and “Jeepers Creepers” (vocal only at this point). Here’s the audio:

Louis on “The Merv Griffin Show,” March 10, 1971. LAHM 1987.3.396

He’s sure on fire on that “Jeepers Creepers,” isn’t he? Great stuff!

From there, Armstrong dubbed a copy of the Epic 1963 Jack Teagarden set (“epic” in more ways than one), King of the Blues Trombone. Armstrong always named Teagarden as his favorite musician and though Jack was gone for seven years by this point, that didn’t stop Louis from digging his old friend, as can be seen in his catalog pages (“Teagarden Sings the Blues – Yea!”). This is yet another example of Armstrong dubbing something where he didn’t have the original LP at hand so he had to use his ears, sometimes eschewing any attempts to name the songs and just writing things like “Beautiful Number.” This particular compilation is on Spotify if you’d like to listen along and see the actual tune titles:

LAHM 1987_2_23~207

Teagarden continues on Side 2 before Armstrong dubs another recent talk show appearance, this one coming from The Mike Douglas Show. Once again, a little detective work is needed; when we discussed Reel 79 of this series, we included audio of an appearance Armstrong cataloged as being on the Douglas show, dated February 26, 1970–good enough for us. But that tape only contained Armstrong’s three songs, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” and “Rockin’ Chair.” This tape, Reel 96, has those same exact three performances, but surrounded by long interview segments with Armstrong, plus a date of March 31, 1970! My hunch is, as discussed in a letter Armstrong sent to Arvell Shaw in April, Armstrong was going down to Philadelphia once a month during this period, filming multiple episodes of the Douglas show that would be aired at later dates. Thus, it’s possible he recorded those three songs on February 26 and they were aired on March 31, but as always, that’s just speculation.

Regardless, sit back and relax because even if you’ve heard the music in our earlier post, you’ve most likely never heard the interview unless you were watching live in 1970. Armstrong was in fine form with Merv Griffin, trotting out some of his “greatest hit” anecdotes, but he clearly had a bond with Douglas, who asks him some very interesting, open-ended questions, about fame, money, success, New Orleans, even his Star of David (Armstrong mentions Joe Glaser, Dr. Gary Zucker and even quickly brings up the Karnofsky family in New Orleans around the 14-minute mark). We’re letting this clip run long because after Armstrong’s segment, Douglas introduces the brilliant comedian/musician Pete Barbutti, still going strong at the time of this writing at the age of 88. Admittedly, it’s not as much fun to hear Barbutti play the piano with his nose as it is to see it, but we thought it was worth sharing for Armstrong’s self-admitted “corny” response (and check the catalog for Armstrong’s misspelling of his name, “Pete Mavoo”!).

Douglas then welcomes actress Donna Theodore, also still with us at the time of this writing, who talks a bit with Louis and the panel, Louis offering to immediately buy a copy of her new song, “(If You Let Me Make Love to You, Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?” We’ve ended the excerpt there but Theodore finished the song and Armstrong ran out of tape just as the next two guests were introduced, which will be discussed later in this post. But for now, here’s this fantastic Armstrong appearance on The Mike Douglas Show:

Louis on “The Mike Douglas Show,” March 31, 1970. LAHM 1987.3.396

And here are the catalog pages:

LAHM 1987_2_23~208

Still no collages for those who have been following along, but don’t worry, one will return before the end of this post.

LAHM 1987.3.396
LAHM 1987.3.396

Reel 97
Accession Number: 1987.3.397

Armstrong ran out of tape while dubbing that episode of The Mike Douglas Show on Reel 96 and he would finish it–on Reel 98. For Reel 97, he reached back to a 1964 WNEW broadcast hosted by Fred Robbins the night “Hello, Dolly!” hit number one on the pop charts. The centerpiece of the program was an interview Robbins conducted with Armstrong in his Corona, Queens home, discussing “Dolly,” The Beatles, the late Jack Teagarden, what music has done for race relations, and more. We’re not sharing the complete audio of this broadcast here–but only because we’ve already shared it on this site in the past! If you’d like to hear it, check out our Virtual Exhibit on the history of “Hello, Dolly!” from 2021 and scroll towards to the bottom to listen.

LAHM 1987_2_23~209
LAHM 1987_2_23~210

Here’s the box for Reel 97, obviously what Robbins originally sent Armstrong from WNEW just with a new catalog number:

LAHM 1987.3.397
LAHM 1987.3.397

Reel 98
Accession Number: 1987.3.398

Reel 98 picks up where Reel 96 left off, with the ending of the March 31, 1970 episode of The Mike Douglas Show. Armstrong is only tangentially involved in this segment but it’s still worth sharing for history’s sake as it features Kevin Wall and Dr. C. Eric Lincoln talking about what big businesses were doing in the area of Black history. Wall was a Vice President of marketing for Coca-Cola and Dr. Lincoln was a consultant to Coca-Cola in relation to their promotion of Black history at that time, when Coca-Cola was providing schools with a kit filled with slides and books on the subject. They also talk about how regular textbooks did not satisfactorily reflect Black achievements (and this is all six years before the official start of Black History Month) and call Louis “an institution”–before offering him a kit, too! Here’s audio of just that segment (we’re skipping bandleader’s Joe Harnell’s recipe for Italian chili, but it’s on our Digital Collections site if you want to dig deep):

Kevin Wall and Dr. C. Eric Lincoln discuss Coca-Cola’s Black History efforts on “The Mike Douglas Show.” LAHM 1987.3.398

And now another treat: on March 9, 1970, The Mike Douglas Show was co-hosted by Pearl Bailey, who won a Tony for her role in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, beginning in 1967. Douglas asks Bailey if she wouldn’t mind hearing someone sing “Dolly” to her–followed by the sounds of Armstrong singing his big hit, to the surprise and delight of Bailey and the entire audience. Armstrong and Bailey clearly knew each other and they talk a little about their relationship here, but they weren’t exactly a pair that folks immediately would connect together like, say, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis. However, that changed in a big way in 1970, beginning with this very appearance. In May, Bailey returned the favor and called in when Armstrong was co-hosting Douglas’s show; in September, the two teamed up for Armstrong’s comeback engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas; and in November, Bailey asked Armstrong to appear in the first episode of his primetime variety show on ABC, which eventually aired in January 1971. Thus, though they had known each other forever, their professional partnership really began here and especially on the closing “Lazy Bones.” At one point in the middle of the three-way vocal with Armstrong and Douglas, Bailey actually requests a copy of the videotape “because it’s gonna be a classic!”

So without further ado, here’s the complete audio of this segment, the two wise show business veterans dispensing a lot of wisdom during the interview before the songs begin, Bailey doing the appropriate “Bill Bailey” (also the name of her brother, a pioneer in the world of dance) and Armstrong doing “Blueberry Hill” and “Mack the Knife” before the aforementioned “Lazy Bones” that brings down the house. This excerpt ends with the next guest, teenaged Bobby Sherman, then riding high on the success of his million-seller “Little Woman” and his role on ABC’s Here Comes the Brides, responding to “Lazy Bones” and being on the same show as Armstrong and Bailey. It’s Sherman’s segment, but Armstrong and Bailey are active throughout so we’ve included it here, too–enjoy!

Louis Armstrong and Pearl Bailey on “The Mike Douglas Show,” March 9, 1970. LAHM 1987.3.398

Apparently, video does indeed survive of this show, but it has not found its way into our Archives. However, a few snippets are online and worth sharing. This 2007 documentary on The Mike Douglas Show has about 30 seconds of “Lazy Bones,” starting at 48:49:

And Jason Harnell, son of bandleader Joe Harnell, put up a video of “Mack the Knife,” shot from a TV screen, but it’s still fun to watch (and to see Bailey dance):

That was a pretty long build-up, but here’s the catalog page to describe all of the above:

LAHM 1987_2_23~211

In our last post, we told the touching story of Louis’s reconciliation with Zutty Singleton, who suffered a stroke at the start of 1970. The two old friends began spending more time together and at some point, they must have traded tapes as Side 2 begins with an episode of George Mercer’s radio show originally broadcast on April 20, 1968, a tribute to Zutty Singleton, “Dean of Drummers.” Armstrong listed Mercer’s show as “Reel Jazz,” but it was actually known as “Jazz Anthology” and was syndicated on the Eastern Educational Radio Network between 1965 and 1969. Singleton must have given Armstrong a few tapes and Armstrong seemed to have cataloged the titles of them all here, hence the confusing dates and references to Tony Parenti, Bix, and more. After consulting the original tape, we can definitively conclude that it only contains Mercer’s broadcast on Singleton opening with “Basin Street Blues” and taking listeners through Singleton’s career. It’s always fun reading Armstrong’s notations, calling out “ZOOT ON DRUMS” on Carroll Dickerson’s “Symphonic Raps” (Armstrong couldn’t remember the title and called it “Swing Tune”), quoting the first line of “Zutty’s Hootie Blues” (“If you don’t believe I’m sinkin'”), calling our attention to Singleton’s “tum tums” on “Deuces Wild,” and accidentally renaming “Brush Lightly” as “Rush Lightly”!


For once, the actual box for Reel 98 corresponds to the tape inside, sent by engineer Tony Janak to Louis and containing both the March 31 and March 9 episodes of The Mike Douglas Show as heard above, though Armstrong did his own thing with the audio, spreading it across two separate reels, adding the Zutty Singleton show, and more:

LAHM 1987.3.398
LAHM 1987.3.398

Reel 99
Accession Number: 1987.3.399

As I mentioned, Armstrong got a little carried away with his cataloging of Side 2 of Reel 98 but he makes up for it on Reel 99, opening with another George Mercer episode of “Jazz Anthology,” this one on clarinetist Tony Parenti, that he had teased on the previous catalog page. What follows, though, is a complete mystery. Armstrong writes Mercer’s name again and “Action – April (1968)” but doesn’t identify any of the musicians who perform a bunch of standards on what sounds like a pretty loose jam session that takes up the rest of Reel 99. It’s a traditional jazz band with a prominent banjo and only on “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me” does Louis give us a hint, identifying the legendary Alberta Hunter–at this point working in a hospital and retired from singing –on vocals and John Payne on kazoo. The vocals are pretty off-mike but could be deep enough to be Hunter–here’s “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me”; any thoughts?

“Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me,” Mystery Band – 1987.3.99

Some potential clues can be found below in the discussion of Reel 100, but for now, here’s the catalog pages for Reel 99:

LAHM 1987_2_23~213
LAHM 1987_2_23~214

There’s not much happening on the front of Reel 99….

LAHM 1987.3.399

…but pray tell, what is this!? A collage! This is the first one we’ve encountered since Reel 86 and it’s a doozy, Armstrong making something new out of a late 1960s publicity photo he was fond of:

LAHM 1987.3.399

Reel 100
Accession Number: 1987.3.400

The same mystery “Action Concord” 1968 jam session continues at the start of Reel 100, followed by more live traditional jazz, but this time there’s actually an announcement which could clear up some of the mystery. The leader of the second band is pianist Bob Pilsbury, who would go on to perform for decades in the famed New Black Eagle Jazz Band, which formed in 1971. Here, Pilsbury announces the group as the Arborway-Huntington Revival and gives personnel as Hunter Payne on banjo, his brother John Payne on soprano saxophone, John Hart on bass, and Dave Markel on drums (“a very talented local drummer”), before plugging their latest record on the Arco label. Side 1 ends and Side 2 begins with another mystery “jam session,” an amateur recording with piano heavy in the mix so I wonder if Pilsbury was recording these and sending them to Louis. This session has a full traditional jazz front line and a trumpeter who sounds like Wild Bill Davison; Davison and Pilsbury recorded together often in the 1970s and 80s so I do wonder if this was an early meeting between the two.

LAHM 1987_2_23~215

The poorly recorded late-60s trad jam sessions continue onto Side 2 before we get a welcome surprise: audio of Louis’s April 3, 1970 appearance on The Tonight Show. Once again, Johnny Carson had the night off (we already shared audio of Armstrong’s February 13, 1970 appearance with guest host Joan Rivers on Reel 88), so this time the guest host was Flip Wilson, just months away from exploding in popularity as the star of his own variety show.

The Tonight Show sent Armstrong this recording, already edited with a snatch of Wilson’s introduction and a commercial break before Armstrong is introduced and sings another touching version of “We Have All the Time in the World.” During the interview, Armstrong talks about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his trips to England, Mike’s in Harlem, Doc Severinsen (praised for playing “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” during a commercial break) and more. Armstrong and Zutty Singleton were now palling around like the old days and Armstrong invited his ailing friend to be his guest at the taping, introducing him from the audience and telling some stories of their times together in the 1920s. Armstrong’s segment concludes with a rollicking “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” with Sonny Russo (not Teddy Russo, as Louis writes below) taking the trombone solo. Here’s the audio:

Louis Armstrong on “The Tonight Show,” April 3, 1970. LAHM 1987.3.400

Before we step away from this appearance, it’s worth sharing a beautiful memory of this moment related by Marge Singleton in her Jazz Oral History Project interview in 1975: “But Louis was still a humble man,” she stated. “He was really a [down to] earth man to the  very end. He told Zutty when he was going to take him, come and pick him up and take him to the Carson Show. And he said, ‘Yes man,’ he said, ‘you know when I do them shows, they send a big black limousine for me. Yes,’ he said, ‘they always send that big black limousine.’ And I said, ‘Well, why shouldn’t they?’ But to Louis, that was terrible. It was a big deal for him. And when he picked us up at the hotel and when we got in the car, the chauffeur jumped out, you know. It was a Carey limousine, and he helped Zutty in the car. Louis said to Zutty, ‘Look at this, isn’t this something, isn’t this something?’ Now, I mean, you know that showed the was still–didn’t realize how big he was, you know. He really didn’t. He was just such a down to earth, down to earth man.”

Reel 100 then winds up with dubs of two older LPs, the 1964 Roulette compilation, The World of Dinah Washington, and the 1962 album Butterbeans and Susie, featuring two old friends from his Chicago days. Now, I hate to get in the weeds again with the mysteries of these tapes, but the Butterbeans and Susie album is concluded–on Reel 27. Also on Reel 27? Audio of the same April 3, 1970 episode of The Tonight Show with Flip Wilson, plus a Kim Weston LP given to Armstrong backstage on that very same show. Yet Reel 30, for example, features South American recordings from 1957 and was shown off to Louis and Claudine Panassie during their visit….in May 1969. So how did Reel 30 exist in May 1969 and but Reel 27 contained material that didn’t even happen until 11 months later? Damned if I know! My only guess is Louis re-purposed Reel 27 at some point, maybe one of the many tapes he dubbed multiple times and perhaps seeing a blank tape, continued all of the material from Reel 100 to Reel 27. Or he skipped Reel 27 the first time, noticed here, and hung a new number on it. I sometimes get headaches trying to figure it out but except for anomalies like this, there is a general chronological order to the tapes, especially with all the TV appearances, so I still think with Reel 100, we’re squarely in April-early May 1970.

LAHM 1987_2_23~216

After the tantalizing collage on Reel 99, they disappear for a while again, but here’s the box for Reel 100:

LAHM 1987.3.400
LAHM 1987.3.400

100 reels down–wow! Even I’m surprised I’ve made it this far and I thank all of you out there who have been reading each installment. We’re not done yet as the very next post will contain the preparation tapes for what would become the album Louis Armstrong and His Friends. But we’re going to let this one cook a few extra days to allow all of our readers out there to really dig in to these audio clips. If you’re enjoying this series, please leave a comment–thanks for reading.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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