Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 126-130

The posts in this series aren’t getting any shorter, but they are definitely getting more and more packed with content–below you’ll find dozens of handwritten pages, a couple of videos, and about three hours of audio. Budget your time accordingly and dig in!

Reel 126
Accession Number: 1987.3.426

With Reel 126, we’ve come to the final reel Louis attempted to catalog in the binder he started sometime after getting home from the hospital in the spring of 1969. As discussed in our last post, he pre-filled this binder up to Page 233, which he assumed would house Reel 155. Page after page, he marked with a reel number, side number, page number, and tape speed (assuming everything from here on out would be recorded at 3 3/4 speed). It’s sad seeing the blank pages, knowing he died before he could finish the job. It’s also sad seeing the final filled-out page for Reel 126, which does not correspond to the actual reel. The “Integrate the Love” Louis describes does show up soon, but not this reel, so this captures Louis in a somewhat foggy state. Thus, here are the final pages from this book (and yes, we have now shared ALL 272 pages of this famed tape catalog!):

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But as also described last time, the above binder actually represented the final step in Louis’s idiosyncratic cataloging process. He would originally write everything down on a series of blank sheets of paper–that weren’t actually blank; they were the back of his “Lose Weight the Satchmo Way” diet charts!–fold them up, and stick them in the corresponding tape box. When he felt like working on his binder, he would use these sheets and consolidate the contents into pages we’ve shared from his tape catalog. Thus, though the binder is behind us, we still have Louis’s “diet chart” cataloging to share for every tape left in this series–cause for celebration.

With Reel 126, we encounter something we have not seen in a very long time–Armstrong grabbing a reel he originally made in the 1950s (at 7 1/2 speed) and just giving it a new number without changing anything. In this case, Side 1 includes a dub of Louis’s appearance on Sidney Gross’s “International Jazz Club” radio show in September 1952. The sound quality isn’t great–Louis must have had an acetate disc and dubbed it in his room while going about his business (you can hear him and other voices present in the background early on) but most of the conversation comes through cleanly.

After a plug for Creole Pete Robertson’s Harlem eatery, where Louis and Gross just had gumbo, Gross plays the following records, getting Louis’s views throughout: “Canal Street Blues,” “West End Blues,” “St. Louis Blues” (from Paris 1934), and “Back O’Town Blues” (from Town Hall 1947). We’ve shared a ton of interviews from 1970, so let’s share one from 1952 (once again, watermarked with beeps for protection):

Louis Armstrong on “International Jazz Club,” September 1952.
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Here’s Louis’s catalog page for the above interview. (I don’t know why Louis writes “Charles Chilton”; the interviewer is clearly Sidney Gross. A theory is British writer and musician John Chilton perhaps sent something to Louis at this time as he was then working on the biography Louis with Max Jones, who we discussed in our previous installment. Maybe Louis got Chilton’s first name wrong–not an unexpected occurrence–and thought he had something to do with this interview?)

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Side 2 opens with more early 1950s content, opening with birthday greetings sent to Armstrong by Hughes Panassie and Madeline Gautier of France. A little boy also speaks briefly and I’m assuming that’s little Louis Panassie, who would later visit the Armstrongs at home in 1969 in a tape we discussed in detail here. Another member of the Hot Club du France, Andre Doutard (thank you Jean Labay for the identification!) also speaks; here’s the audio:

Birthday Greets to Louis Armstrong from the Hot Club du France
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The little snippet of “That’s My Desire” sung by Velma Middleton heard at the end there was added by Panassie, who might have also selected the rest of the tracks on this side, a potpourri of early jazz gems including  “That’s My Desire” (Louis Armstrong) (ending only); “Perdido Street Blues” (New Orleans Wanderers); “Gettysburg March” (Kid Rena); “Bottle It Up and Go” (Memphis Jug Band); “Snake Rag” (King Oliver); “New Orleans Blues” (Jelly Roll Morton); “Down By the Riverside” (George Lewis); “Keyhole Blues” (Louis Armstrong); “Dippermouth Blues” (King Oliver); “High Society Rag” (King Oliver); and “Milenberg Joys” (Jelly Roll Morton). Here’s Louis’s catalog page, getting a few things wrong; Kid Rena’s “Gettysburg March” is rendered as “1918 March” (I’m sure Louis played it in 1918); “Bottle It Up and Go” is erroneously listed as “Saddle Up and Go”; King Oliver’s “Snake Rag” was remembered by Louis as “Froggie Moore”; and instead of “Down By the Riverside,” Louis just lists other part of the refrain, “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No Mo.”

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Because it’s a 1950s tape, we get a our first collage proper in ages, a great photo of Louis singing autographs at what appears to be a record store from somewhere on his South American tour of 1957. Louis has covered his original collage with fresh tape and a new catalog number and description, though he’s still confused with the mention of “Charles Chilton” and “1st Broadcast BBC England”; Gross was British but his show aired in the United States:

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Armstrong added a new reel number to the back but kept his original cataloging, part of his early 1950s process of listing the contents directly on the back of each tape box, something he stopped doing after a few years:

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Reel 127
Accession Number: 1987.3.427

We are firmly back in 1970 now, but definitely the latter part of the year. For the longest time, we were able to chart Louis’s movements in 1970 because his tapes flowed chronologically and were especially overflowing with content from June, July, and early August. But then he went back to work in September 1970, filming an appearance on The Flip Wilson Show, performing with the All Stars at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, flying to Nashville for an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show and following that with a trip to England for a command performance for the Royal Family in late October. Armstrong never seemed to quite recover from that flurry of activity. George Wein once mentioned how he filmed interviews twice in 1970 to go along with the footage he shot of his birthday tribute at Newport. Wein mentioned that Armstrong was on fire during his July visit but was noticeably weaker when he returned in late September (the raw audio of both interviews is now available on the Wolfgang’s Vault site and gives credence to Wein’s recollections, as Armstrong indeed sounds quite strong on July 23, but tired and weaker on September 28, though still charming throughout). Even though he was fading fast, Armstrong was so happy to be working again, he just kept on going until a heart attack in March led to his passing in July 1971.

But first, he did go underground for much of November and December, making no television appearances, a period of much-needed rest that allowed him time to catch up on his tapes. This is all preamble to say that the first item of Reel 127, The Definitive Album by Louis Armstrong, wasn’t issued by Audio Fidelity records until October 1970 so we’re definitely in that quiet, late 1970 period for the next several tapes.

The story behind The Definitive Album is an interesting one and worthy of a quick tangent. In August 1959, Sid Frey of Audio Fidelity records signed Armstrong to record an album with one of his label’s best-selling acts, the Dukes of Dixieland. Armstrong was friendly with the Dukes and over three days in Chicago, they tossed around ideas for tunes and recorded an album’s worth with very little preparation. At the time, Decca had a restriction clause in their contract with Armstrong; any tunes Armstrong recorded for the label could not be recorded by any other label for five years. Decca set a list of restricted tunes to Audio Fidelity but through a mixup in communication, they thought it was a list of tunes free and clear! Thus, the 1959 session included many songs Decca released in recent years on their At the Crescendo and Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography sets and once word got out to them, Decca forbid Audio Fidelity from releasing the LP. Instead, Audio Fidelity had Louis and the All Stars record all new material for Satchmo Plays King Oliver in October 1959 and then reteamed Louis and the Dukes for an even more epic studio affair in May 1960.

Perhaps Decca’s terms had changed from a 5-year restriction to a 10-year restriction because Audio Fidelity was forced to sit on those 1959 recordings until 1970 (two years after Frey’s untimely passing), finally releasing a selection of the best tracks as The Definitive Album. Louis filled up the first part of Reel 127 with that and followed with something different, a dub of RCA’s 1960 Jimmie Rodgers compilation LP My Rough and Rowdy Ways. Recent tapes featured a lot of country music as Louis spent the summer of 1970 listening to this genre in preparation for recording Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong in August. I’m thinking this might have been sent to Armstrong–or picked up by him–in preparation for his iconic appearance on The Johnny Cash Show in October, when Armstrong and Cash recreated Armstrong and Rodgers’s “Blue Yodel Number 9,” heard on that RCA LP.

Here’s Armstrong’s catalog pages for Side 1:

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Side 2 opens with the conclusion of the Jimmie Rodgers LP before Louis switches genres again, dubbing a single by Sugar Ray Roll on the Beauty label,  “My Heart and I (Don’t Believe It)” backed by “Got to Move Out on Your Baby” (we put a hyperlink in that first one in case you’re not familiar with it so you can hear how Louis still had big ears at this late stage in the game). Armstrong then grabbed another 45, his own recording of “We Shall Overcome” from Louis Armstrong and His Friends, which had been issued by Flying Dutchman as a two-part single. There were predictions in the summer of 1970 that this would be another hit for Louis–and it should have been–but a six-minute opus, even broken into two parts, wasn’t an easy sell in 1970 and I don’t think it got very far on the charts or on the air.

But the rest of the reel requires some explanation and the introduction of another character in the Louis Armstrong saga: Lloyd Von Blaine. In an earlier draft of this post, we spent several paragraphs on Von Blaine here, building up to a longer story later on surrounding a somewhat legendary tape he made with Louis during this period. The results took up so much space, we’ve made a last-minute decision to make an entire separate entry specifically about Von Blaine, Louis and their tape, which we’ll share in the coming days. For now, you just have to know that he was Louis’s publicist in 1970 and after Louis gifted him a tape recorder, Von Blaine sent him tapes such as this one, a gathering and friends and family sitting around the piano, singing songs and telling stories. Armstrong doesn’t appear on the tape, but he still dubbed it to the end of Reel 127 (Armstrong didn’t seem to ever remember his first name of “Lloyd” and usually referred to him as first name “Von,” last name “Blaine”!).

Here are the other two catalog pages for Side 2 of Reel 127:

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More confusion on the tape box for Reel 127, as Armstrong originally wrote “Reel 114,” before crossing it out and making it “127.” (Reel 114 was a 70th birthday tribute sent to Louis from Millie Hoffman; Armstrong used Hoffman’s original box and just hung a new reel number on it.)

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LAHM 1987.3.427

Reel 128
Accession Number: 1987.3.428

Reel 128 starts off with a bang, with part of a reel compiled by Armstrong’s friend Tony Janak of miscellaneous party records, most containing dirty jokes. It opens with a routine revolving around a man talking about a cat (while a woman present thinks he’s talking about something else, um, feline-related). After that, Janak included an excerpt of David Frost interviewing Andy Williams where Frost mentions Armstrong’s Swiss Kriss laxative habit.

Then, for the first time, Armstrong dubbed two selections from his recently released Country and Western album, “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Crazy Arms.” He followed with an out-of-nowhere version of “Don’t Fence Me In,” his risque duet with Velma Middleton from the 1950s (the sound quality is terrible but it’s not the 1955 At the Crescendo so perhaps it was an unissued version sent to Louis by Janak or another friend).

After this Armstrongian interlude, he returns to Janak’s wild reel for more novelty records, including “I’m So Horny for Ezio Pinza”; Lucille Bogan’s uncensored “Shave ‘Em Dry,” the famous “International Crepitation Contest: Lord Windismere’s Defiance,” “Silent George,” “Ice Man,” “Love’s Sweet Story,” a fake trailer for a fake Lana Turner film “Betrayed,” the Four Aces’s recording of “Garbage Man” and more.

Almost ironically, Armstrong washes away the vulgarities with a dubs of his late 1950s Decca albums, Louis and the Good Book and Louis and the Angels! Here’s his pages for Side 1:

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Louis and the Good Book spins to a close at the start of Side 2, before we come to a welcome surprise: an actual tape of Louis and Lucille with a friend at home in Corona in 1970. If you’ve been with us from the beginning of this series, you’ll know that Louis mainly used the direct input of his Tandberg tape decks, recording directly to tape from LP or from another tape, rarely turning on the microphone to record the goings on in his den. There was the aforementioned Louis Panassie visit from May 1969 and the letter to Max Jones in late August/early September 1970 and that’s about it–until Reel 128.

Deciphering Louis’s handwritten notes, this portion of the tape contains “Satchmo Louis Armstrong – Dot Davenport, Lucille Boyd from Norfolk. Lucille Armstrong. Mitch Miller on T.V. At home in Corona.” But as he explains early on, Lucille Boyd was the mother of Louis and Lucille’s friend Dorothy Davenport (not the silent film actress of the same name); Davenport doesn’t appear on the tape (but there are photos of her with Lucille from her widowhood).

I do believe I might have succeeded in cracking the mystery of when this tape was recorded. Mitch Miller is on the TV in the background throughout the tape, but it wasn’t a new episode, it was a repeat, which were broadcast Saturdays at 7 p.m. on local channel 9, WOR. At one point, a commercial comes on for “Holidays on Ice” at Madison Square Garden, which took place from Wednesday, August 26 through Sunday, September 13. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Armstrong was due in California on Monday, August 31 to rehearse for his appearance on The Flip Wilson Show, making the date for this tape most likely August 15 (the date he gave at the start of his letter to Max Jones), 22 or 29. Armstrong did seem to equate this tape with the Max Jones tape as that one became Reel 124 and in his tape catalog binder, he wrote “Lucille Boyd” under Reel 125 before crossing it out. But there’s also a mention of “I won’t see you before you leave,” which makes August 29 more likely (also Louis started writing the letter to Jones on August 15, but didn’t finish it and probably didn’t read it until later that month). Either way, it was a good time in Corona, with Louis once again having some fun with his tape recorders in a way that’s more than just dubbing music, interviews, and old tapes.

The contents of this tape, though, are not quite as exciting as the Max Jones letter–yet, given the “That’s My Home” nature of this site and as a gift for anyone sticking with us in this seemingly endless series, we’re still going to share the watermarked audio.

The fun begins with Louis mentioning his “study,” saying “That’s a new name for ‘Den.'” After introducing Boyd and talking about his tape recorders, he lets Boyd sit in his chair behind her desk to record an audio message for her grandson, Charles, Louis coaching her through it. Then, in a bittersweet moment to show where Armstrong’s mind was at this point, he tells Boyd he’s going back to work now “on those one-nighters” and is sure he’ll end up in Norfolk at some point. He was feeling so good and probably had no idea that he’d be dead in less than a year.

When Boyd mentions seeing Louis on television, he reaches for a tape and plays news coverage of his 70th birthday concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and his somewhat tempestuous CBS interview with Bill Stout that we analyzed in our previous post. He eventually turns it off so they could all enjoy a Mitch Miller rerun, with Armstrong setting up his microphone to record it off of television. Around 11:17 in the following audio clip, Louis starts warming up on his mouthpiece, eventually blowing some notes and scales on his trumpet, sounding a bit fragile but eventually gaining strength as he goes. Besides that, I don’t know how many folks are going to listen to this in its entirety but it’s pretty fascinating hearing jazz’s greatest genius reacting so enthusiastically to Mitch Miller, calling it “a wonderful program,” associating “Sound Off” with Chesterfield jingles and humming along with it, and cheering on the United States Army Drill Team’s tight choreography–“Everybody’s got to be right there”–and commenting, “That’s rhythm, you know,” before shouting, “Ahhhh, isn’t that beautiful!” (that occurs at 17:48). Here’s the first part:

At home in Corona with Lucille Boyd, 1970. Part 1
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Part 2 opens with “autograph time,” Lucille Armstrong entering with cards for Louis to sign for everyone Lucille Boyd seemingly knew. There’s lots of small talk (Lucille Armstrong mentions a low-calorie granulated sugar, “Sugar Twin,” and there’s a tribute to tomatoes that Louis takes part in), they comment on what sounds like a commercial for a scary movie (“I don’t go for this,” Lucille Armstrong says. “It worries me all the time”), there’s a mention of Swiss Kriss, and finally Louis says goodbye to Boyd, encouraging her to hold the railing on her way down the stairs.

But a magical moment occurs at 28:55: instead of switching off his tape recorder, Armstrong, now alone, puts the mouthpiece he had been buzzing into his Selmer trumpet and blows a chorus of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” He’s fragile at first but gradually gets stronger, his warm tone still present. Here’s audio of the entire second part of this hang:

At home in Corona with Lucille Boyd, 1970. Part 2.
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And because we don’t expect everyone to sit through Mitch Miller and all of that small talk, here’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (which might sound familiar to some as we included it in one of our very first posts on Louis’s warm-up routine):

Louis Armstrong warms up on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” 1970.
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The next portion of the tape comes from after Louis returned home from his engagement in Las Vegas. Floyd Levin was a classic jazz supporter from California who befriended Louis and Lucille and was a big part of the 70th birthday concert at the Shrine. Levin and his wife–also named Lucille (another!)–attended one of Armstrong’s International Hotel performances in September and decided to make an audio letter for him on October 24, telling him how much fun they had with him in Vegas and how they would be back when he returned to the Tropicana in December. Levin also reminds Louis to send him a mouthpiece (I wonder if he ever did) and compliments him on his appearance on The Flip Wilson Show, which aired two nights earlier on October 22. Some folks reading this might have known Levin, who passed away in 2007, so here is the audio of this moment, our second audio letter to Louis in one post (Lucille Levin also sang a bit of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” to close out, but the tape warped so we’ve eliminated that portion):

Audio letter from Floyd Levin to Louis Armstrong, October 24, 1970
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The remainder of Side 2 is devoted to first half of Armstrong’s appearance on The Flip Wilson Show. Armstrong appeared on The Tonight Show when Wilson hosted back in April 1970 (an appearance that can be heard on Reel 100 in this post) and the two men clearly hit it off. A contract was offered to Armstrong on August 4, 1970 (Armstrong would receive $7,500 plus $2,500 for expenses), stipulating he’d rehearse the show daily beginning on August 31 before taping it in front of a live audience on September 4, four days before his engagement was to commence at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Armstrong might not have known it at the time he filmed it, but Wilson’s show would become one of the hottest shows on television after it premiered on September 17, turning Wilson from a gifted standup comedian into a superstar almost overnight. Armstrong’s episode was the sixth one aired and continued what can almost be seen as a rehabilitation of his image in the African American community, beginning with the recording of Louis Armstrong and His Friends, his week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show alongside the likes of the Four Tops and Sammy Davis, Jr., all the birthday tributes in July (including those of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, and more), his hiring of Lloyd Von Blaine as publicist, and now a primetime appearance on the hippest show on television.

Courtesy of YouTube, here’s Armstrong’s ten minutes from the Wilson show:

Armstrong received an audio copy of the entire 60-minute broadcast (with commercials) and dubbed the first half to Reel 128. Here’s the watermarked audio:

Louis Armstrong on “The Flip Wilson Show,” October 22, 1970. Part 1
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As Louis notes below, he continues the audio from the Wilson show on Reel 133 so for consistency, we’ll wait until our next post to share the rest. In the meantime, here’s Armstrong’s catalog pages for a packed Side 2 of Reel 128:

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No collage on Reel 128 but Armstrong still highlights the appearances of Flip Wilson and his friend Lucille Boyd on the tape contained within the box:

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LAHM 1987.3.428

Reel 129
Accession Number: 1987.3.429

After writing a small novel for Reel 128, Reel 129 will be one of our shortest descriptions as it’s another tape of various outtakes, breakdowns, parodies and uncensored moments, compiled by Tony Janak for Louis (and titled “Off the Cuff” by Armstrong). We won’t get into the official particulars but some highlights are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s promotion for The Caddy, some Arthur Gofewy outtakes, Tallulah Bankhead rehearsing for “I’ll Be Seeing You,” appearances by Skitch Henderson, Frank Sinatra, and Percy Faith, an uncensored version of “Frankie and Johnny” and much, much more (some of it is now on YouTube). Here’s Armstrong’s catalog sheets–do your best to follow along!

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And the box for Armstrong’s “Off the Cuff” reel:

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LAHM 1987.3.429

Reel 130
Accession Number: 1987.3.430

It’s time for the final reel covered in this post and warning, it’s going to be another lengthy recap of a 4 hour, 45 minute reel so you might want to get some fresh air before diving in.

The festivities begin with more of Lloyd Von Blaine and his family sitting around the piano, talking and playing the piano (most of the time taken up by a long version of “Moonlight Serenade”). But after that, we are firmly in preparation-for-The Johnny Cash Show territory. It was decided that Armstrong would sing a medley before teaming up with Cash for “Blue Yodel Number 9,” so he made his own ad hoc medley with a chunk of “Almost Persuaded,” a chorus of “Crystal Chandelier” and the second half of “Ramblin’ Rose,” all taken from the LP Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong. For good measure, he also dubbed the original “Blue Yodel Number 9” recording with Jimmie Rodgers from 1930. In the end, “Almost Persuaded” would get the axe, but everything went down in order so Armstrong’s use of this tape to practice would not be in vain.

In our previous post, we noted that on Reel 121, Louis dubbed the backing track of a Chrysler-Plymouth radio commercial and I wondered if he was planning on recording it. I got my answer on Reel 130 as Armstrong dubbed a version of it as heard on CBS radio. Unfortunately, his tape started warping at this point, getting especially bad during the jingle, so it’s not in good enough shape to share, but feel free to add it to the Armstrong discography.

The next portion of the tape is devoted to the aforementioned hilarious tape Armstrong made with Lloyd Von Blaine in September 1970. It really is a gem and the last of its kind, so again, we’ll save that for a separate post in the next week–you won’t want to miss it.

The bulk of the rest of Side 1 is turned back over to Von Blaine, his wife, and friends (including composer Lyn Murray at the piano) for another hour of music, singalongs and discussion–without Louis present.

But towards the end of the side, Armstrong offered up another 70th birthday tribute, this time a radio broadcast on KLAV in Las Vegas hosted by Joe Delaney, a one-time trumpeter who spent years as a record executive and as the manager of the Dukes of Dixieland. Delaney was based in Vegas and wanted to interview Armstrong while the trumpeter was in town for the International Hotel engagement in September 1970. Perhaps as a gift, Delaney laid a copy of his July 4 tribute show on Armstrong, though in inferior sound, sounding as if it was taped from an AM station with a shaky signal. Because of the sound issues and because most of the show is eaten up by performances from Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography and by the sound of Delaney reading Life magazine’s 1966 cover story on Armstrong for minutes at a time, we’re not going to share the entire broadcast.

But through his association with the Dukes, Delaney does have some good insights into Armstrong’s relationship with the Assunto family and the two Audio Fidelity LPs Armstrong recorded with that group. (Interestingly, Delaney tells the story of the August 1959 Chicago session and the mixup with Decca and complains that Audio Fidelity still had the tapes and never put out the album. That was in July and by October, it was released on the aforementioned Definitive Album. Perhaps Delaney helped will it into existence). Here’s an edited excerpt of the most interesting moments from Delaney’s tribute to Armstrong:

Joe Delaney KLAV radio tribute to Louis, July 1970.
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The Delaney tribute stretched onto the beginning of Side 2, but for now, here’s Louis’s catalog page for Side 1:

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Delaney got his wish at the International Hotel, getting the opportunity to interview Armstrong for almost an hour. Armstrong was a little quieter but still in his hell-raising summer-of-1970 mood, telling marijuana-related anecdotes at one point to the surprise of Delaney, who kept attempting to steer him back to safer territory. Delaney eventually edited out all the risque stories and turned the safer moments into a one-hour radio broadcast, interspersing his conversation with Louis with musical selections.

Delaney did send Armstrong the raw interview tape and we’ll get to that in our next installment, but for now we’ll share the full, watermarked, one-hour broadcast:

Joe Delaney KLAV Radio Show With Louis Armstrong, September 1970.
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To help take you through it, here’s how the show breaks down. After a bit of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” Delaney opens the show talking about Louis at the International Hotel and his show with Pearl Bailey. We first hear from Louis complimenting Bailey and talking about “Sleepy Time” and Jimmy McHugh before Delaney spins the 1956 version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” (Louis Armstrong); After more talk about McHugh and Pearl Bailey, Louis talks about the first week of the International Hotel engagement being over and his love of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.” Both Armstrong and Delaney reflect on the Assuntos and recording with the Dukes of Dixieland (with a Swiss Kriss interlude before) before Delaney plays “South” from the 1960 album with the Dukes. Louis then talks about someone nicknamed “Rasputin” and reminisces about the late Joe Glaser (“that’s my man”). Back and forth they go, with talk of the International Hotel gig balanced with more talk about the Audio Fidelity albums and the Dukes of Dixieland, with more music woven in, such as “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Avalon,” and “Bourbon Street Parade” from Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland, the latter included with some reminiscing about drummer Paul Barbarin. Armstrong eventually talks about his upbringing in New Orleans and there’s a detailed discussion about the recording of “Hello, Dolly!”

Unlike what he said at home the previous month, after one week of performing in Vegas, Armstrong now talks about how he could no longer do one-nighters any more after 54 years of them and how he should have rested more over the years; perhaps he quickly came to the realization that this engagement was taking a lot of out him, but he wasn’t about to quit. He does mention that Max Jones was writing a book about him and also mentions he’d be back in December. Delaney closes the show alone with another tribute to Louis before concluding with “Sleepy Time Down South.”

That concludes the Delaney portion of Reel 130, but it does not conclude Side 2. Instead, we have quite a bonus, and if you’ve stuck with us this far into this post, you deserve it!

In early August, Louis recorded Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong for Avco Embassy. For years, discographies assumed that all the backings were recorded in Nashville and Louis simply put on a pair of headphones and sang over the tracks; in fact, both Wikipedia and a scathing review on AllMusic.com still state this in 2022. But that’s actually not how it went down. Thanks to Jack Bradley’s session photos (which we’ll get to when we resume our series on Louis and Jack), we know that Louis recorded his parts live with a Nashville-based rhythm section backing him up in New York. At that point, the best takes were selected and then sweetened with overdubbed horns and vocals, plus some postproduction fadeouts.

If you’ve never heard the album, a remastered version of the final product is available on all streaming services; here it is on Spotify:

Now that you have that in your ears, some exciting news: Reel 130 ends (and Reel 132 begins) with the undoctored master takes before any of the postproduction work! These were sent to Louis on August 20, 1970, less than two weeks before he finished the album; we assume producers Cowboy Jack Clement and Ivan Mogul wanted Louis to give a listen to the rough mixes to make sure he was happy. They even left in some countoffs and the call of take numbers. And without fadeouts, you can hear Louis really going off over some of the closing vamps for longer amounts of time than on the record. It would be great to have a deluxe reissue of the album with the stripped down live, Louis-and-rhythm section tracks–and maybe this post will inspire that–but for now, here’s a few watermarked examples.

First, compare “Ramblin’ Rose” above with all the background singers and everything to this version:

“Ramblin’ Rose” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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Here’s a swinging “You Can Have Her” that goes on for a full minute and 20 seconds longer than the version on the LP, Louis having fun and making stuff up the entire time:

“You Can Have Her” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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On a similar bent is “Wolverton Mountain,” which I’ve always found to be the weakest track on the original LP since it might be the only time in the Armstrong discography where he’s a bit pitchy from a vocal standpoint. But where the album version clocks in at 3:15, the unedited version is 5:20! It’s a bit strange–I think the producers might have made the right call ending it where they did–as Louis gets hung up on the name “Clifton Clowers” and just starts repeating it in an almost unintentionally funny manner, though there’s some choice scatting sandwiched in there, too.

“Wolverton Mountain” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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On the other hand, the extended “Why Did Mrs. Murphy Leave Town” is legitimately funny. On the record, it runs 2:50 and a highlight is Armstrong cracking himself up with the mention of “Alice Frye,” responding with an impromptu “Of all people!”; he even repeats it as the tune fades out, with Armstrong doing some rhyming. Needless to say, the unedited track doesn’t have a fade (or those obtrusive horns) and lasts 4:30, making for 1:45 of Louis ad-libbing responses to Miss Murphy “swinging” (“she’s dancing the hoobala!”), turning the titular character into something of a three-note riff:

“Why Did Mrs. Murphy Leave Town” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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“Crazy Arms” had an actual ending (and no overdubbing) so there’s no comedic shenanigans or anything substantially different than the take on the record, but there is a slightly longer introduction that got lopped off on the LP:

“Crazy Arms” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
LAHM 1987.3.430

And the last one for now, Louis’s cover of the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” which was rather obliterated by overdubbed brass on the LP:

“Get Together” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
LAHM 1987.3.430

There are more (and if you really have a request to hear a specific song, put it in the comments), but we’ll quit while we’re ahead and save some more examples for when we get to Reel 132 in the coming weeks. For now, here’s the catalog pages for Side 2 of Reel 130:

LAHM 1987_2_70~002

The box for Reel 130 is an odd one, as it originally contained a Direct Recording dub of a “Variety Special” that aired on WNEW-TV from 9-10 PM on September 13, 1970. Looking up the TV listings for that night, it appears this was And Beautiful II, “A study of black music” according to the description, featuring B. B. King, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Cannonball Adderly, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, King Oliver and others. Armstrong was in Las Vegas at the time it aired but interestingly never got around to dubbing it to his collection. Though he kept the box, it’s possible he taped over it or gave it away; he did write “To Pal Dressed” on it before crossing everything out. Unsolved mystery….

LAHM 1987.3.430

Another cross-out on the back of the word “Empty”; as I think we’ve proven, this reel was far from empty!

LAHM 1987.3.430

Concluding these posts each week is an exercise in deja vu as each time out, I feel like saying, “That might be our most action-packed post yet”–and this week is no exception. If you’re still reading this after the several hours it takes to experience it in full, congratulations–and come back soon for the Lloyd Von Blaine tape and for another packed post examining Reels 131-135.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

2 thoughts on “Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 126-130

  1. Hi, Ricky – I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these posts – I admit: Mostly for the sounds, be it interviews or music, no matter. I wonder, how long back in time do Pops’ tapes go? And: Are there similar alt.takes og incomplete versions from the sessions that gave us “Disney songs the Satchmo Way”? The first time I heard the trumpet solo in Heigh-Ho, I gave a shout, so my wife came running, fearing I had knocked over something. Whenever I do lectures on Pops, I always use that in the end, and – believe me – I have witnessed an elderly lady start crying, saying: This is impossible”
    Just goes to show what music can do to people.
    All the best


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