Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 136-140

In the early days of this series (which began in 2020!), most of the posts were on the short side as the goal was to share Louis’s catalog pages and collages and perhaps a paragraph or two on the content of the tapes, which were mostly dubs of interesting records Louis made while convalescing at home in 1969. But as the calendar changed to 1970, Louis started getting more active, making more television appearances, and these posts got much longer and much more detailed, as we have attempted to share any unique audio when possible, plus backstories on Louis’s recording activities, his 70th birthday celebration, his Las Vegas comeback, etc. Some of these posts have contained 2 to 3 hours of audio content but we might have hit a climax in recent weeks as, beginning with this post, we start to wind down a bit, resuming our early style of shorter descriptions and less treasures to share (though don’t worry, we still have a few surprises up our sleeve). Still, each tape is definitely worthy of discussion and we’re going to take this story right to its conclusion–let’s begin!

Reel 136
Accession Number: 1987.3.436

Louis was in the middle of dubbing his newest release, Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong, when he ran out of tape on Reel 135 in the middle of the last song, “Crazy Arms.” For Reel 136, he took it back a couple of tracks and started by dubbing the final three selections on that record. If you recall in our last post, Louis also wrote the name “Lionel Hampton” at the top of his catalog page for Reel 135, but Hamp never turned up in that reel. Clearly, Louis was getting ready to dub Hampton’s self-produced 1968 single of “Rockefeller Rock” and “Rockin’ for Rocky,” credited to Lionel Hampton and His Rocke-Fellers, released as part of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s unsuccessful bid to be the Republican Presidential nomination (no one can say Hamp didn’t do his part). Side 1 also includes few records Armstrong must have used to learn some of the songs he recorded in 1968, including Jimmy Roselli’s “There Must Be a Way” (recorded by Louis on the What a Wonderful World album) and Herschel Bernardi’s “Sunrise Sunset” (recorded by Louis for Brunswick’s I Will Wait for You LP). In between is an Andy Williams single, “More and More” backed by “I Want to be Free,” from 1967 and Louis’s favorite four songs that he sang in Italian also in 1967, which we haven’t encountered in a while. He closes out Side 1 with a dub of his other big new release of 1970, Louis Armstrong and His Friends. Here’s the catalog pages for the first side of Reel 136 (Armstrong’s bawdy sense of humor comes out on some of the pages today but it’s too off-color for us to point out so you’re on your own):

LAHM 1987_2_76~001
LAHM 1987_2_76~002

Side 2 of Reel 136 is a fascinating mess, opening with something completely different: a dub of a Columbia Records album of Grieg’s Song of Norway starring Irra Petina, which Louis owned on 78. He owned hundreds of 78s but there’s little evidence of him dubbing any during this 1969-1971 era, so maybe he was beginning a new project here. In typical Armstrong fashion, he dubbed the first two sides of Song of Norway, then switched back to Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong for four songs….then he finished off the final two selections of Song of Norway and went back to Country and Western….before repeating two of the sides of Song of Norway….then two from Country and Western….and so on and so forth, until he dubbed each album twice in ping pong fashion. You can try to follow along with Armstrong’s handwritten notes for Side 2 (which he mistakenly referred to as “Side 1” on the sheets):

LAHM 1987_2_76~003
LAHM 1987_2_76~004

No collages for Reel 136 but don’t worry, they’re coming! For now, just a few taped catalog numbers on a blank box:

LAHM 1987.3.436
LAHM 1987.3.436

Reel 137
Accession Number: 1987.3.437

Reel 137 is a throwback with Armstrong grabbing a tape he made around late 1953/early 1954 and just putting a new catalog number on it. It comes from a time when Armstrong made tapes at 7 1/2 speed, instead of 3 3/4 ips, so it’s shorter than some of the marathon tapes he made between 1969-1971. Ironically, this post is being written in December 2022, a time when Louis Armstrong is back on the Billboard charts thanks to the release of Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule, and Reel 137 opens with a dub of Louis’s then-brand new Decca single of “Cool Yule” and “Zat You Santa Claus”!

From there, the original copy contained a handful of songs from an All Stars concert in Copenhagen in September 1952 (not 1953 as Louis writes below). This was Trummy Young’s very first concert with the All Stars, a band that also now featured Bob McCracken on clarinet, Marty Napoleon on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass, and Cozy Cole on drums. Armstrong taped “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Indiana,” “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” before he accidentally taped over a portion of the concert with a dub of a 1940s live big band version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” After that intrusion, the 1952 concert resumes in the middle of Trummy’s first feature with the band, “Coquette,” which he inherited from his predecessor Russ Phillips. Side 2 continues from Copenhagen with Velma Middleton singing “Lover Come Back to Me” and teaming up with Pops for “Can Anyone Explain.” That concludes the Copenhagen broadcast, but we’d like to share a (watermarked) taste of it–here’s the very first “Indiana” Trummy Young played on (a tune he’d go on to play roughly 3,500 times in his 11+ years with the All Stars!):

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” Copenhagen broadcast September 29, 1952
LAHM 1987.3.437

Armstrong then turned back to the 1940s for a hodge-podge of live recordings from his big band days, but also a version of “Confessin'” with Sidney Bechet (which he spells “Bachet,” the way he pronounced it) from the 1945 Esquire jazz concert. At the very conclusion of the reel, Armstrong began dubbing a recording of the All Stars at the Palomar Theater in Seattle from 1950 but ran out of tape early on in “Indiana.” Here’s the catalog page, Louis summing up both sides on a single sheet of paper:

LAHM 1987_2_77~001

And because it’s an old tape, we get an old collage, albeit one covered with multiple pieces of new white tape to list some of the highlights of the reel. The photo on the front is from late 1953/early 1954 as that’s Kenny John on drums and Milt Hinton on bass, backing Louis, Trummy Young, and Barney Bigard, an edition of the All Stars that only lasted for a couple of months:

LAHM 1987.3.437

I love these 1950s boxes when Louis’s cataloging method was to type up the contents on his “Satchmo” stationary, cut it out and affix it to the back of the box–all he had to do in 1970 was add the border and the new “137” sticker but otherwise, this is all from c. 1954:

LAHM 1987.3.437

Reel 138
Accession Number: 1987.3.217

Reel 138 is another 1950s holdover 7 1/2 speed, this time dedicated to the music of Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, and Stan Kenton. It opens with “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” the final track of the album Brubeck Time, before a complete dubs of A Shearing Caravan and a near-complete dub of Popular Favorites By Stan Kenton. All three albums were originally released in 1955, most likely the year Louis made the original tape. Here’s the catalog page from 1970:

LAHM 1987_2_37~001
LAHM 1987_2_37~002

The box for Reel 138 was also originally made in the 1950s and just outfitted with new white tape and a new catalog number. The photo on the front is of Louis with an unidentified woman I’m assuming is a fan, plus there’s an unidentified male on the left-hand side–if anyone can identify these figures, please write in!

LAHM 1987.3.217

The photo on the back of the box is scruffed up but we know it’s Louis with the DeWolfe family, Claire, Ross, and Nancy–any members of the DeWolfe family out there that remembers this moment? Please write in, too!

LAHM 1987.3.217

Reel 139
Accession Number: 1987.3.438

This is the third tape in a row that was originally made by Louis in the 1950s and was now just being re-catalogued by Louis in 1970. The reel starts off with the conclusion of Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography, which Armstrong must have taped to another reel back in the 1950s and concluded here (much like the conclusion of Brubeck Time, Armstrong was re-cataloguing his old reels in willy-nilly fashion, not adhering to any original order). The rest of the reel is given over to albums by two very wonderful and very different pianists, Vladimir Horowitz’s 1954 album Horowitz Plays Chopin and Oscar Peterson’s 1956 album Oscar Peterson Plays Count Basie. Here are the catalog pages:

LAHM 1987_2_78~001
LAHM 1987_2_78~002

The collage for Reel 139 features an unidentified couple in the middle but I believe the man standing on the right side is Eugene Bullard, the first African American fighter pilot who was living in France in the 1950s and who was Louis’s right hand man during his 1952 tour of that country.

LAHM 1987.3.438

The back of the original 1950s box must have been too blank for Louis in 1970 so he designed something new, cutting out the credits for the film Hello, Dolly! as they appeared in the program of the “World Premiere Supper Dance” held for the film at the Hotel Pierre on December 16, 1969:

LAHM 1987.3.438

Reel 140
Accession Number: 1987.3.220

We close today with yet another reel originally made in the 1950s but it also represents a first in the 2 1/2 year history of this series: Reel 140 doesn’t have any catalog pages. I wish there was an explanation but as described in the past, Louis’s method was to fold up the sheets and stick them in the tape box and this box didn’t have any. I’ll do my best to describe the contents, but it’s no substitute for seeing it in Louis’s hand.

The reel starts off with the close of one of Louis’s appearances on Bing Crosby’s Chesterfield radio from January 17, 1951, about a month after Louis purchased his first reel-to-reel tape deck. That’s followed by a dub of the Jolly Roger LP King Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Orchestra Volume Two, which became the subject of a lawsuit in 1952 when Columbia Records and co-plaintiff Armstrong successfully sued Jolly Roger for making “bootleg” records of material Columbia owned (Jolly Roger had to send Columbia their Armstrong master tapes and 6,000 leftover records; newspaper published photos of a Columbia Records employee dumping them in a scrap heap).

Side 2 opens with a snippet of the Armstrongs in a hotel room in Texas with Lucille telling Louis an offcolor joke about Walter Winchell that leaves him breathless with laughter. The sound quality is atrocious but it’s still worth sharing to hear a little of Louis and Lucille’s bond:

Lucille Armstrong Tells a Joke, c. January 1951
LAHM 1987.3.220

The rest of the reel is a live recording of Louis and the All Stars at the 150 Club in San Francisco also from January 1951 and also one of the first things Louis recorded on his new tape machine. This portion was heavy on All Stars features, including “Don’t Fence Me In” with Louis and Velma, Earl Hines’s “Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues,” Arvell Shaw’s “Russian Lullaby” and Cozy Cole’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

The collage on the front is an interesting one, centered around a rare photo of Armstrong’s longtime manager Joe Glaser with his mother Bertha. In the upper right corner is a tiny photo of Louis playing the trumpet, while under that is another small photo of Louis and Velma Middleton singing a duet:

LAHM 1987.3.220

The back of the box is another of those 1950s gems with the contents typed out and affixed by Louis himself–we might not have catalog pages but at least we have this (and another small bonus photo of the All Stars in 1954 with Louis, Velma, Billy Kyle, Trummy Young, Kenny John, and Milt Hinton):

LAHM 1987.3.220

So in the end we still managed to squeeze in two more audio clips and many more collages, so hopefully these posts are still interesting to those who read them–thanks for reading and we’ll be back with more soon.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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