Monday, January 5, 2009

Almost Persuaded

Louis “Country & Western” Armstrong
Recorded August 1970
Track Time 4:27
Written by Glenn Sutton and Billy Sherrill
Recorded in New York (Armstrong’s vocals) and Nashville (the music)
Louis Armstrong, vocal with the Nashville Group. Probable personnel: Jack Eubanks, lead guitar; Stu Basore, steel guitar; Billie Grammer, rhythm guitar; Larry Butler, piano; Henry Strzelecki, bass; Willie Ackerman, drums
Originally released on Avco Embassy AVE-33022
Currently available on CD: Apparently, it’s been out on a few European CDs but I’ve never seen one with my own eyes
Available on Itunes? No

With the holidays over, it’s back to the grind, spinning the Itunes shuffle for the first time in a very long time. I’ve made a slight New Year’s Resolution to writer some shorter blog entries as it’s the only way to keep this thing going with any regularity these days, with the writing of the book and the impending child gradually taking up more and more of my time. But as I wrote last week, I’ve really gotten a lot of good feedback on the anniversary posts and they will continue, but just not at a rapid rate. However, when I’m really stuck for time, I might dig out some of my earlier postings as I somehow used to write for pages at a time without ever including any music samples! And today, thanks to the kindness of many of my readers (you know who you are), I have many more versions of some of the tunes I discussed way back when (such as “The Gypsy” and “Someday You’ll Be Sorry”) so polishing up some of the old ones with a bunch of music samples might be the way to go to keep my head above water.

But I’m feeling good this morning and the shuffle pointed me to “Almost Persuaded” a country classic recorded on Louis Armstrong’s very last album, Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong. This release has been treated as something of a joke for years--poor old Satchmo, unable to play the trumpet, goes out with a final album of ill-suited country tunes. I, too, was always afraid to hear the album, fearing it would remind me of the worst of Armstrong’s later years, namely, some rock bottom moments on the Dick Jacobs-arranged Brunswick sessions (“The Happy Time”) or the “Louis Armstrong and Friends” date (“His Father Wore Long Hair”).

Eventually, I dug in, bought a used LP on eBay and had it converted to CD. When I first listened to it, I almost closed my eyes, expecting to hate it, but needing to at least get it down in one gulp. But, no, the album didn’t exactly turn out to be the aural equivalent of castor oil. I’m not saying it’s a great moment in Armstrong’s career, but it’s better than I thought, mainly through the unexpected use of humor. Some of these tracks are quite funny and all and all, it’s a fun listen.

Armstrong recorded the album in August 1970. If he had waited two more months, he probably could have played a little trumpet on it, as he began playing it live again around October of that year, notably on an episode of the Johnny Cash Show , a video that’s become quite a YouTube phenomenon (almost 800,000 views as of this morning). In the introduction to that clip, Armstrong talked about how he knew Jimmie Rodgers in California, resulting in the famous “Blue Yodel Number 9” recording of 1930. And in the early 50s, he recorded “Cold Cold Heart” and “Your Cheating Heart,” two Hank Williams classics, for Decca. Thus, Pops was no stranger to country music, even though Ray Charles still gets the most credit for his use of country sounds in the black music world.

It’s hard to think of why Armstrong was presented with the country idea in 1970. Charles’s country and western album was a hit in 1962 so it wasn’t like Armstrong was cashing in on that. But by this point, Armstrong’s records were almost all solely made for the purpose of generating hits and perhaps having Armstrong target a new audience would sell a few more records. I don’t think it worked as the record is still generally unknown, unavailable as an MP3 download and never issued on an American CD. But it’s not a terrible album and the moments of great humor make it a worthwhile listen, especially on “Almost Persuaded,” perhaps the highlight of the recording.

“Almost Persuased” won a Grammy for “Best Country & Western Recording of 1966 and has been covered by dozens of artists (114 versions exist on Itunes and a bunch of performances exist on YouTube). According to the always trustworthy Wikipedia (pause for sarcasm), the tune’s nine weeks at number on on the Billboard charts is still a record for a country song. Thus, it made for a natural choice on Armstrong’s country album. This is how it came out:

Isn’t that a lot of fun? It’s almost like two records in one. The first three minutes is a touching country ballad, Armstrong giving the song a respectful, loving treatment. I should point out that the album represented a new style of recording for Armstrong, a man who made his debut on records by blowing into an acoustic horn in 1923. All the music was recorded in Nashville by a band of country veterans. Armstrong then went into a New York studio and overdubbed his vocals over the existing tracks. I’m sure Pops would have liked to feel a little more interaction with the musicians, but, ever the professional, he still turned in a great performance, not letting the overdubbing hinder his vocal.

Around the 2:20 mark, Armstrong throws in a customary aside, singing “I was Almost Persuaded,” before uttering a quick, “She’d like to got me that time!” He’s just setting the ball rolling for the final 90 seconds of the record. The band simply vamps on two chords, back and forth, back and forth, while Armstrong was just told to improvise, sing or say whatever came into his mind. At that point, it stops becoming a version of “Almost Persuaded” and instead becomes a Louis Armstrong comedy record with Pops hysterically singing about kissing “them strange chops!” (He also referring to them as “crumb crushers.”) He wants someone to “run into me there and buss me one” and even trots out his favorite, “Somebody better run in here, I ‘spec,” someone he previously used on 1950’s “Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” and 1967’s “Wilkommen.” As the tune gradually fades, Armstrong continues going on about those lips...I can only imagine how long it went on for in the studio!

Truthfully, the final record could have, and maybe even should have edited everything out after the scat break but I’m glad they didn’t because that line about the “strange chops” kills me every time. Not everything on Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong works as well (the very next track, “Running Bear,” is pretty rough going until Armstrong’s improvised comments at the end and hearing Armstrong do The Youngbloods’s “Get Together” is incredibly bizarre), but overall, it’s a fun album and I think “Almost Persuaded” holds up pretty well. That’s all for now but I hope to be back with another entry real soon...strange chops and all!


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

I too am looking for a copy of this in any format. Any suggestions? Have tried eBay to no avail. Help!

Peter said...

Wow, never heard anything off this album before. I guess I'll have to try and get it on LP and then convert it!

Nicolas Martin said...

Now available from both iTunes and Amazon as downloads, and as a CDR at the latter.