When YouTube first started growing in popularity, the number of rare Armstrong gems that popped that was positively mind-blowing. But eventually, it seemed like all the collectors emptied their Armstrong collections and for the longest time, every time I checked for Louis videos, I was bombarded with multiple offerings of teenagers trying to sing "What a Wonderful World." But every so often, something slips through the cracks, such as the 1970 video of Louis doing "Hello, Dolly" with Ray Charles and Duke Ellington I posted a couple of weeks ago.
Well, about a week ago, someone with the name "ZA96661" began posting stuff from two television shows Louis and the All Stars shot for the BBC on July 2, 1968. A few years ago, the BBC broadcast the second show, one featuring Louis wearing a blue suit jacket. That soon started exchanging hands in collectors circles, something I welcomed because it had some great moments such as Louis's playing on "Ole Miss" and touching singing on "You'll Never Walk Alone."
But the first show has been harder to find. This show featured Louis wearing a black suit and doing material like "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "Rockin' Chair," material that was eventually released on the Brunswick album "Greatest Hits Live," but I've never seen the footage of these performances. However, "What a Wonderful World" from the first show did manage to slip onto YouTube three years ago...and today, has amassed 21,659,327 views. Not bad. But so far, that's been it from the BBC material.
Thus, you can imagine my excitement when "Indiana" popped up from the first show. Could more of this footage be out there? Hopefully it will be released one day because for such late-in-the-game material, Louis is in very good form. He was actually going through a pretty good stretch after a rocky 1967, which was marred by bouts of ill health that forced him to cancel gigs, erratic studio recordings and the death of one sideman, Buster Bailey.
But from the end of 1967 through September 1968, everything was singing. The All Stars continued their ridiculous touring--including a stay in Mexico--and Pops sounded great on his album of Disney songs. The personnel of the group--Tyree Glenn on trombone, Joe Muranyi on clarinet, Marty Napoleon on piano, Buddy Catlett on bass, Danny Barcelona on drums and Jewel Brown on vocals--remained solid, too.
In June, Pops headed to England for a two-week stay at the Batley Variety Club in Yorkshire. He had lost a bunch of weight, which alarmed the press, but generally he received good reviews and always played in front of a packed house. Before heading back to the states, the BBC filmed the All Stars for two hours. Louis was very proud of the aforementioned Brunswick album that was released from these performances--he was even credited with being the disc's "producer"!
Anyway, if you've been with me for any period of time, you probably know about my slight obsession with "Indiana." If you don't, click here and tell your loved ones you'll return in about a week. In that post, I charted Louis's fine-tuning of his solo chorus, something critics usually bashed him for but it was something he worked hard at to perfect. However, by 1966, Louis's chops were finally starting to desert him. Pops had to pace himself more carefully than ever, eliminating many challenging pieces like "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Basin Street Blues." And solos he once worked so hard to master on songs like "Indiana" and "Muskrat Ramble" were eliminated altogether, which must have been very deflating. Thus, this 1968 version does not have a solo.
Having said that, Pops still plays two strong choruses up front, a rousing rideout (listen to the quote from "Sidewalks of New York") and still hits the high note at the end. In between, the All Stars solo and you can hear Pops keeping his chops warm by blowing random phrases behind Muranyi and Glenn's efforts. Joe once told me that it used to scare the hell out of him when Pops would do it unexpectedly but Armstrong knew what his chops needed and if they needed to produce three or four notes every minute or so to stay warm, so be it. This is a genius of a man in his twilight, rapidly losing his tools, but making the most of what was left. I find his playing positively triumphant.
Alas, this period of stability was not to last. In September, Armstrong was felled due to kidney and liver ailments and would not perform again with the All Stars for two full years. And even then, it wasn't meant to last; two engagements in Las Vegas and a final run at the Waldorf-Astoria were all that was left in this great road warrior.
But don't weep for old Pops. Listen to this version of "Indiana" and rejoice in his ability to still get across his message. Because embedding has been disabled, clickhere to go to the video and let me know what you think. Have a great weekend and if it's as warm by you as it is by me, enjoy the weather!