Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
Recorded July 21, 1930
Track Time 3:11
Written by Phil Baxter
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leon Elkins, trumpet, conductor; Unknown, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Leon Herriford, Willie Stark, alto saxophone; William Franz, trombone; L.Z. Cooper, piano; Ceele Burke, banjo; Reggie Jones, tuba; Lionel Hampton, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41442
Currently available on CD: It’s on the recently reissued JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932, as well as about a hundred other discs
Available on Itunes? Yes
Happy Father's Day to all my fellow Papa Dip's out there! I wanted to post something special to celebrate the occasion but didn't have time for anything fresh. Thus, I've reached into the archive and pulled out my 2008 entry on "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy," which Louis recorded 80 years ago next month. So consider this a Father's Day celebration, an anniversary post and a revisit all wrapped in one. Whatever you call it, it's an epic recording by Pops. Here's all you'll ever need to know about it!
Let me get started on today’s entry, as promised, a full appreciation of “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas),” one of my all-time favorite Armstrong records. Before I get to the song, let’s look at where Louis Armstrong was in his career when he recorded it that July day in 1930.
After conquering Chicago and New York City in the 1920s, Armstrong found himself giving California a shot in May 1930. His band broke up in New York in 1929, forcing Armstrong to begin working as a single. With the Depression hurting the music and entertainment scene, Armstrong headed off to California without any band of his own, just the hope of getting an opportunity to play. That opportunity came almost immediately when he was hired to front the band at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, a band that featured bright youngsters such as trombonist Lawrence Brown and drummer Lionel Hampton. Then again, EVERY band at Sebastian’s Cotton Club featured these two men because, as Brown later remembered, “Sebastian got the idea of handing out contracts instead of having some of the men run him out. Lionel Hampton and I were the two he contracted to the club and we stayed regardless of who came.”
This band was led by a trumpet player named Elkins, whose first name was either Vernon or Leon—I’ve seen both probably an equal amount of times (Stanley Dance even misheard Brown say it as “Vernon Nelson,” while Hampton, in two different works, wrote about “Vernon” in 1972 and “Leon” in 1989.) From the first time Armstrong visited the Cotton Club, he remembered, “…[W]hen I heard that band play, I almost jumped out of my skin.” Armstrong had nothing but fond memories of the Elkins band, as he would later write the following: “There was a band playing there at the time, was kinda mixed up. The leader was an elderly fellow who, I’m sure, was a fine trumpet man in his heydays. His last name was Elkins. He was surrounded by some of the finest musicians that I had witnessed playing music in my whole life. From New Orlenas to St. Louis—Chicago to New York. Through all of those own where I had already heard some of the greatest men on their instruments, yet, these boys sort of had a little something on the ball (musically) that I had not witnessed. Such as endurance—tones, perfect sense of phrasing, and the willingness and the spirit that the Eastern Musicians or the Southern Musicians used to have before they got to Broadway and became stinkers, looking for power and ego-tisms, the desire to do practically anything but enjoy their first love—which is their instrument.”
Here’s a wonderful picture of Armstrong around the time of his arrival, outside Sebastian’s Cotton Club, surrounded by members of the band (Hampton on the far left):
Hampton and Brown were equally excited to be paired with the trumpet star. “When Louis came to California in 1930 to play with us, it was such a happy day for me,” Hampton told Stanley Dance. “Playing with him was a revelation, and he always encouraged me….I had a ball playing behind him, and there’s where I really got my roots.”
Brown told Dance, “[Armstrong] was so terrific out there then, and he was really the only player that influenced me. He’d stand up all night and play, and sometimes broadcast for as long as three hours….He was the kind of musician you could sit there all night and listen to, and be amazed at the technique, the poise—and just everything! People used to come from ‘way up around Seattle to hear him. Every trumpet player at that time tried to play one of his choruses.”
So Armstrong was a hit and everyone in the band seemed to get along happily. The Hollywood crowd also became fixated on Pops, something that has always made me daydream. As I’ve written about in the past, I’m an old comedy buff with an undying love for anything that came out of Hal Roach’s Culver City studios. Knowing that Laurel and Hardy were filming Pardon Us and the “Our Gang” kids were shooting Shiver My Timbers in July 1930 in the same city where Louis Armstrong was making jaws drop nightly at Sebastian’s Cotton Club…well, if there’s a heaven, that’s it!
Within a few weeks of his California stay, Armstrong and Elkins band made their first records for OKeh. However, this wasn’t Armstrong’s first California session as just five days prior, on July 16, Armstrong provided some unbilled backing on a Jimmie Rodgers country tune, “Blue Yodel Number 9.” Thus, Armstrong had already just tried on a musical cowboy hat when he entered OKeh’s Los Angeles recording studio to record “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas),” a tune that would be subsequently embraced by both jazz and country artists in the years to come.
Segue time: onto the song! This, my friends, is Dumas, Texas:
Well, the red dot on that Texas map is Dumas, Texas. Here’s a better representation, the Cowboy Church of Dumas:
Doing some quick research on Dumas for the purpose of this blog, I was delighted to see a link on the official Dumas website to an article titled, “Legend of the Ding Dong Daddy,” taken from a history of Dumas written by Jay B. Funk. Here’s a snippet:
“[Louis] Dumas, the town developer, stayed in the city with his name only a short time, but the name remains to this day. And, what began as a dusty crossroads on the prairie above the “big blues” north and west of Amarillo above the Canadian River began to grow. First, the town was given little chance to survive, but the pioneer-stock was hardy stuff and they stuck it out. The small village was only 571 souls in the 1920’s and late in that decade a man who was to become a moderately successful band leader and song writer, Phil Baxter, chanced upon Dumas. He spent a few weeks in Dumas getting acquainted and after he had a steak continued his journey. Les than a year later Baxter penned the words and tune to a song which he named “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.”
The tune’s writer, Phil Baxter, was born in Navarro County, Texas and recorded twice, once in St. Louis in 1925 and once in Dallas in 1929. His band, Phil Baxter and His Texas Tommies, became the house band at the El Torreon Ballroom in Kansas City from 1927 until 1933. In addition to “Ding Dong Daddy,” Baxter also composed the popular Ted Weems novelty, “Piccolo Pete,” as well as “Have a Little Dream On Me,” a tune recorded by Fats Waller.
Unfortunately, the article doesn’t mention Pops once, instead only mentioning Phil Harris’s later version. But Pops wasn’t the first to record it either. According to the Red Hot Jazz Archive, Jay C. Flippen and His Gang recorded the tune for Brunswick on August 8, 1928. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig up the audio on this one but here’s another early version from March 1930, recorded for Brunswick in Minneapolis by the wonderfully named Slatz Randall and His Orchestra. It’s a typical dance band performance, complete with violin, but the lively vocal is taken by banjoist Joe Roberts while one of the trumpets is the great Yank Lawson. You can listen along by clicking
here. Roberts sings two choruses, complete with verse, but if you can’t make it out, here are the lyrics to the main strain:
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a clean cut fellow from Homer’s Corner/ You ought to see me strut
I’m a caper cuttin’ cutie, Got a gal named Katie,
She’s little heavy laden, but I calls her baby,
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff.
The second time around, Roberts sings these lyrics:
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a ping pong papa, from Pitchfork Prairie/ You ought to see me strut
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy, Got a whiz bang mama,
She’s a Bear Creek baby, and a whompous (Wabash?) kitty
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff.
The blowing strain is only 16 bars and is based on the “How Come You Do Me Like You Do” model—later utilized by Sonny Rollins on “Doxy”—and is perfectly suitable for soloing, with a four-bar break practically sewn into the middle of it. Thus, with enough backstory to bore you all to tears, let us finally listen to the main event, Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra and "Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)":
The playing of the horns and reeds is no great shakes, but the rhythm section is very good, with a similar feel to that of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, a band Hampton said was very influential to the Elkins sound. The exciting intro sounds like the record starts almost in media res—really, could someone count off and just hit it on the nose like that? Doubtful. Lawrence Brown’s got the melody, phrasing like Armstrong and taking a nice break. The saxes then take over with prominent banjo in the ensemble, playing with a bouncy two beat that conjures up memories of Armstrong’s stint with Fletcher Henderson.
But throughout the entire record, Lionel Hampton is killing it on the drums: he drives the band with his cymbals, works over the snare with various rolls and places his accents perfectly, a one-man dynamo that puts the notion to rest that pre-bop drummers simply played time. Armstrong loved Hamp’s drumming and wrote about it to Robert Goffin: “And Lionel was so young and vivacious (still is) on those Drums. And he had taken to like me (personally) so well and I felt the same way about him. And he was one of the Swinginest Drummers I had ever seen and heard in my life….Lionel used to get so Enthused over my playing Trumet he would get ‘Soakened Wet.’ And Beat a whole gang of Drums, saying to me ‘WA—WA’WON’Mo’POPS.’—Meaning—‘One More Chorus,’ Especially on Tunes like ‘Tiger Rag’ and ‘Ding Dong Daddy.’ And me enthused over him being Enthused—would play, Chorus After Chorus—I went up to Forty one night. Well I was much younger in those days myself.”
Back to the record: after the saxes take over, the band goes into the verse, with Hamp’s cymbals really booting everyone along in bar nine as Brown again plays a short but hot spot.
Then it’s time for Pops’s vocal, a real “gassuh.” What he sings is almost unintelligible, but damn, it swings! The most famous part of the vocal is when he sings, “I done forgot the words,” which is debatable. Pops probably saw the tongue-tying middle section and thought that it might be funny to act like he forgot the words, much like the “Heebie Jeebies” story he would always tell. Of course, he indeed might have forgotten that middle part, but regardless, it’s a wonderful moment that always makes me laugh. In fact, here’s a translation of Pops:
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ And, ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a clean cut fellow from the corner/ You ought to see me strut
Oh, ee-ba, ey-ba, oh, oot
And I done forgot the words and lo, doot
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ Ought to see me do my stuff.
Pops slides down on “stuff” like a descending glissando and dives right into a second vocal chorus, which I’d like to call scatting, but really it’s not because he uses the words of the song instead of nonsense syllables. The rhythm of his vocal reminds me of the daring scat vocal he took on 1927’s “Hotter Than That.” Eventually, during the built-in break, he starts scatting, bubbling over with joy as the vocal comes to an end (Hamp catching him with a perfectly timed accent).
Alto sax takes the next chorus (it’s probably Leon Herriford) and it’s pretty corny but the final “jada jada jing jing jing” phrase is pure Pops. Man, this band was already listening and emulating their new front man after not even a month of backing him up.
But now it’s time for the hair on the back of my neck to stand up: Pops’s four-chorus rideout solo. 64-bars of sheer bliss. Armstrong states a motive immediately with the first three descending notes of his solo. He stays in the lower part of his horn, shooting out all sorts of nimble, yet melodic phrases. At the break, Pops keeps the double-time feeling with the second part of it reminding me of the “done forgot the words” break from the vocal. By the end of the chorus, he finally nails one high note but he’s still building so he heads back down to pace himself, ending the chorus with another Armstrong hallmark, two quarter-notes and two eight-notes. This is Storytelling 101….
Armstrong’s second chorus is a classic, pure joyousness personified. The three-note motive is now played higher and faster as Pops plays ping pong with two different sets of phrases, eventually slowing them down and stretching them out into another new motive that sounds like a quote from “Pretty Baby.” He then plays the phrase even slower and more emphatically, a textbook example of rhythmic mastery and how to get the most mileage out of as few different pitches as possible. It’s supremely singable, too. He then burtsts out of it with some double-timing, leading into his second great break, which opens with a scorching hot phrase before he settles into yet another motive of repeated D’s, sounding particularly ambivalent without the band playing beneath it. He then leaves a little space and hits a high G, the sixth of the tonic key of Bb, holding it into the start of the third chorus.
Now the band is cooking. Hamp switches from snare to cymbals and even banjoist Ceele Burke begins tearing it up on his instrument. The horns really only riff lightly the entire time Ops solos, but it’s swinging and Pops didn’t exactly require much more. Armstrong is now smokin’, beginning another swinging little motive at the 2:36 mark, happily descending in sing-song manner. Every note choice, every phrase, makes so much sense it’s mind-blowing. The next break opens up in a similar fashion as the “My Sweetie Went Away” quote Lester Young popularized on “Sometimes I’m Happy,” but Armstrong cuts it to make room for two hot rips, one up to a high G, the next a few seconds later hitting a high A, all building logically to the held high concert Bb that heralds the beginning of the fourth and final chorus.
Chorus four is yet another demonstration of pure genius as Pops simply works over three descending notes—Bb, A and G—playing them relaxed, than hurried, back and fourth, kind of similar to what he would play on “When Your Lover Has Gone” in 1931. He keeps it up for eight bars before the bridge, where he plays a phrase that Dizzy Gillespie would borrow for the his composition “Salt Peanuts.” Pops uses it as a springboard to a ridiculously high D, the highest note of the solo, hitting it again for good measure a few seconds later. The pure sound of it is positively freakish. Naturally, he wraps up his break with another perfectly logical conclusion and though the final few bars still swing mightily, it’s safe to say that the climax was that final break. Oh, what a solo!
OKeh mush have known that they had a pretty hot record on their hands as they decided to push it hard, complete with advertisements that featured Armstrong’s head on a cartoon of a cowboy’s body!
Armstrong began featuring “Ding Dong Daddy” nightly at the Cotton Club, as Lionel Hampton fondly recalled. “We were on the air one night, and he said, ‘Look out, man, we’re gonna open up with ‘Dumas.’ I feel good tonight, and if I’m going well, Hamp, you sit on those cowbells with me, and I’ll play another chorus.’ Well, man, I was sitting on those cowbells, and Louis played about ninety-nine choruses on ‘I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.’”
Armstrong stayed on in California until March 1931, cutting more great records with his “Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra.” Elkins grew ill in the late summer of 1930 and was eventually replaced as leader of the group by Les Hite. Many writers, including Gunther Schuller, write that it’s the Hite band that backs Armstrong on “Ding Dong Daddy” but Hite wasn’t involved in any Armstrong recording session until October 8, 1930. The move worked out for Hite who became a prominent presence on the Los Angeles jazz scene, appearing on many film soundtracks and even backing the likes of Fats Waller during his stay at Sebastian’s Cotton Club in 1935.
By the time of that October session, Lawrence Brown was out of the band, having gotten fired for not wanted to rehearse on Easter Sunday. But don’t cry for Brown; Duke Ellington signed him right up and the rest is history. And on Armstrong’s second October session with the Hite band, he suggested that drummer Hampton take the introduction to “Memories of You” on the vibraphone. And again, the rest is history. But though their time together was fairly short, Armstrong, Hampton and Brown always had wonderful things to say about each other. The three men reunited for this photo years later, taken from Stanley Dance’s World of Swing:
Unfortunately, “Ding Dong Daddy” seems to have disappeared from the Armstrong repertoire after he left California. There are no surviving broadcasts of it, there are no mentions of it in contemporary reviews, he seems to have never played it with the All Stars and he didn’t even revive it for the Decca Autobiography project. Only in late 1970, on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show, did Armstrong sing a chorus of it with the host—reprising the “done forgot the words” line and earning big laughs for it.
But though Armstrong might have moved on from “Ding Dong Daddy,” the song itself was just starting to take off. As mentioned earlier, Phil Harris did become associated with it after singing it on The Jack Benny Program and recording it for Victor. Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys gave it the Western Swing treatment on this version. The Benny Goodman Quartet—with Lionel Hampton—used to swing the hell out of it, as can be heard on their studio version and even more exciting live broadcasts from the late 1930s. Sidney Bechet recorded a hot version of it for Blue Note in 1953 with Jonah Jones referencing Pops in the outchoruses. And after it’s start in the jazz and country world, “Ding Dong Daddy” slowly began extending its reach over pop culture in general. On one of my favorite episodes of The Honeymooners, Ed Norton watches Ralph Kramden hysterically try to dance the Hucklebuck, telling him, “You ain’t exactly no Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” By the 1960s, it was being featured in four-part harmony by the Osmonds...
...on the Lawrence Welk Show with a vocal from Larry Hooper:
In 1966, “Teen Titans,” a DC Comics comic book, featured a villain named the “Ding Dong Daddy,” who lasted exactly one appearance. The title has been “borrowed” for other songs such as the Sister Wynona Carr 1950’s R&B jump opus, “Ding Dong Daddy,” and the during the short-lived swing craze of the late 1990s, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies wrote an original titled “Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line.”
But we’re way off point now. For me, “Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)” begins and ends with that incredible Armstrong version. But when I originally wrote this entry in 2008, I finished with a YouTube video of the New York Jazz Repertory Company performing it live at the Nice Jazz Festival from 1977. Alas, that video is no longer on YouTube BUT I have a good substitute, courtesy of my pal Hakan Forsberg who recorded another version by the New York Jazz Repertory Company performing it in Umea, Sweden in October 1975. A three-headed trumpet team handles the Armstrong solo--Joe Newman (who also sings), Pee Wee Erwin and Jimmy Maxwell, while the rest of the band includes Eddie Hubble, Kenny Davern, Dick Hyman, Gueorge Duvivier, Marty Grosz and Bobby Rosengarden. What a band! This, to me, is what jazz repertory is all about. The swing it like it’s 1975, not trying too hard for a 1930 feel. All of it builds up to the trumpets of Maxwell, Erwin and Newmann stand up to play a harmonized version of Armstrong’s original four-chorus solo. The effect is electrifying and leads me to wish that more bands would transcribe Pops solos for sections to play (Joe Muranyi transcribed Armstrong’s 1955 “Christmas in New Orleans” solo to be played for trumpet, clarinet and tenor saxophone and again, the effect is really something else, with Armstrong’s rhythmic mastery really grabbing one’s attention when it’s spread over multiple instruments). One can only imagine the endurance needed to nail this solo as by the end, matters get a teeny tiny bit sloppy. But I’m not complaining…it’s exciting as hell! Enough from me…here’s the clip:
And that is, I think, all I can possibly say about “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas).” Again, Happy Father's Day to all you Ding Dong Daddy's out there and I'll be back in a couple of days with something fresh.