Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Recorded February 26, 1926
Track Time 3:18
Written by Lil Hardin Armstrong
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Kid Ory, trombone; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Lil Armstrong, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo
Originally released on Okeh 8299
Currently available on CD: Both the JSP and Sony Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven boxes have it (I like the JSP better but the Sony has much better packaging if you go for that sort of thing)
Available on Itunes? Yes
We continue trekking through Louis Armstrong's February 26, 1926 Hot Five session with the next tune recorded that day, appropriately titled, "You're Next." This was a Lil Hardin Armstrong composition and proof that everybody was getting a chance to bring something to the table that day. After Spencer Williams's "Georgia Grind," they recorded "Heebie Jeebies" by friend Boyd Atkins (with possible uncredited lyrics by Louis), "Cornet Chop Suey" by Louis, "Oriental Strut" by Johnny St. Cyr, "You're Next" by Lil and finally "Muskrat Ramble" by Kid Ory (though as we'll see, maybe not by Kid Ory). Only Johnny Dodds didn't get to bring a song to the party.
The Hot Five was not a working band so it's all speculation whether each one of these musicians brought in a song, worked it out in the studio and recorded it or if some of these numbers were made up on the fly. There is a copyright deposit for "You're Next" by Lil, but it wasn't filed until May 1926, so who knows if she wrote a simple lead sheet based off of the recording?
Regardless, "You're Next" is a simple little record without any fireworks to speak of. Backed by "Oriental Strut" on the original 78, it has never been greeted with much fuss. And that's fine since you're not going to hit a home run every time. Not that "You're Next" is a strike out; it's a hard hit, line-drive double in the gap. (No strikeouts in the Hot Five canon, in my opinion).
I think Louis needed a breather after blowing his chops apart, as young and strong as they were, on "Cornet Chop Suey." Before we get into that, let's listen to "You're Next":
Lil claims the spotlight instantly with a classical introduction that shows she was a well-rounded pianist. Some knock her and I'll admit she fails in comparison to an Earl Hines, but she had a beat that Louis obviously liked; you can hear it in her minor vamping directly after her classical introduction, very groovy stuff.
Then Louis enters with the vamp, backed by the four-beats-to-the-bar comping by Lil and Johnny St. Cyr. Louis is very relaxed and clearly enjoys the minor changes. In fact, I wish the entire thing stayed in that minor key. But eventually they get to the main strain, based on some fairly basic changes, Ory and Dodds joining in for a conversational ensemble, with St. Cyr handling the break and stop-time interlude.
Lil and Johnny Dodds then split a chorus, each playing well, if not over their heads. Louis comes back in for the final bit of ensemble playing, his first little descending phrase hitting me in the gut; so simple, so effective. Ory finally gets to peak his head out of the ensemble for a short stop-time segment before Louis takes it out with a pet phrase that crops up in later Hot Five performances of "Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa" and "Irish Black Bottom." A fine performance to cool down with, especially considering "Muskrat Ramble" was due up next.
Somehow, I've managed to keep my promise of five blogs in five days but I have a packed schedule today and I'm back at the Armstrong House to give my second round of "Louis Armstrong and Race" lectures tomorrow so it's very possible that on February 26, 2011, the 85th anniversary of this session, I might not have a new entry! But don't worry, I'll finish the session sooner rather than later and hope to turn it into a multi-part feature on Louis's history with "Muskrat Ramble." Til then!