I don't know how many readers out there got the opportunity to visit San Francisco's Club Hangover in its heyday, but it sure seems to be one of the great homes of traditional jazz. For those, like me, who were born too late or for those who might remember it well and want to relive it in all its glory, Dave Radlauer's got you covered. On his indispensable Jazz Rhythm, he recently uploaded a bunch of live broadcasts from the Club Hangover, 1954-1958, and they're all terrific. If you click here, you'll arrive at the "Club Hangover Archive" on the Jazz Rhythm site and will be able to stream complete broadcasts by the likes of Jack Teagarden, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Muggsy Spanier, Kid Ory....and of course, Pops.
Obviously, head there and listen to them all if you have the time, but if you choose to listen to the Armstrong broadcasts, I wanted to fill you in on what you'll be hearing. Both segments come from January 16, 1954. Side note: if you've read my book, Louis wrote a stunning letter to Joe Glaser about marijuana from his hotel room in San Francisco on January 16, 1954. A big night, on and off stage! Louis and the All Stars had just conquered Japan but on the way into Hawaii, Lucille Armstrong was arrested for possession of marijuana. Because it was Lucille, it received a small amount of publicity; she paid a small fine and that was that. But it spooked Louis since the marijuana was his and he knew that he was playing better and getting more popular than ever (the first documented use of the phrase "Ambassador of Goodwill" that I could find is from Louis's own mouth in that letter to Glaser). The marijuana episode passed and indeed Louis continued a remarkable run off onstage and studio performances with the All Stars from 1954-1957.
That's the offstage story; onstage, Louis was leading another transitional group of All Stars but it was a damned good one. Trummy Young joined on trombone in September 1952 and immediately provided a spark under Louis that pushed the band into a more exciting territory. Barney Bigard took a short hiatus and came back in early 1953, though he admitted that Armstrong's growing popularity burnt him out; it began to show in his playing. And of course, Velma Middleton was still doing her thing with Louis: driving critics crazy while keeping audiences entertained night after night.
The rhythm section at the Hangover was a brand new one for Louis at the time. In July 1953, the All Stars played the Blue Note in Chicago with a rhythm section consisting of Marty Napoleon on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and Cozy Cole on drums. Shaw was the first to go, replaced by the legendary Milt Hinton while at the Blue Note. Napoleon was next in the late fall, replaced by Billy Kyle, a great pianist who was best known for his years with John Kirby but was just coming from three straight years of playing for "Guys and Dolls" on Broadway. And finally, Cole left after four years and was replaced by a young, wild drummer, Kenny John, who had been playing with Raymond Scott and with Pee Wee Russell and Ruby Braff at Storyville. John's offstage demons meant he wouldn't last long with the group but his driving, loud, powerful style showed that Louis wanted this kind of backing in this period, eventually finding it in a more reliable (though crazy in another way) drummer with Barrett Deems in May 1954.
So that was the group that appeared at the Hangover on January 16, 1954. Louis would broadcast for 30 minutes that night but whoever was working the controls, decided to turn on the machine a little early, probably to get a level. The Jazz Rhythm site--and other discographies--have referred to this as a "rehearsal" but it's clearly not; it's the All Stars performing for the public, just not aware that they were being recorded. You can hear Louis tell the audience more than once that they're playing "before we get on the air."
You can listen to the first part here! No need to get all dissertation-like about each song but a few words are in order. First up, an instrumental chorus of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," which is how Louis normally played it when opening a later set (always sang it at the start of the night and the finish). This is followed by a romping "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," John really laying down that backbeat by the end.
A note on the piano: I loved the late Jos Willems and his discography of Armstrong, All of Me, is never too far from my side. But I never agreed with his assertion that it's not Billy Kyle on piano. It's clearly Kyle, by his phrasing, his touch, his accompaniment, etc. What we don't get on these broadcasts are the Billy Kyle solos we're so used to hearing. By the time of this broadcast, Kyle had been in the only a month or two. You can hear him singing along with his solos, still improvising, still finding his way. But like Armstrong, once Kyle found his was, that was it. In fact, Kyle's set solos changed less than Armstrong's (really no surprise as he had just spend three years with "Guys and Dolls" playing the same stuff every night; some people are fine with that, others aren't). So do know that that is Billy, but he's still trying out some different stuff. By the time the All Stars recorded "Barbecue" for Decca two months later, he had it down.
After "Barbecue," we get a lowdown "Back O'Town Blues," one of two performances from this pre-broadcast set that was issued on the Storyville label (originally on Louis Armstrong and His All Stars and more recently on The Armstrong Box). Notice Velma making her cameo from the wings! This is followed by an uproarious "Twelfth Street Rag," the tempo a little more up than usual (it would settle a bit by the time of the Crescendo Club recordings the following January). Everyone hams it up a bit, but it's Hinton who absolutely steals the show with his slap-bass solo. Milt follows it up with his patented feature on "Over the Rainbow," something Louis loved having him play. Though it's Milt's feature, I love hearing Louis play those snatches of melody...wish he could have taken a chorus or even a half of chorus (there's a private tape of Louis warming up on this piece at the Armstrong Archives and it's stunning). You can hear that Louis LOVED having Milt in the band; he really was the ideal fit for the group but was making too much money in the New York studios to commit to traveling around the world nonstop.
With the broadcast about to begin, another instrumental "Sleepy Time" closes this short set, allowing the radio people to get ready to go on the air. For the broadcast segment, you can listen to it here. Again, if you have those aforementioned Storyville releases, you've heard this entire broadcast but it's still valuable having it online and available for streaming at anytime.
This time, a full "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" opens the show, Louis ending it by saying "good evening to everybody on the radio. " Then we're off and running with the medley of "Shadrack" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." In about a year, "Shadrack" would disappear, leaving "The Saints" as a central part of every show for the last 16 years of Louis's life. It's a fun minor romp with a great vocal but I could see why Louis noticed that it was "The Saints" that people wanted to hear. This is one of my favorite versions, done at a great tempo, with Hinton's swinging bass lines meshing beautifully with John's thrashing backbeats. Trummy, too, after over a year in the band, lets his hair down and really boots it in the ensemble. In the first seven years of the All Stars, this is the most exciting version of "The Saints"; the group would grow more and more exciting in the next few years.
After that medley, Louis sounds the clarion call that is the opening cadenza to "West End Blues." This is a great live version of the 1928 classic but there's also a little hesitancy in the cadenza; Louis would have a better grip on it on later versions from 1955 and 1956. Still, always special to hear it.
Velma's up next to do her crowd-pleasing duet with Louis on "The Dummy Song," a popular choice for them in 1954 and 1955 but it also became retired early in favor of "Ko Ko Mo." Billy Kyle's humorous extended introduction elicits an off-mike comment from Louis, "He thinks he's Brubeck or somebody!" Listen for Velma adding a line about a diet from Gayelord Hauser; yes, Louis had recently discovered Swiss Kriss in late 1953 and was well on his way to leaving about 90 pounds behind him in the next year. One thing about both of these Hangover broadcasts is they're heavy on New Orleans tradition numbers. Louis knew the clientele of the Hangover--and those listening at home--so he made sure to do a lot of the good old good ones. Even if "The Dummy Song" seems more commercial, it's based on "Washington and Lee Swing," so even the moldy figs could have appreciated that choice (or maybe not; adding lyrics about building ventriloquist dummies on top of New Orleans chestnuts might not have sat well with the purists).
Louis then brings everyone down to New Orleans for two favorites that were almost always played side by side, "Tin Roof Blues" and "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It." "Bucket" was introduced into live shows as a fairly slow blues in 1952 but Louis picked up the tempo in 1953 and from then on, became a stomping outing for some of the most fiery playing of the evening. And "Tin Roof Blues" is the real thing, a blues featuring a stately lead by King Louis.
With that, the pretty strains of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" begin, the announcer mentions that Earl "Fatha" Hines is coming into the club next, and Louis takes it out in style. He'd play a few more hours before retiring to his hotel room to compose that letter to Glaser and then go back to work the following day. The next live glimpse we get of the All Stars comes from the University of North Carolina in May of 1954 so I'm thankful that these Hangover broadcasts survive to capture the January 1954 edition generating some serious heat. And extra special thanks to David Radlauer for making it able for Armstrong fans around to world to listen to this wonderful music (and so much more) at any time!