Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Honey, Don't You Love Me Anymore: 80 Years of Louis's April 1933 Victor Sessions

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Track Time: 3:01
Recorded April 24, 1933
Written by Fred Meadows and Terry Shand
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Keg Johnson, trombone; Scoville Browne, George Oldham, alto saxophone, clarinet; Budd Johnson, tenor saxophone; Charlie Beal, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; Bill Oldham, tuba; Big Sid Catlett, drums
Originally released on Victor 24335
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

As advertised, here we go with an 11-part look at Louis Armstrong's April 1933 Victor sessions. Back in January, I devoted 12 blogs to Louis's January 1933 Victor sessions, featuring classics such as "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," "I've Got the World on a String," "Basin Street Blues," "Mahogany Stomp" and more. Louis's band was brand new at the time, organized by Zilner Randolph after Louis had spent his time since returning from Europe fronting other people's bands.

By April 1933, the personnel was still pretty much intact except for two big changes in the rhythm section. Teddy Wilson had made his recorded debut with Pops back in January but by April, he was replaced by Charlie Beal. Beal was from Los Angeles and played with Les Hite in 1930. Though he didn't make any records with Louis when Armstrong fronted the Hite band in 1930-31, it's probable that Louis heard him at some point in his California sojourn. Beal would stay with Louis until Louis left for Europe at the end of 1933 and later reunited with him in the 1947 film, New Orleans.

The other change is more significant. Yank Porter anchored the drum chair for the January sessions but by April, Pops was without a drummer. So for the April 24 session, 23-year-old Big Sid Catlett filled in, making his first appearance with Louis, beginning one of jazz's great partnerships. For whatever reason, it was only temporary as two days later, Harry Dial took over for the April 26 sessions and stayed there for the bulk of 1933. But Armstrong didn't forget and Catlett would return later in the decade for lengthy stays with Armstrong's big band and eventually, the charter edition of the All Stars.

Otherwise, the rest of the personnel was the same as in January, including the Johnson brothers, Keg and Budd on trombone and tenor saxophone respectively. However, there was one difference that I'll come back to often, I'm sure: in January, Bill Oldham stuck to walking bass but on the April sessions, he inexplicably switched to tuba. Well, I say inexplicably; I'm sure there was an explanation, but I can't guess it. The Swing Era was right around the corner, pushed ahead by the efforts of Bennie Moten's big band during their Victor sessions of December 1932. The switch to tuba pushes the overall feel of Armstrong's band backwards to the 1920s.

When Armstrong and the band arrived in Victor's Chicago studios on April 24, they had five songs waiting for them. Up first was "Honey, Don't you Love Me Anymore," written by the team of Fred Meadows and pianist Terry Shand. Shand would later write a number of tunes for Armstrong's Decca period, including "I Double Dare You," "Shanty Boat on the Mississippi" and "Mexican Swing"; this was the first time Armstrong tackled one of his compositions. Meadows is fairly unknown, as far as I can tell, cranking out some forgotten pop tunes until penning a winner with Patsy Cline's "You Were Only Fooling" in 1948.

With the preliminaries out of the way, let's listen to the first song from the April 24, 1933 session, "Honey Don't You Love Me Anymore":



The first thing we hear is Louis leading the band through a slightly convoluted introduction (everything under him sounds muddy, including the thumping tuba) before he takes the lead on Shand's melody. The first half of the first chorus features Louis splitting the melody with the Johnson brothers in a series of 8-bar trades. Trombonist Keg Johnson almost sounds like he forgets his turn is up, waking up in the second half of his spot with some shouting. For his second go-around, Louis lets us know that the chops are up, taking the melody an octave higher, topping out on a high concert B, before Budd Johnson blusters through his eight.

Louis has the bridge to himself, entering with his patented quarter notes. Louis always sounds good in minor, tossing in a huge gliss to another high B. He calms down after that, laying low with some more quarter notes. Pianist Beal gets the last eight to himself and he, like almost all of Louis's pianists, shows an Earl Hines influence, if not quite as adventurous as the Fatha.

Beal modulates and Louis enters with the vocal. You've already heard the melody; it's catchy but I can't picture anyone singing it straight. Louis wisely transforms it into something more manageable and swinging, showing off his vocal range, really exploring its depths on the titular phrases. On the bridge, he sticks on one pitch for the entire eight bars! (And I love his insertion of the word "cat" there, too.) His last eight is propelled by an elongated "Hmmm" before he starts happily barking the lyrics, clearly in great spirits (possibly aided by an herb of some kind, as will be discussed later in this series). His descending rephrasing of the title at the end is righteous..."yeah," indeed!

A short interlude featuring Budd Johnson follows, the kind of thing that the band usually played to allow Louis time to get his chops together. I wonder if he was planning on pacing himself for the long session because instead of Louis, it's Keg Johnson who enters with 16 bars of mellow trombone, mostly sticking to the melody. I like Keg but that's an awful lot of time to devote to a sideman when normally it's Louis who takes over those last choruses. Sid Catlett's brushes sound nice, but they're a little obscured by Oldham's four-beats-to-the-bar tuba playing...take a breath, Bill!

But don't fret, he's back for that minor bridge, entering high (possibly in more ways than one) and staying up there, throughout the rest of the bridge (dig the little glisses, up and down) and the concluding eight bars, where he sticks to the melody. I don't know if they really thought this thing would be a hit, but I can't think of many other Armstrong songs that feature the written melody as much as this one.

At least he gets a closing cadenza, always a pleasure, foreshadowing the Decca records of just a few years later, where so many tunes ended in this fashion. Louis does end a little lower, however, holding the concert Ab for the longest amount of time and then working down to a closing F. He sounds great, but again, on top of the braying tuba and Mike McKendrick's banjo-like guitar, it does sound like Louis is still playing with Erskine Tate or Carroll Dickerson in the mid-20s.

"Honey, Don't You Love Me Anymore" has a wonderful vocal, two great trumpet bridges and that dramatic cadenza but otherwise, isn't one for the time capsule. However, after having listened to it a few times in a row while writing this, I can attest that's it's a damn catchy tune--it's going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the week!

Tomorrow: "Mississippi Basin" in two takes.

1 comment:

Richard Basi said...

Another magnificently written piece for musician or layman alike!