85 Years of the Hot Seven: Potato Head Blues

Recorded May 10, 1927 
Track Time 2:58
Written by Louis Armstrong
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Honore Dutrey, trombone; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Lil Armstrong, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; Pete Briggs, tuba; Baby Dodds, drums
Originally released on Okeh 8503
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 

Well, I had to come face to face with it at some point, right? Five years into writing this blog and it's finally time to write about "Potato Head Blues." What is left to say about it? I mean, for heaven's sake, the song has it's own Wikipedia entry. And when you go there, you'll see all the usual quotes like Thomas Ward calling it "one of the most astonishing accomplishments in all of twentieth century music" and Woody Allen naming it as one of his "reasons why life deserves to be lived." It's all true. I can't add anything new to stuff like that but I'll gladly give it a spin and let you know what rattles around in my brain when I hear it. 

One thing about the song that has always fascinated me is how it seemingly comes from out of nowhere, shakes up jazz history, and then vanishes just as quickly as it appeared. This doesn't seem to have been a "good old good one." Some of the Hot Fives and Sevens were numbers that went back to New Orleans ("Muskrat Ramble," "Weary Blues"), others were recent tunes recorded by other jazz artists of the era ("Wild Man Blues," "Willie the Weeper"). Armstrong brought a number of his own compositions to his dates as a leader--"Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "Weather Bird," "Cornet Chop Suey"--and though they weren't recorded by anyone else in the 1920s, they later became standards in the traditional jazz repertoire (I heard all three of those in New Orleans at the Satchmo Summerfest last weekend).

But "Potato Head Blues," to me, is unique because it is so damn famous yet so few have attempted to replicate it. A few weeks ago, I shared my work on "West End Blues." Just weeks after Louis's version was released, others, including King Oliver, put out records trying to replicate it. There are no other versions of "Potato Head Blues" in the 1920s...or 1930s....and I'm not even sure if there's any from the 1940s. When the New Orleans/Dixieland revival blows up in the 40s and 50s, Armstrong's 1920s repertoire is explored but I don't know of any versions of "Potato Head Blues." The New Orleans pioneers like George Lewis and Kid Ory didn't do it. The white revivalists like Turk Murphy and Lu Watters didn't do it. Eddie Condon's circle didn't do it. Bob Crosby's big bands didn't do it. The Bay City Jazz Band did it in 1956 and Kenny Ball did it in 1961 but then it's dormant again, until it becomes a staple of Hot Five/Armstrong inspired bands (mostly in Europe) in the last 20 or 30 years (plenty of versions on  YouTube).

So why did imitators take on the "West End Blues" cadenza or jam on "Muskrat Ramble" in the Swing Era, but not touch "Potato Head Blues." I don't have a concrete answer but my gut says they knew better. I mean, how do you top perfection? It's a perfect performance from the opening second to the closing beat. Louis's stop-time solo....really, would anyone in their right mind try to replicate it or improve on it? Impossible!

And that leads to one of my theories: when Louis walked into the studio on May 10, 1927, he had played "Potato Head Blues" before (this is not a revelation; Terry Teachout hints at feeling this way in "Pops"). We know Louis was a tremendous improviser (duh) but he also liked to work on his solos until they were perfected, much like his mentor King Oliver. Remember, Louis's stop-time solo on "Cornet Chop Suey" was written out and copyrighted with the Library of Congress two full years before he recorded it. The solo on "Potato Head Blues" is so flawless, I have to wonder if it, too, was perfected beforehand.

However, with "Cornet Chop Suey," we had evidence: the lead sheet, dated and stamped, at the Library of Congress. A lead sheet does exist for "Potato Head Blues" but it is in Lil's hand (Louis did the one for "Cornet Chop Suey") and it's dated November 26, 1927, six months after the recording. And when you look at it (alas, it's not shareable online but you can search for it on Google Books in "In the Course of Performance" where it appears in the brilliant Lawrence Gushee's entry on p. 306), it is a much more simplified version of what we hear on the record. There's actually a few lead sheets like this, apparently thrown together quickly by Lil after the Hot Seven sessions so they'd have something--anything--to copyright. It's almost all quarter notes and half notes and has none of the rhythmic vibrancy of what we hear on record.

But what about Louis himself? He loved his own music and frequently dubbed it from records to his personal reel-to-reel tapes. But he also didn't really like speaking about his older records, not because he had anything to hide, but because those sessions were a blur to him. He didn't think he changing music history with the Hot Fives and Sevens; he was getting together with old friends to record some fun numbers during time off from his regular nightly gigs with big bands. Remember, this was a man who forgot he recorded "West End Blues" until Earl Hines brought the record over!

In 1951, Esquire asked Armstrong to comment  on some of his greatest recordings of the 1920s. Sometimes he doesn't have much to say, sometimes he has a gem and sometimes it sounds like he doesn't remember the record. His remembrances on "Potato Head Blues" is a little bit of all of that. Here it is (the ellipses are Armstrong's and function more or less as periods...and occasionally ellipses):

"This particular recording really 'gassed' me because of the perfect phrasing that was done by Johnny and Ory....I could look direct into the Pelican Dance Hall, at Gravier and Rampart Streets in New Orleans, during the days of the First World War... That was in the years of 1918-1919...And their bandstand was built in the left-hand corner of the hall...And the stand was up over everybody's head...in order to say hello to any member of the band, you had to look up...And all of that good music was pouring out of those instruments--making you want to just dance and listen and wishing they'd never stop...'Potato Head Blues' was a tune they really did swing out with...My man, Joe Oliver, bless heart...Papa Joe (I used to call him) he really used to blow the kind of cornet I used to just love to hear...His playing still lingers in my mind...There was never a creator of cornet any greater than Joe Oliver...I've never heard anyone to come up to him as yet...And he's been dead since 1938...'Potato Head Blues'...Hmm...Every note that I blew in this recording, I thought of Papa Joe...Yass Lawd..."

Hmmm. So there's a beautiful story in there of Louis thinking of Joe Oliver throughout his recording of "Potato Head Blues" (and we know he did this often, sometimes borrowing Oliver's solos like the one he plays on "Muggles" in 1928). But he also gets the personnel wrong, complimenting Kid Ory, who wasn't on the date (though to be fair, early reissues assumed Ory was the trombonist). But he specifically mentions Ory's band with Oliver and Dodds playing "Potato Head Blues" in 1918--hell, he even gives the specific hall they played it in, complete with intersecting streets. 

Could that be true? Was "Potato Head Blues" something from New Orleans that Armstrong remembered, hung a new title on and claimed for himself in 1927? It's possible. (For a discussion on the title, see Michael Steinman's blog of a few years ago. I'm still not sure if I'm 100% on board with the "solved" description; I still think Clarence Williams looks uncannily like a "potato head"!)

To my ears, "Potato Head Blues" has always shared some similarities with the third-strain of Jelly Roll Morton's "Froggie Moore." It's not a perfect match, but closer than anything else I can think of. (Louis's originals in the 1920s--often with Lil's help--always have great chord changes; except for the mostly themeless "Hotter Than That," there's nothing like a simple theme based on "Tiger Rag"). Morton registered the trio strain of "Frog-I-More" in 1918, so it might have been floating around New Orleans at the time Louis remembered Oliver playing "Potato Head Blues."

Then remember, in 1923, Oliver records "Froggie Moore" with Armstrong on second cornet--and even gets the honor of playing the lead at the start of the third strain. Again, this is not the same tune as "Potato Head Blues" but it has some similarities so I think it's interesting to listen to (as David Ostwald would say, both tunes feature many of the same notes). Here's Louis's chorus on the Oliver record:

Earlier in 1927, Louis recorded a series of solos that were transcribed and published in a book, "50 Hot Choruses for Cornet." The recordings were soon destroyed but in the 1970s, Gosta Hagglof enlisted the great Bent Persson to recorded Louis's transcribed solos in many different settings reflecting the diverse nature of Armstrong's 1920s recordings. For "Froggie Moore," Persson was teamed with Ulf Johansson-Werre in an Armstrong-Hines-ish duet setting. Here's Armstrong's 1927 solo, as played by Persson:

Good stuff, right? Louis sticks to the melody as he did in 1923 for the first section, but then he opens up, getting off some of those 1927-vintage arpeggiated phrases like what we'll hear on "Potato Head Blues." But part of the reason I'm sharing these versions is to disprove my own theory: if Louis had been playing "Froggie Moore" for years with Oliver and worked out a set solo, what he played for his book in 1927 doesn't resemble what he does on "Potato Head Blues" just a few months later. 

To recap: Louis remembered Oliver playing "Potato Head Blues" in New Orleans but there's no other mentions of this from anybody. The closest we have is "Froggie Moore," which Louis did play on, but what he played on it doesn't resemble "Potato Head Blues."The Hot Seven didn't play regularly in public so this wasn't in the repertoire. There's no copyrighted lead sheet from before the recording as there was with "Cornet Chop Suey"; the only copyrighted lead sheet was written by Lil and deposited six months after the recording. 

Thus, after all these paragraphs of psuedo-detective work, I think my only conclusion is that even though it sounds so perfected it could be composed, it's more probable that Louis's "Potato Head Blues" solo was completely improvised in the studio that day. And that is incredible to behold.

Okay, I've wasted more than a thousand words and I haven't gotten to the record yet! So let's listen to the whole thing, from start to finish:
Yes indeed, definitely something that makes life worth living. On a personal note, I got into Louis Armstrong's music when I was 15-years-old. It was the double whammy of seeing Louis in "The Glenn Miller Story," then listening to a cassette compilation of Louis's 1950s Columbia recordings, "16 Most Requested Songs." I was immediately hooked and started to dive into books and articles about Louis. Back then, the running myth was that later Armstrong is a disappointment; listen to the early stuff to hear the real genius. So two months after my initial exposure, it was Christmastime and my parents got me Columbia's 4-CD set, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." 

I dove headfirst into that thing but I can admit that my reaction wasn't exactly the same as when I heard the 1950s stuff. It wasn't the sound quality; I had already been listening to Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson and early ragtime before I landed on Armstrong (I was a strange child). It was just trying to make sense of what was going on, trying to pick out Armstrong with Oliver or trying to understand what those blues singers were saying. Eventually it got to the Hot Fives and I perked up with "Heebie Jeebies" and "Cornet Chop Suey." But it wasn't until "Potato Head Blues" that I got hit right between the eyes. In his brief description of it in the booklet, Dan Morgenstern exclaimed, "What joyous music this is!" He wasn't kidding. I remember spending Christmas in Florida that year (we almost always did since we had a condo in Deerfield Beach) and just listening to "Potato Head Blues" over and over. Dan's words hit it on this head: it was the joy this music exuded that grabbed me and hasn't let go, 17 years later. 

So what is it that got me back then, still gets me today and has seemingly gotten the rest of the jazz world for the last 85 years? To me, it's everything, not just the stop-time solo. Notice Louis's words, in which he doesn't mention his own solo (except to say he was thinking of Joe Oliver) but instead immediately praises Johnny Dodds and (the trombonist he believed to be Kid Ory but is really) Honore Dutrey. With good reason; "Potato Head Blues" is an ensemble masterpiece. From the opening bars, Louis's lead is so relaxed...but Johnny Dodd's counterpoint is all over the place (in a good way).  This is really one of Dodds's finest records (more on that in a bit). Dutrey is a bit off-mike but his held notes and smears are always right on.

And the rhythm section is infectious, as well. I usually prefer my jazz with a 4/4 feel but Pete Brigg's tuba lines really propel this thing, though Lil's piano and Johnny St. Cyr's banjo are there to keep the 4/4 going with their constant chording (Baby Dodds is sadly inaudible until the very end).

After making it through a joyful 32 bars (I should mention that "Potato Head Blues" is far from a 12-bar blues), Louis takes a break that he'll reference later on in the track. He then takes the verse by himself in a much more relaxed and melodic way than what Lil would notate on her later lead sheet. 

Johnny Dodds is up next, soloing on the 32-bar main strain. I love, love, love this solo; in fact, it single-handedly inspired me to attempt to learn the clarinet while I was in high school (a disaster that didn't last a year--the clarinet playing, not high school). I've seen some references to Dodds not swinging but I don't care, whatever he does here works for me. There's a lot of quarter-notes, something Louis gets credit for pioneering, though he seemingly got his from King Oliver. Dodds's break, like a lot of his playing, is infused with the blues, before he goes way up for some purely passionate wailing. There seems to be further proof that this was something fresh going down in the studio that day as Dodds's seems to want to end his solo with some stop-time breaks but Lil and St. Cyr miss it the first time around and hit two beats before pulling back. Dodds blasts right through it, right to the end of a truly fantastic 32 bars.

But no one talks anymore about Johnny Dodds's 32 bars; how could they with what happens next? St. Cyr plays a short interlude on the banjo, his way of saying, "Ladies and gentleman, grab a seat because you're not going to believe what you're about to hear!" (For those who are musically inclined and would like to follow, Nick Walters has a transcription you can download here.) 

Louis gives himself a running start with some repeated notes before hitting a D squarely on the beat at the same time the rest of the band hits its first stop-time accent. After arpeggiating a G chord, Armstrong channels his inner Oliver and hits three quarter-note E's (the sixth, always a favorite harmonic choice of Lester Young). And then...space. That's one of the most beautiful things about this solo: Armstrong's use of space. He has one chorus to get his message across and he's clearly in no rush to do it. From this moment on, he almost never plays at the same time as the rest of the band's stop-time chords, instead giving them their say and answering with his own beautifully poised phrase, each one more melodic and swinging than the one that came before it. 

There's some fancy-fingering on the repeated E's in bars 9 and 10 and he sits on a D# off of an E7 chord (the augmented fifth) for a hip effect. But then we get to the midway point for something special: Armstrong reaches into his bag of tricks and plays a break he first played with King Oliver on "Tears" (another Armstrong composition) in 1923. If you've never heard it, here it is, followed by its use in "Potato Head Blues":

Armstrong really did remember almost every note ever played. At the halfway point, Armstrong's rhythms get more complicated. I didn't go to my first Satchmo Summerfest until 2008, meaning I just missed a presentation by the great cornetist Peter Ecklund in 2007 that people still talk about down there. I Googled it to see if any of it was online. Sadly, it's not but it's obviously something Ecklund had been working on for years because I found a Matt Glaser article in the Village Voice from 2001 where he writes, "The cornetist Peter Ecklund says that it wasn't until he began working in salsa bands that he understood the Caribbean origin of much of Armstrong's rhythmic language. Using Armstrong's classic 1927 solo on 'Potato Head Blues,' Ecklund deconstructs the fusion of these elements. Play just the notes in straight 3/4, devoid of jazz feel, and it sounds like a waltz by Franz Lehar! Then play the rhythms only, on one pitch, and you hear a very hip Afro-Cuban drum solo."  So never mind the high notes or harmonic choices; rhythmically, this solo is a monster (and I have enough mediocre drumming skill to tap out the rhythm of the solo with my fingers and indeed, that's some hip stuff--try it!). 

Speaking of high notes, that's one thing the "Potato Head Blues" solo isn't really known for. There aren't many, but when he hits them, the effect is marvelous. The first high B comes in bar 21 and it's just touched upon, the beginning of another tricky descending phrase based off of a G7 chord (there another Eb in there, too, for good measure). But just four bars later, at the climax of the solo, Armstrong hits that high B again and holds it with that beautiful tone. What comes after it is a descending phrase that you can immediately connect to Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust," not yet composed. Hoagy loved Bix and often said that "Star Dust" was written with Bix in mind but he also loved Louis and it wouldn't surprise me if he wore out a copy of "Potato Head Blues" before writing "Star Dust." 

The next bar has two F#'s off a G chord, the major-seventh, a note choice Armstrong loved (see "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" for two songs with heavy reliance on major-sevenths). After skating across a few more bars, Armstrong comes to his final break. For this one he reaches skyward and rips up to his highest note of the solo--a D--before working his way down. The final note of the solo is another E, the sixth, a very hip way to conclude. Bravo, Pops, bravo!

Of course, it's moments like that that lead most writers to say, "The importance of these recordings is that they turned jazz from an ensemble music to a soloist's art." And I guess that's true, to an extent. "Potato Head Blues" has two 32-bar solos smack dab in the middle and they're both great, though only one changed history. But don't sell those ensemble choruses short, either. This is where Armstrong came from and 20 years later, when it was time for him to go back to playing small groups, he fell back on his early days and remained a terrific ensemble player until the end, with a lead and a tone that couldn't be matched. The closing ensemble on "Potato Head Blues" is, as Dan Morgenstern put it, completely joyous music. It's euphoric. I wish more young jazz musicians got as inspired by the ensemble interplay as they do from the art of taking solos (actually, this is happening, as you can attest if you live in the NY area or frequently visit Michael Steinman's aforementioned "Jazz Lives" blog). 

Relaxation and swing is key to the success of the closing ensemble. Armstrong throws those G's up and just lets them linger, allowing everyone else to get their say in around them. When it comes time to put an end to the record, Armstrong takes one more break--and again, reaches into his bag of licks for something he once played on Erskine Tate's recording of "Static Strut," in addition to using it to end an earlier Hot Five number, "I'm Gonna Gitcha." Here's all three:

So maybe Louis didn't perfect and set this solo before getting to the studio that day but there are licks and phrases that he had been performing for years (much like how the cadenza to "West End Blues" can be traced back to Louis's break on "Changeable Daddy of Mine"). Like every working musician, Armstrong had his pet licks; unlike every working musician, Armstrong's pet licks changed the world, until every working musician was incorporating those licks into his or her own playing. "Potato Head Blues" is something of a climax to Armstrong's career at this point and it still stands up as one of the greatest records of the 20th century. 

But as I stated in the beginning, that was it. No one else attempted "Potato Head Blues" on record for decades. There's no references to Armstrong performing it live or in concert, either. It was just three sublime minutes of his life and that was it, when it was over, it was time to move on. 

The next time I've found "Potato Head Blues" attempted on a record was in 1957 and as can be imagined, it pales in comparison. Oh, the trumpeter on this version? Louis Armstrong. Yes, it pains me to say this but Louis's remake of "Potato Head Blues" on "Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography" is one of that album's only ho-hum moments. As Dan Morgenstern wrote in the liner notes of a Mosaic set, it could have used a few more takes. It could have also used an arrangement not as rigid as the one provided by Bob Haggart.

Yet, as I write this, I feel like I'm being unfair. It's actually a fine recording and Louis sounds wonderfully relaxed throughout. Remember how I mentioned that my first contact with Armstrong was in "The Glenn Miller Story"? Well, after that Columbia compilation, I bought an MCA cassette compilation that featured some Louis's tunes from "The Glenn Miller Story" soundtrack....and the 1957 "Potato Head Blues." And I admit, I LOVED it. It became my favorite track on the tape and I played it incessantly. But even once 15-year-old Ricko heard the 1927 version, it was like, "Oh. No comparison." Still, let's give it a chance:

Okay, full disclosure: after I wrote that sentence, I sensed a good time to take a break. I had to pick my wife and daughter up from a party so I brought the "Autobiography" with me and listened to "Potato Head Blues" three times in a row. And you know what? I really liked it.

Having said that: it does not belong in the same universe as the original. Plenty of times on this blog I've argued passionately for "Autobiography" remakes being better than the original or at least as good. Can't do it this time. But it's still a very nice record and I can see why it appealed to my 15-year-old self. 

There's a few things that kill it. First and foremost is the arrangement. I love Bob Haggart and he was a legitimately great arranger but I always thought his work on the "Autobiography" is kind of over-arranged. He should have come up with a framework and just let the band do its thing. Instead, he wrote arranged passages for the 1920s small group works that didn't really need them. 

This hurts "Potato Head Blues" in a few ways. First, why remake a 2:58 classic and shave it down to 2:25? This was a multi-LP set and many other autobiography tracks weigh-in around the four-minute mark. But for some reason, "Potato Head Blues" got hacked and it results in a performance that's over before it starts.

Second, the original featured that dynamite clarinet solo by Johnny Dodds. Here, that's gone, with the great Edmond Hall only getting the verse to shine on. Armstrong handled the verse in 1927 so why didn't he do it here and allow Hall to get 32 bars to dig in?

Then there's the rhythm section. The All Stars SWUNG, end of story. But in the first chorus, Haggart tries to recapture the two-beat feel of the original but it results in nothing but stiffness, with bassist Squire Gersh hitting 1-and-3 over and over. Also, as I've mentioned here many times, someone had the idea to reduce the wildly swinging Barrett Deems into a metronome. We have some of Haggart's arrangements at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and they clearly dictate "closed hi-hat" on Deems's part. He never varies throughout the performance, even going straight on through the stop-time chorus. Someone forgot to turn off the Barrett Deems Drum Machine 2000!

And oddly enough, for a considerably shorter performance than the original, the tempo is slower, taking some of the infectious joy out of the proceedings. 

That's a lot of strikes going against the performance. But in the end, I still think it's enjoyable because it's Louis Armstrong and that's all you need to know. 

The opening ensemble follows the original in that Louis's lead in nice and relaxed while Edmond Hall's clarinet stays busy behind it as Trummy Young croons nice harmonies. A nice touch by Haggart is having the front line harmonize Armstrong's original break. They then go one step further and continue playing the first four notes of the verse, just as Armstrong did in 1927. However, after that the ball is passed to Edmond Hall who, as usual, sounds great, but he should have been given more to do than just play the melody as Armstrong did 30 years earlier.

Now it's time for the main event: the stop-time solo. On his arrangements for the earlier "Autobiography" sessions, Sy Oliver wrote "Go for yourself" on Armstrong's parts. Armstrong does just that here and though it doesn't shatter any ground, it's still a great 1957 Armstrong solo. He makes plenty of allusions to the original but overall comes up with lots of new ideas, still floating across the bar lines with that great sense of rhythm. Another neat touch is having all the horns again jump in to harmonize on the chromatic "Tears" break at the halfway point.

But then Haggart abandons the stop-time solo for some reason. By this point, Gersh is allowed to start walking and though Deems is still stuck with his closed hi-hat, at least the rhythm section is swinging, which seems to inspire Louis a bit. His second half barely references the original--no high, held B, no "Star Dust"--but it's still full of beautiful phrasing. At the end, he plays his original break and then leads the troops into the final ensemble. He follows the same pattern as the original with those held notes and he even gets off the descending "Star Dust" phrase. As they head to the end, they play an arranged ending with Hall strangely getting the last break before Pops hits a high one to go out on.

So again, as a standalone performance, it's very, very good but never mind the original, by "Autobiography" standards, it's lacking. There might be some people out there who know the original but don't know the "Autobiography" and if they only heard that, they'd conclude, "Well, it's nice but man, Pops sounds tired; he really did lose it in his later years, huh?" And the answer is no! Louis was in peak form throughout the "Autobiography." What's really interesting is he still pulls off the original 1920s routines when he wants to and on other tracks, he goes for himself in his 1957 style and still hits it out of the park.

Jon-Erik Kellso reports that Ruby Braff told him that when Louis prepared for the "Autobiography," he listened to all the original recordings and made notes about what he would change and what he thought should stay the same. So just look at the other songs recorded on this January 23, 1957 date. First up was "Hotter Than That" which Louis decided to tear into with his 1957 style, though keeping some major elements of the original (like the ascending spiraling break). In the end, I think it stands right up with the first version. But on "Gut Bucket Blues," Louis more or less remade the 1925 version, note-for-note; nothing wrong with that. That was followed by "Weary Blues," on which Louis more or less played nothing but fresh phrases, eschewing the original completely for one of the album's most exciting performances.

But then came "Potato Head Blues" with its dragging tempo, too-short running time, shortened stop-time solo and over-arranged ensembles. If you think, "Pops couldn't cut it," all you had to do was listen to the next song, "Cornet Chop Suey," where Louis tears through his original routine--from the introduction to the stop-time solo--like a kid again. And the tempo's a bit faster than the original! The session ended with a rocking "Of All the Wrongs You've Done to Me," again given a different slant than Louis's original version with Clarence Williams. 

So why was Louis able to do whatever he wanted on the other five tracks but he sounds a bit subdued on "Potato Head Blues"? I really think, in the end, it comes down to over-arrangement, with the horns focused on getting ready to play their harmonized parts and endings instead of just loosening up and blowing the tune naturally. A couple of more takes and a few ticks faster on the downbeat and this could have been a highlight.

But my goodness, that's enough on the remake. That's enough on the original. That's enough on the whole damn thing! I'm spent but now you know everything I know, feel and think about "Potato Head Blues." Now forget it all, listen to the original and rejoice in every second. 


oryskid said…
Very thoughtful piece Ricky,you always explain a idea so well,
I might add that on Central Ave. In LA,Pops played Potato Head Blues,& Mingus was on Bass.alas. my dad saw them together& Pop# was having some lip problems at the time, he stopped for a while playing certin. Numbers that taxed his lips too much.par KID ORY to his Daughter
Anonymous said…
That was very enjoyable, esp. the cuts you put together to demonstrate your thoughts. Thanks for the effort and the quote from David Ostwald, my favorite trad jazz instigator.
scott johnson said…
Yet another terrific analysis of an Armstrong recording! Everyone knows what your next book needs to be (just finished "What a Wonderful World" BTW, and what a wonderful book!). Somebody needs to take on Louis' career from start to end, and finish the job the discographers have started.
Here is what John Winn did for the beatles: http://www.amazon.com/Way-Beyond-Compare-Recorded-1957-1965/dp/0307451577
Take a look inside that book, and RR, just imagine what you might do for ol' Satch! And you're just the man to do it.
Phil Lynch said…
Yup - to me it's also the presence of the tuba. You get to hear the 2/4 feel that would have been present in person, that you miss in most of the Hot Fives. (With Lil banging away on every beat on those, you get sort of an insistent 4/4, missing the walking-pace feel.) Louis still feels/plays in a swinging Two in those, but you almost have to listen between the lines. Here, it is all right there.

Except for Dodds's solo - we'll have to disagree on that one! Squaresville in the sense of playing in 4, esp. after Louis's example of how to swing. I would "gently" correct a high schooler if they were accenting like Dodds does. Nothing against him -- but we have the advantage of living in the AA era -- After Armstrong, who, thankfully, showed us how to swing. And Johnny didn't have it, at least on this track. It's definitely something, and inventive, but not swingin'.

Thanks for the post as always! One of the best things about the web. Will pass it along. Be well!
Lemonlymelon said…
Great stuff!! Usually i don't like reading long posts, but with your blog, i never seem to notice it's long :)
vilstef said…
I really love Potato Head Blues. PHB and West End Blues are two of my favorites from Louis's early career. I YouTubed Potato Head, and the only recent version was an orchestral version featuring Nicholas Payton. All the fun had been arranged out of it. You could barely tell it was the same tune except when Payton played the main theme. It did not seem like he played with his usual elan, either.

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