Six Minutes With Satch: After You've Gone / St. Louis Blues

Today's single is really a tale of two bands in a transitional period in Louis Armstrong's career. After the two fabulous recordings from September 1929 that we heard yesterday, the band did not return to the studio until November 19, cutting two new pop songs, "Little By Little" and "Look What You've Done To Me" (head over to YouTube to hear period versions by San Lanin of the former and Leo Reisman of the latter). But for whatever reason, OKeh not only rejected both performances but seemingly destroyed all traces.

One week later, on November 26, Armstrong was invited back to record another "oldie" instead, "After You've Gone." It's a delightful record, with a vocal that is totally from another planet (and one that young Louis Prima must have soaked up). Like yesterday's offering, Rockwell also had Armstrong record two non-vocal takes. In an attempt to appease the foreign market that might not have known what to do with Armstrong's vocal stylings, Rockwell okay'd 250 copies of one of the non-vocal takes to be released in South America on the Odeon label. At the last minute, though, he changed his mind and issued the vocal version instead, though it was too late to catch them all and some of the non-vocal 78s became collector's items.

Outside of the studio, however, turmoil surrounded Armstrong and his band. Wall Street laid its egg in October and many folks stopped going to Broadway and to nightclubs, ending Louis's doubling in Hot Chocolates on Broadway and at Connie's Inn in Harlem. Armstrong had grown disgusted with the band at this point, complaining that some of his men even started showing up late. After they were let go from Connie's Inn, he grew incensed when Zutty Singleton told him he was hired to play with Ally Ross's band....the very next night at Connie's Inn.

One person was watching all this and enjoying the drama (I picture him eating popcorn): Tommy -Rockwell. Rockwell never wanted to book the Dickerson band and with them out of the picture, he was able to concentrate on booking Armstrong as a single, using different orchestras as backing bands.

His first move was to re-team Armstrong with the red hot orchestra of his old friend Luis Russell for several sessions across December 1929 and January 1930. The Carroll Dickerson band was good at giving Armstrong that Guy Lombardo sound and Zutty Singleton was, of course, a superlative drummer, but the Russell band STOMPED and were capable of creating more fireworks than arguably any other band on the planet.

That comes across crystal clear on the side Rockwell chose for the flip of "After You've Gone," W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Louis was no stranger to the song, having already been a part of Bessie Smith's seminal version from 1925, but this time, instead of treating it like a mournful lament, he transformed it into one of the most exciting records of his entire career. Yet again, though--not that it matters but it's important to point out--Armstrong was playing "St. Louis Blues" live and had been doing so for quite some time. Even Zutty remembered the band playing it at the Audubon Theater in New York when they first arrived in the spring of 1929 and the pit musicians gave them a standing ovation. So like a lot of these 1929 sides, these aren't seat-of-their-pants moments of improvised glory, but rather Tommy Rockwell shrewdly choosing Armstrong's best live showcases to capture on record forever.

We know this is true because two other non-vocal takes of "St. Louis Blues" survive and Louis follows the same routine as well. Those are great because they include extra bits from Henry "Red" Allen in the first half of the record but since they never saw the light of day until the CD era, I'm skipping them for now and only including links to the issued takes on the original 78, OKeh 41350, another pop release for those keeping score at home.

That concludes week two of #SixMinutesWithSatch but now that we've introduced the Russell band, you'll want to come back next week for more stomping good selections from 1929 and 1930. Have a great weekend!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Homer Hobson (tp), Fred Robinson (tb), Jimmy Strong (cl, ts), Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as), Gene Anderson (p), Mancy Carr (bj), Pete Briggs (tu), Zutty Singleton (d), Carroll Dickerson (cond).
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY November 26, 1929

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Otis Johnson, Henry “Red” Allen (tp), J.C. Higginbotham (tb), Albert Nicholas, Charlie Holmes (as), Teddy Hill (ts), Luis Russell (p), Will Johnson (g), Pops Foster (b), Paul Barbarin (d),.
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY December 13, 1929

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