Six Minutes With Satch: That Rhythm Man / Sweet Savannah Sue

After the wrenching performance of "(What Did I To Be So) Black and Blue" recorded on July 22, 1929, Louis Armstrong finished out the date with two joyful numbers, the romping "That Rhythm Man" and a strutting "Sweet Savannah Sue." Both were penned by Fats Waller, Andy Razaf, and Harry Brooks for the revue, Connie's Hot Chocolates, which Armstrong was currently appearing in, both on Broadway and in Harlem.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" was Armstrong's big feature in the show and had a whole session to itself on July 19, 1929. But clearly, OKeh was putting some muscle behind the show's success, having Armstrong record three other tunes from the score on July 22. "That Rhythm Man" is probably the best feature for what was originally the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra (the name was changed to Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra shortly before Hot Chocolates), swinging like mad from start to finish, thanks to the propulsive drumming of Zutty Singleton. "Sweet Savannah Sue" is in more of a two-beat feel, but still inspires some explosive playing from Armstrong, especially towards the ending.

Interestingly, Armstrong's vocals on each track are infused with swing--but are also almost indecipherable. Google helps a bit, fortunately. Here are the lyrics to "That Rhythm Man":

Now the trees all sway to rhythm
And the children play to rhythm
All the birdies flap their wings in rhythm too.

Oh, the breezes float to rhythm
And the rivers flow to rhythm.
Ev'ry flower nods in rhythm all day through. 

Ev'ry dance and ev'ry melody
Acts according to this recipe.

Ev'rybody walks to rhythm
Ev'rybody talks to rhythm
Seems like the world can do without That Rhythm Man.

And "Sweet Savannah Sue":

Oh, Sweet Savannah Sue
Around my heart you cling
Sweet Savannah Sue
Well, it's a-ding-a-linging
Got you all day through
I'll sing it
If you don't know how much I think of you.

Shars are shinin' bright
Or blinkin'
Moon is full tonight
Or winkin'
Lover's lane is right
My honey, oh, you know what I'm thinking.

I'll walk with you
Which should be hunky-dory
And a kiss would be a trip to glory
So that's nothin' new
I'm telling you
You know it's true

Oh, honey
Never in old Savannah ever was there a grander time
I'm a-mean to say, I love you
Sweet Savannah Sue

Yeah, something like that. Anyway, they didn't have Google in 1929 so it's quite possible that Armstrong's lack of diction on these sides could have given Tommy Rockwell pause. Why? Well, tomorrow, we'll listen to Armstrong in sideman mode again but come back later in the week to see Rockwell's interesting strategy in recording and marketing Armstrong's recordings from the Fall of 1929. But in the summer, he was still pushing Armstrong across all avenues, releasing this 78 once again on the pop series--OKeh 41281--and race series--OKeh 8717.

Come back tomorrow for something completely different! But for now, here are the Spotify and YouTube links--enjoy!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Homer Hobson (tp), Fred Robinson (tb), Jimmy Strong (ts, cl), Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as), Gene Anderson (p, celeste), Mancy Carr (bj), Pete Briggs (tu), Zutty Singleton (d), Carroll Dickerson (cond, vln).
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY July 22, 1929


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