Six Minutes With Satch: That's My Home / Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train

It might be 24 hours later here at Six Minutes With Satch Enterprises, but it's been nine whole months since the last music we listened to was made. "Lawd You Made the Night Too Long" represented Armstrong's final recording for OKeh Records....but the label wouldn't go down without a fight. Louis's manager Johnny Collins signed a contract with RCA in December 1931 to being recording his client in May but OKeh said not so fast, they had Louis under contract for another year. The two labels fought it out in court with RCA emerging victorious.

When that decision was made, Louis was in the middle of his first tour of England. When he returned in the fall, Collins set up his first date with RCA and new A&R man Eli Oberstein at the label's famed Camden church studio. Collins secured the service of Chick Webb and His Orchestra and had Louis's friends the Rene brothers, Otis and Leon, whip up a sequel of sorts to their previous opus, "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," in the form of "That's My Home."

Everything was set up for a most memorable beginning to Armstrong's relationship with RCA except for one thing: for the first time in a recording studio, Armstrong's chops were not in peak form.

Of course, you wouldn't know that by listening as the trumpet playing on both of today's sides is nothing short of spectacular. But Louis invited his pal Mezz Mezzrow to the session and Mezz later wrote that Armstrong showed up with a "terrible sore lip, in addition to being dogtired, and that day had played five shows and made two broadcasts. We started off for the Camden recording studios at 1:30 in the morning. I didn't see how poor Pops was going to blow note one. In the dead of night we drove up to a large red brick church. I wondered if we were going to have a special prayer service to make sure Louis got through this grind, but when we went through the chapel door I saw it was a recording studio... They wouldn't let Chick Webb use his bass drum on this date, mainly because Louis' lip was in such bad shape and without the bass, he wouldn't be pushed so hard."

Knowing that makes the playing heard on the final recordings awe-inspiring. And bless RCA's engineers and that glorious Camden church for that incredible high fidelity sound, especially after Louis's final OKeh recordings sounded like they were recorded in a cardboard box.

After a cute introduction that references "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," Louis puts his heart and soul into the vocal, as he always did when it came to singing about the south. After that touching ode to home, a four bar modulation from Ab to Bb gives him time to get his chops together to play the verse. He's able to take his time, trading fours with saxophonist Elmer Williams, perhaps a bit hesitant at first, but he soon gets comfortable, soaring all the way up to a beautifully full high concert Bb in the second round of fours (he sounds pleased, humming and singing to himself with joyous abandon).

Now it's melody time, Armstrong floating over the incessant, marching rhythm section. He keeps the melody front and center but also adds in his variations, especially in the second eight, which starts with a grandiose gliss to a high Bb, before he starts throwing around those snake-like phrases, the past and future Armstrong converging in the present.

He piles on the drama as he heads to the bridge, thriving on the change from major to minor and holding those high notes a bit longer, still floating the entire time. The climax comes in the last eight bars as Louis uncorks a series of high Bb glisses while the band plays the melody around him. He works his way to a high C, then two sky-high D's before ending on that big, fat Bb (C on trumpet). Ladies and gentlemen of the jury....THIS is a man with chops troubles?????

A glorious alternate of "That's My Home" also survives but to stick to the theme here of the originally released 78s, we'll move on to the next selection, "Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train," credited to Armstrong (though I think someone came out of the woodwork in the 1950s and claimed to have actually written it; Joe Glaser fought it and it stayed under Armstrong's name).

Mezz Mezzrow came through to assist Louis with his opening monologue about "ol' A number 1" (and I'll always love the "all the burgs" line). Louis gets to rest his chops here as the showman takes over, singing and shouting with contagious delight and letting Williams take the first solo on tenor and Charlie Green take the second second on trombone. Finally, it's time to get down to business and Louis quickly digs in in preaching mood, leaving plenty of space, holding and shaking another huge Bb, dispensing with glisses, just an overwhelming display of every tool in the arsenal....and it's all done in less than 30 seconds! He must have been conserving himself but my goodness, what an assault!

Louis now had two sides in the can that would soon be issued to rave reviews. But he still had two more sides to go to get through the December 8 date--would his chops hold out? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks (tp), Charlie Green (tb), Pete Clarke (cl, as), Edgar Sampson (as), Elmer Williams (ts), Don Kirkpatrick (p), John Trueheart (g), Elmer James (tu), Chick Webb (d).
Victor recording session - Camden, NJ December 8, 1932

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks (tp), Charlie Green (tb), Pete Clarke (cl, as), Edgar Sampson (as), Elmer Williams (ts), Don Kirkpatrick (p), John Trueheart (g), Elmer James (tu), Chick Webb (d).
Victor recording session - Camden, NJ December 8, 1932

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