Six Minutes With Satch: Honey, Don't You Love Me Anymore / There's a Cabin in the Pines

"Honey Don't You Love Me Anymore," written by the team of Fred Meadows and pianist Terry Shand, was the first song recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra at their marathon RCA session on April 24. It's historic as Armstrong's regular drummer, Yank Porter, left and 23-year-old Big Sid Catlett had to fill in on drums, marking the start of one of jazz's great partnerships. Catlett was replaced by Harry Dial for the April 26 session and wouldn't return to the fold until 1939, but it's nice picturing these two great friends swinging out in Chicago, the young Catlett obviously making an impression on his future boss.

I've already covered some of the other April sides--Pops recorded 11 over two sessions--but I haven't really mentioned that bassist Bill Oldham primarily switches to tuba on these April sides, even though Armstrong hadn't recorded with a tuba for some time. His bass sound was recorded beautifully in January so it's a bit of a mystery about why he went back (no offense to my tuba playing friends out there--Oldham does play well, it's just a bit of an odd switch).

Anyway, onto "Honey Don't You Love Me Anymore," he 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. He 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 Charlie 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, Armstrong's back for that minor bridge, entering high (possibly in more ways than one) and staying up there (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. The flip side, "There's a Cabin in the Pines," though, is a real personal favorite of mine as I think it features some of his best singing and playing of the 30s, even though it might be sentimental claptrap to some out there (and represented the "absolute nadir" of this band to Gunther Schuller).

I’ll  admit that the subject of the song is overly sentimental, but composer Billy Hill made a living out of writing stuff like “They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree,” “There’s a Home in Wyoming” and “The Old Spinning Wheel in the Basement,” in addition to standards “Wagon Wheels,” “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” and “The Glory of Love,” so he obviously knew something about writing music.

The opening of the record is admittedly pretty cloying…is it me or do I here horse hooves clopping in the opening seconds? Obviously, not real hooves (I’m sure Victor didn’t want a horse in their studio) but perhaps drummer Harry Dial was making the sound on temple blocks. It only lasts about three seconds and it’s very feint, but knowing the types of cowboy songs Hill wrote, I wouldn’t rule it out. Anyway, one of Armstrong’s trumpeters (I'm thinking Stumpy Whitlock) leads the band in playing the melody in a somewhat stiff and melodramatic fashion – is it tongue in cheek? Tough to tell, but it’s safe to say that if the rest of the record followed the pattern of the first 20 seconds, Schuller would be on to something.

Fortunately, the warm, tenor voice of young Louis Armstrong is right around the corner to fix everything. “There’s a Cabin in the Pines” has sort of a sprawling melody and Pops must have respected it because he changes very little the first time through. There’s none of the one-note downsizing of, say, his “Lazy River” vocal. “Cabin,” thus, allows Armstrong to show off his range, hitting notes from a low C to a high D without a problem. The whole timbre of his voice changes when he goes into his low register—it almost sounds like two different singers! The way the song is written, the last word of each of the eight-bar sections falls on the first beat, always leaving Armstrong three free beats to play with; the first time it happens, he inserts a typically effective “oh babe.” In the second A section, we got some patented Armstrong rephrasing as now he does sing the lyric “There’s a sweetheart in the pine” all on a single note. He sounds very passionate on this section, adding a perfect “baby” after the line, “I can read between the lines.”

It’s always a beautiful thing on an Armstrong record when he sings over the reed section playing the melody straight. On the bridge, the reeds play it as written while Armstrong totally begins taking chances, leaving a bit of space and rushing the phrase “Tell her that I’ll come back some day,” which perfectly flows into a daring, double-timed scat passage. After another pause, he humorously comes back in his deepest voice, not even alluding to the melody played by the saxes in the background. And after he sings the last line of the bridge, he practically defines the concept of swing with perhaps the most perfectly placed “oh babe” in the history of Armstrong vocals. In fact, if you want to describe the essence of Armstrong’s vocal genius, I think you can do it by using just two words: “oh babe.” It crops up everywhere but this is my favorite because of the rhythmic placement of the two words, the “oh” coming in between the first and second beats while the “babe” lands squarely on beat three. Out of such simplicity, genius is born. On the final A section, he again sings the melody fairly straight, charmingly stretching the final word, “Pines,” over three notes..

Armstrong then steps away from the mike to get his chops together while another trumpeter leads the band in a short interlude that modulates the song from Bb to Eb, setting Armstrong up to blow a very emotional solo. As I said, he must have really enjoyed the very pretty melody as, just with the vocal, he doesn’t change much of it during the first eight bars. I just love listening carefully to all his slippery little phrases in his playing, such as the almost smeared descending line towards the beginning and the way he turns that single D into three gently massaged notes, all in the first four bars of his solo. And of course, there’s the beautiful responses to his own calls, such as the little run he plays to link the first and second A sections. This is followed by a gigantic gliss from a G to a high Bb, eliminating the individual notes of the melody while maintaining the arc of it to much more dramatic effect. But my favorite moment of the record comes from 2:15 to 2:19. He plays a snatch of melody and goes into a quick double-time run where every note fits like a charm, topped off by a single, solitary Ab that lands directly on the first beat of the next measure. The whole run is something to marvel at but it’s that Ab that gets me every time. It’s so relaxed and so perfectly placed that it never fails to make me shake my head and say, “Damn.” He takes a breath and continues onwards with more melody, ending the first half of the chorus with the same three-note idea he ended his vocal with (here it’s Eb-F-Eb). On the vocal, he took a lot of chances with the bridge but with the trumpet, he plays the melody almost straight, with just enough subtle inflections to make the thing swing, getting nice support from the dissonant clarinets behind him.

It all sets up yet another big gliss to a high Bb, the emotional climax of the solo, though it’s followed by two more wonderful moments. First up, is his ability to make quarter notes swing. He glisses to the high Bb and when he’s supposed to play the notes that correspond to the phrase “Cabin in the Pines,” he simply hits three straight G’s, each one right on the beat, boom, boom, boom. The tuba’s playing the same thing, but sounds stiff compared to the relaxed nature of Armstrong’s pure feeling. But just when you think he’s settling into a relaxed groove, he hits you with another double-time passage, once again answering the melody with his own obbligato. He slows it down for the ending (foreshadowing the Decca years) and ends with one more gliss up to a high Bb for good measure. Beautiful, passionate playing by a genius in full command of his instrument. It’s all there: the strong melody statements, the double-timed runs, the on-the-beat phrasing, the sense of drama, the relaxed nature of it all. It’s Armstrong at the absolute top of his game.

The same can be--and probably will be--said for tomorrow's entry on "Basin Street Blues"....don't miss it!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc, cond), Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph (tp), Keg Johnson (tb), Scoville Brown, George Oldham (as, cl), Budd Johnson (ts), Charlie Beal (p), Mike McKendrick (g), Bill
Oldham (tu), Sid Catlett (d).
Victor recording session - Chicago, IL April 24, 1933

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc, cond), Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph (tp), Keg Johnson (tb), Scoville Brown, George Oldham (as, cl), Budd Johnson (ts, voc), Charlie Beal (p), Mike McKendrick (g),
Bill Oldham (tu), Harry Dial (d).
Victor recording session - Chicago, IL April 26, 1933

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