Handy and Fats: 1954/1955 vs. 1986 vs. 1997 vs. 2000 vs. 2021

This is a post for what I'm sure is a limited audience: discographical junkies and Armstrong nuts who have purchased every official reissue of Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats in the C.D. and digital era. Of course, with my recent forays into nearly half-hour long videos on edits and splices, I'd say I'm already aiming at a niche market, thus, I might as well go all the way!

The inspiration for all of this double-talk is the impending release of The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Recordings, 1946-1966 on Mosaic Records, a set I have now been breathlessly discussing since 2018. This is the post I promised to finally dissect those earlier reissues and to explain why we made certain choices in what to include and what to leave out of the Mosaic set. Ready? 

I know I've gone over this in my videos, but here it is in writing one more time. In 1954, George Avakian recorded Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy. In 1955, he followed up with Satch Plays Fats. In both instances, George methodically listened to all the takes he captured, complete and incomplete, and then chose the best complete take for each performance. At that point, he removed them from the session reels and copied them onto a new reel. He then made a copy of that reel...and went to work. Anytime he heard a fluffed note or a garbled phrase, he dug into the session tapes, found a suitable replacement, got out the razor blades and tape and produced edited masters for nearly every track (only a handful survived intact from start to finish). He then issued those edited masters as two seminal LPs. The world rejoiced. 

Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Columbia got George's edited masters and performed Dolby "electronic enhancement" on them, completely destroying the the sound. George knew who did this and never forgave that person. 

Flash to 1986. The compact disc era is here and Columbia hires Michael Brooks to oversee the first CD reissues of Handy and Fats (also issued on LP in the waning days of that format) He orders the master tapes, believing this will be an easy transfer--but only the Dolby-destroyed ones return. Unusable. He then ordered the session reels. The copies of the best complete takes were there thank goodness, without any of George's edits, but the rest of the reels resembled Swiss cheese with all the chunks taken out during the editing process. Flummoxed, Brooks knew he couldn't replicate Avakian's original splices so he made due with the complete, unedited takes, occasionally tampering with them to turn in a new edited version. The "new" versions were released. The world revolted. Poor Brooks was blamed even though he did the best with what he had to work with. 

Still, this rankled George Avakian, who put so much effort into editing those albums, only to have them unavailable into the 1990s. Finally, Sony hired George back to oversee a new and improved reissue, made with the indispensable help of young David Ostwald. George knew a few tricks and was able to find a few of the original masters on tapes made of the EP version of the album. Where he was still stuck, he managed to borrow a pristine first pressing of the LP from Jack Bradley and just did "needle drops" to fill in the gaps. The results were released in 1997. The world rejoiced. 

Sony hired Avakian and Ostwald to do it again in 2000 for Satch Plays Fats. This time, the fates made their lives easier and a pristine copy of the original master tapes turned up in Sony's France vaults, missed the first time in 1986. The transfer was straightforward but then George and David applied the old magic and turned in some new "edited alternate takes," using the best scraps from the session tapes to create new alternates. The world rejoiced once more. 

Flash forward to today. The Mosaic Records set is about to come out. There are folks out there who have the 1986 versions of these albums. There are folks out there who have the 1997 and 2000 versions. There are folks out there who have a bootleg "Complete" (haha--wait til April) edition from Spain that just jammed the 1986 and later reissues together. There are folks out there who have all of the above and folks who have none of the above. 

The goal of this blog will be to go track by track on each album and cover reissue by reissue to explain how they differ, followed by an explanation of what is and isn't on the Mosaic set. Cool? Let's go! (The world shrugged.)

Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy 

Cover of the 1986 Michael Brooks CD and LP edition.

St. Louis Blues

The album's epic opener has already been the subject of one of my long video rants. The 1954 LP contains a combination of Take 4 and Take 3, using Take 4 through the middle of Louis's vocal, Take 3 through the end of the trombone solo, then back to Take 4 for the rideout. The 1986 CD is a complete unedited Take 4. The Mosaic set will include the edited original, the complete Take 4, and for the first time, the complete Take 3, stitched together from three different sources (maybe four). Victory for all!

Yellow Dog Blues

An easy one! Both the 1954 original LP and the 1986 CD used a complete Take 2 with no splices. The Mosaic set will add a complete Take 1, issued for the first time. 

Loveless Love

Okay, now we're in murky territory. The 1954 is Take 8 up front, then an Insert Take for the vocal and first two rideout choruses, then back to Take 8 for the last chorus. Brooks had a complete Take 8 in his possession....but Louis played a fluff and was off-mike for a bit of his vocal. Brooks also had the complete Insert Take, which had the full vocal heard on the LP. What did he do? He used almost the entire Take 8, but cut to the Insert Take to clean up the rough spots in the vocal. Can't blame him but in the end, it's a fake take. Thus, it will not be on the Mosaic set, but the Mosaic will include the complete Take 8 and the complete Insert Take for the first time (plus the complete rehearsal take, which was doctored on the 1997 reissue, but that's a subject for another blog). 

Sony has scrubbed all traces of the 1986 version from its streaming platforms (it was on there last year) and YouTube but I found one solitary YouTube upload of the fake Brooks take and will share it here for completeness, but it really is a 1986 concoction so make what you will of it:

Aunt Hagar's Blues

Okay, now we're getting into potentially controversial territory. After a false start torpedoed Take 10, George quickly called "Take 10 1/2." That became the basis for the master. When making the final edit, he didn't like the way Louis hesitated on "high broke loose" so he grabbed a better reading of it from Take 7, 13 seconds in all. Brooks didn't follow that and instead issued the complete, unedited Take 10 1/2 on the 1986 CD. 

When making the Mosaic set, Scott Wenzel was nervous about too much repetition and we felt that it didn't warrant issuing Take 10 1/2 in full just for 13 seconds that didn't make it onto the master. Thus, if you still have the 1986 CD, hold on to "Aunt Hagar" as that's an unedited take that didn't make it onto the set (and is apparently nowhere on YouTube or the internet). To make up for it, though, the Mosaic will include completely unissued Takes 1 and 9. Isn't that a better trade off? 

Long Gone

Also the subject of my latest video rant. I got into the blow-by-blow there but basically the 1954 version is a real Frankenstein mess with an opening from Take 1, a big chunk through the first trombone solo and first trumpet ensemble chorus on Take 4, then over to Take 5 for the second trombone solo to the finish line. Brooks could only come up with a complete unedited Take 5 and issued it as is. The Mosaic set will include this Take 5 because it's so different than the master (more than 13 seconds), in addition to a previously unissued in full Take 1.

The Memphis Blues

Another easy one as the 1954 LP and the 1986 CD included a complete, unedited Take 3. The Mosaic will add a previously unissued complete Take 2 for good measure. 

Beale Street Blues

I explained the issues with this track in a spit-take laden video from the summer. George only recorded two complete takes, 1 and 2. Take 2 was treated as the master, with George only going to Take 1 for 26 seconds, the very end of the vocal and the interlude before the trumpet solo. That's how it was issued in 1954, one splice. Brooks issued the complete, unedited Take 2 in 1986--and we, again, have chosen to ignore it as 26 seconds of mostly an interlude was not enough to justify repeating the other four minutes of music. Plus, we were able to reconstruct Take 1 and will be issuing it for the first time in complete form. But if you want to hear the unedited Take 2, keep the 1986 CD around (again, not on YouTube). 

Ole Miss Blues

Take 3 served as the unedited master for George to work with and sure enough, he used bits of other takes, cut out the piano solo and shortened the drum solo for the 1954 LP. Brooks issued the unedited Take 3 in full and we are doing the same on the Mosaic because it's so different. We're also adding a previously unissued Take 1 that I found incredibly exciting even though George marked it as NG (No Good). 

Chantez-Les Bas

Similar to "Beale Street," "Chantez-Les Bas" only required two complete Takes, 2 and 3. On Take 3, Louis mispronounced the title one time, singing, "Chantez La Bas." George got a better reading from Take 2 and inserted it in there, an imperceptible two-second splice. Brooks put out the unedited Take 3 with the mispronunciation. Again, we didn't want to replicate the whole track just for a mispronunciation, so we left the complete Take 3 off the set. Thus, keep the Brooks version if you want to hear "Chatez La Bas" (yet again, no longer on the internet) but otherwise, we're including the master and the complete Take 2, issued for the first time. 

Hesitating Blues

Yet again, they only needed two takes, Take 1, which broke down midway through, and Take 2. Take 2 became the basis of the master, with George making two short edits early on from Take 1, totaling 20 seconds, to smooth out a couple of rough spots. Brooks put out the complete unedited Take 2 with the rough spots in tact (they're not even very rough). We once again omitted it as 20 seconds wasn't enough to justify including the full take, so keep the Brooks version if you'd like to hear the unedited Take 2 (we did include the complete rehearsal take, as first issued on the 1997 CD). Or this one did manage to sneak onto YouTube to you can listen here:

Atlanta Blues

For many, this was the track that really gave away the game that the 1986 version was not the original. In 1954, George used a combination of Takes 3 and 4 but most famously had Armstrong overdub a vocal and trumpet obbligato over his original vocal. Brooks didn't have access to any of Take 4 (neither did we, one of the few unsolved mysteries of the session tapes), nor did he have access to the overdubbing so he just issued a straight Take 3. This situation was rectified on the 1997 CD so we're including the original master, plus we're including Brooks's Take 3 and on top of that, a previously unissued Take 2.

Thus, if you're keeping score at home, the 1986 Brooks CD has slightly different, unedited versions of "Aunt Hagar's Blues," "Beale Street Blues," "Chantez-Les Bas" and "Hesitating Blues" that did NOT make the Mosaic set because in each case, the difference was less than 30 seconds between that take and the edited master. The 1986 Brooks CD had different, unedited versions of "St. Louis Blues," "Long Gone," "Ole Miss" and "Atlanta Blues" that we ARE including because they're so different from the masters. "Yellow Dog Blues" and "Memphis Blues" were the same on each version. And Brooks made a new composite of "Loveless Love" that we ignored. 

Onto Satch Plays Fats!

Satch Plays Fats

Cover of 1986 Michael Brooks CD and LP edition (with Louis playing left-handed.....oops)

Honeysuckle Rose

Avakian's "Honeysuckle Rose" is a mutt, using mostly Take 5 as a basis, but with other bits spliced in, including a vocal from a phantom Take 6 that was no longer on the session tapes (and didn't match any from Take 1-5). Brooks only had the complete unedited Take 5 to work with so he released it in full; it also appeared on the compilation 16 Most Requested Songs. We are including the Avakian edited master, the complete unedited Take 5 heard on the 1986 version, and a previously unissued, raw, slower Take 1. 

Blue Turning Grey Over You

Yet another number that was subjected to one of my 25-minute videos but that one really needed it as we were confronted with quite a mess, as it was impossible to get a complete, unedited solo on the session tapes as everything had chunks taken out. Brooks was confronted with that and did his best, making a new composite take made up of Takes 3 and 5. Avakian's original had a first chorus from Take 4, a vocal from Take 5 and a trumpet solo that was 2% Take 5 and 98% an Insert Take after Take 3 broke down. We did not include Brooks's fake take but after much insane editing, we will be able to present Takes 2, 3, Insert Take and 5 in complete form. Only a few numbers got this deluxe bonus treatment; "Blue Turning Grey Over You" certainly deserves it! Still, just to have it for completeness sake, here's Brooks's version:

I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby

George used the beginning of Take 7 and then Louis screwed up the vocal...and kept on screwing up.  Louis needed five insert takes to get through the vocal, misreading "perfect he and she" and "perfect health" (he was deep into his Swiss Kriss diet), stumbling over words, even cursing gently until finally nailing it on Insert Take 5. The band picked up the ball and carried it to the finish line impeccably and George had his master a simple edit from Take 7 to Insert Take 5. (We toyed with putting out the entire sequence because it's legitimately hilarious, but chose not to as it was over 8 minutes long and wouldn't have much replay value.) However, Trummy wasn't satisfied and asked if they could work on his chorus trading with Armstrong's voice, so George gave them four more Insert Takes to just work on it, but in the end, all of that was ignored.

Having access to the session tapes, Brooks could have made the same splice Avakian did, but perhaps feeling he had a chance to (arguably) "improve" the original, went for himself, making a new take made up of Takes 6, 5, Louis and Trummy's later Insert 4 and the earlier Insert 5 that made up the master. It's a fine listening experience but not legit so it will not be on the Mosaic set. Instead, we're offering up complete previously unissued Takes 3 and 5, which are a lot of fun, but here's Brooks's version for completeness sake. 

Squeeze Me

This was a simple one for Avakian, 95% Take 7, plus a quick insert take for the "Oh Yeah" ending. Most interestingly, Louis's spoken responses to Velma Middleton's vocal were overdubbed after the fact. For both Handy and Fats (and even the "Mack the Knife" session), any overdubbing Louis did has not survived in the Sony vaults. For this one, Brooks replicated Avakian's splice at the end so technically, he was able to replicate the LP master--but without Louis's vocal! Thus, when you hear Brooks's version, there's a big, gaping hole in the vocal, followed by the awkward sound of Middleton saying, "Solid!" Even last month, someone commented on an Armstrong House tribute to Middleton that this was a favorite moment, assuming she forgot the words. No, Brooks was just forced to make due; bless him for the effort but his version will not be on the Mosaic. Instead, we'll be including a previously unissued take/rehearsal that features a partial vocal by none other than George Avakian. Needs to be heard to be believed, haha. In the meantime, here's Brooks's version with Velma's lingering "Solid" for posterity:

Keepin' Out of Mischief Now

Like "Squeeze Me," George had Louis overdub a portion of this track, this time a trumpet obbligato behind his vocal. Other than that, the master take was a combination of Takes 9 and 10. Brooks only had access to the complete Take 9 without overdubbing so released it in full. It's pretty terrific and pretty different so we will be including the complete Take 9 on the Mosaic, plus a previously unissued Take 4. 

All That Meat and No Potatoes

Hey, an easy one! Brooks somehow had access to the finished, edited master so the 1955 version is the same as the 1986 version, a combination of Takes 1, 2 and 4. The Mosaic will have that master, but also a previously unissued dynamite Take 1 in full. 

I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling

Another easy one. The LP master is all Take 6 with another overdubbed second vocal, Louis backing Louis. Brooks was able to get access to Take 6, but not the overdubs so he was only able to put out the non-dubbed take. It's interesting to hear it that way but our commitment was to the original LPs so we're only including the finished master with the overdubbing, plus previously unissued Takes 2 and 5. Here's the Brooks version if you'd like to have an non-overdubbed Take 6 in your collection:

Black and Blue

Like "All That Meat and No Potatoes," Brooks was able to access the LP take of "Black and Blue," a combination of Takes 2, 3 and an Insert Take. We'll obviously have that take, plus a previously unissued, intense Rehearsal Take.

Ain't Misbehavin'

Finally, the All Stars originally tried "Ain't Misbehavin'" at the April 26, 1955 session, giving it a foot-pattin' treatment. George called for a remake on the May 3 session the band tearing into it with more fire, giving George his master take, no splices necessary. That take was removed in full for the album, but did not survive on the session tapes so when Brooks got the goods, he was forced to make due with the best take from the April 26 session, Take 1. It's a good one (it also crops up on 16 Most Requested Songs) and none of it is on the LP so we'll be including it on the Mosaic. 

And there you have it! What did we learn? Damned if I know. But if you have the 1986 editions of both of these classic albums and you're interested in the Mosaic AND you're a crazed completist, you might want to keep the Brooks versions handy (pun!) for the following tracks, not on the Mosaic:

"Aunt Hagar's Blues" - Unedited Take 10 1/2 (13 seconds are different than LP)
"Beale Street Blues" - Unedited Take 2 (26 seconds are different than LP)
"Chantez Les Bas" - Unedited Take 3 (6 seconds are different than LP)
"Hesitating Blues" - Unedited Take 2 (20 seconds are different than LP)
"I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" - Non-overdubbed Take 6 (only the vocal is different than LP)

Add it up and it's a little under two minutes of music on the 1986 editions that didn't make the Mosaic. Some purists might balk, but if you add up the full track times of those five tracks, it comes out to 23 minutes and 31 seconds. This set is packed to the gills, each disc stuffed to the breaking point. I personally stand by our decision to pack it with unissued material and unedited takes instead of these 23 minutes of music, 21 minutes of which is heard elsewhere on the set. 

I hope this makes sense! Like I said, I think there's a pretty small audience that followed all of that from top to bottom but now at least it's in writing and we can leave all of these reissues behind and focus on the Mosaic, just a little over a month away. Thanks for reading--wee!


Popular Posts