Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tom Snyder

There are lots of tributes to Tom Snyder going around the net today, and a lot of great clips from his shows. I always enjoyed watching him; his was an immensely curious man, and he refused to dumb himself, his guests or his audience down to fit some conventional stereotype of what television should be or what the audience would appreciate. His latitude with his guests allowed them to relax and to really be themselves.

Here’s a great interview with Kiss from 1979. Ace Frehley really steals the show here, much to Gene Simmons obvious annoyance.

Here’s an interview with Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey from 1981, talking about the Acid Tests.

And what would a post about Tom Snyder be without a clip of his infamous interview with John Lydon of P.I.L.? It's difficult to listen past Lydon's obnoxiousness or Keith Levine's pretentiousness, but what you get a sense of is John Lydon's utter dismay, of how in his eyes, punk absolutely failed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Miss Lavelle White

Thanks to our friend Sarah in Texas, today I can write about an a great soul and blues artist I just discovered instead of writing about how I think Flight of the Conchords is mediocre and symptomatic of how most beloved things in indie culture are overrated.

Sarah sent me a link to Lavelle White’s website and listening to her sing is like a breath of fresh air. Lavelle is an 78-year-old soul singer out of Texas, who recorded for the Duke and Peacock labels in the 50’s and 60’s, and toured with Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Bobby “Blue” Bland and many others, but never released a full length album until 1994. From what I’m told, Lavelle is a pretty fierce woman – she wears tight gold lame pants onstage and lets her audience know that she is not to be messed with – or else. She is in possession of one of those voices that immediately emerges as singular and you can hear the accrued experience – both as an artist and a woman - in her voice. She sings with immense power, but has none of the melisma and oversouling that has afflicted so many singers who continue on in music inspired by soul.

Download: "Soul Deep"

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Leon Russell, 1970

You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging on Bootleg Friday, did you?

Yeah, I didn’t post much this week at all. I got stuck. It happens sometimes – either there’s no inspiration, or everything I begin to write seems, well, stupid to me. When that happens, what I should do is just press on, but this week, I didn’t. I apologize. Next week I promise to be far more active on the blog.

Ok – so on to Bootleg Friday. It’s from a transcendent Leon Russell show, taped at the Fillmore East in New York on November 21, 1970 on a double bill with Elton John (!). Elton opened, and Leon blew the doors out with a tremendous set of his 50’s tinged dixie rock n’ roll.

Leon Russell is one of those figures who is far less well known than he should be. Prodigiously talented, he’s played with legends – Dylan, Lennon, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis (who he toured with when he was in his teens), Clapton, Willie Nelson and literally hundreds of others, made great albums, had his own record company and produced for countless artists. He’s also written songs that became hits for others: “Delta Lady” for Joe Cocker, “Hummingbird” for B.B. King and “Superstar” for the Carpenters are just a few among many.

Here he is leading the all star band at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh:

The songs I'm putting up are just a small taste of his talent and soul. I can't recommend his music highly enough.

Buy Leon Russell at Amazon

Download: "Girl From The North Country" 11/21/70, New York, NY
Download: "A Song For You" 11/21/70, New York, NY
Download: "Dixie Lullaby" 11/21/70, New York, NY
Download: "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" 11/21/70, New York, NY
Download: "Prince Of Peace" 11/21/70, New York, NY
Download: "Delta Lady" 11/21/70, New York, NY

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oh, How Ironic

There's a lengthy piece in today's L.A. Times (site reg required) about rock artists participating in advertisements. Reading it, I can't help but be struck by a certain irony: Once upon a time, most rock artists (even the left of center ones) made commercial music designed to sell records and be played on the radio (i.e., be popular) - and then avoided advertising like the plague. Now, many rock artists make music that is deliberately noncommercial or obtuse (under the guise of being "uncompromised") and then place their music in advertisements because they find that their music isn't reaching as big an audience as they thought they would (or should).

Now I know the arguments contrary to that: Record sales are down, radio doesn't play doesn't do much for rock artists anymore, it's harder to get an artist exposed these days, etc., etc. All of which has truth to it. But there's another part of the equation that rarely gets discussed - for over fifteen years, the vanguard of rock artists have looked down their nose at making music that is obviously melodic or accessible, and the genre has suffered an enormous loss of popularity because of it, resulting in the erosion of popularity of modern rock on the radio, and the winnowing of outlets that expose left-of-center-but-accessible rock to a broad audience. Yes, obviously the internet revolution has had an enormous hand in this. But I ask the question: If modern rock radio (and artists) had really been delivering the goods, would everyone have run away so fast?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Van Morrison, 1971

If there's someone who embodies the term "blue-eyed soul," it's Van Morrison. So it's fitting that today's edition of "Bootleg Friday" is from a very fine Van Morrison show from September 5, 1971 that was recorded at Pacific High Studios in San Francisco and broadcast on K-SAN.

I got this show about two years ago, and it rekindled my interest in Morrison, who frankly, I was sort of sick of, mainly from overdosing on Moondance in my teens. What really got me excited about the show is the tremendous cover of "Hound Dog," which is both swinging and hilarious, as if it's a combination of Big Mama Thornton's original crossed with Jerry Lee Lewis. Also of note is the version of "I've Been Working"; it's colossal. Once I really started listening to the whole thing, I really got how amazing he is - and I revisited most of his catalog.

Buy Van Morrison at Amazon.

Download: "Into The Mystic" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)
Download: "I've Been Working" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)
Download: "Hound Dog" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)
Download: "Tupelo Honey" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)
Download: "Just Like A Woman" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)
Download: "Domino" (9/5/71, San Francisco, CA)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Unexpected Classic Rock Day

Yesterday was one of those days where the long shadow of classic rock enveloped me in all of it's familiarity. And it was good.

The day didn't start like that - I woke up with Mingus on the brain. But when I had the iPod on shuffle while riding the subway, Joe Walsh's "Walk Away" came on, and damn, it really sounded good, so I listened to his Greatest Hits album in full and enjoyed the hell out of it. I don't think I had listened to a Joe Walsh album of any sort since the 80's, but I was really struck by how much fun the songs were - and how well they were embedded in the grey matter of my brain. "All Night Long," "Funk 49," "Life's Been Good," and "Rocky Mountain Way..." it was like I was experiencing Freedom Rock on the F train.

Joe Walsh doing "Funk 49" in 1972:

After hearing Blood On The Tracks played in it's entirety while I killed time at a coffee shop before a business meeting and running some errands, it was time for dinner and karaoke with some of my peeps. We went to Sing Sing Karaoke on Ave A and 5th Street. Now this was not the kind of karaoke where you do one or two songs over the course of the night while getting bombed. We got a private room for just three of us, so this was like doing a full on set. And for whatever reason, I didn't/couldn't perform any soul songs. It just seemed ridiculous to me. So we hit the classic rock - and it was good. Tracks performed included:

"You're In My Heart" - Rod Stewart
"Hotel California" - The Eagles
"Paradise By The Dashboard Light" - Meatloaf (Yes, I know the entire Phil Rizzuto part by heart)
"Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" (I pop my Bruce karaoke cherry on this one.)
"Suspicious Minds" - Elvis (done as a duet with L - possible highlight of the night)
"You Don't Bring Me Flowers" - Neil Diamond/Barbra Streisand (oooof)
"Roadhouse Blues" - The Doors
"The Joker" - Steve Miller
"Maggie's Farm" - Bob Dylan
"I Want It That Way" - Backstreet Boys (I did not take part in this)
"Wild Horses" - The Rolling Stones (I nailed the Keith background part!)
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" - The Rolling Stones
"Levon" - Elton John
"Rocket Man" Elton John (We sang it so well that there was nothing left to do except go home)

It was more fun than should be allowed legally. And there's nothing better than the classic rock for karaoke.

I think I need to listen to I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You all day long to get back in the groove.

Download: Joe Walsh - "Funk 49"
Download: Joe Walsh - "Walk Away"
Download: Joe Walsh - "Rocky Mountain Way"
Download: Joe Walsh - "Life's Been Good"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mingus At Cornell

Over the past few years, my love of jazz has been expanding. I've come to love the beauty of the playing - both for it's virtuosity and for it's willingness to subsume that virtuosity for the sake l of the song. I am not an expert on the music in the slightest - I am like someone who is getting into fine wine, who knows what he likes (and seems to like the good stuff) and is hungry to learn more.

I've been listening a lot lately to Charles Mingus. I've been floored by the soul of his playing and the soul of his bands. It's tempestuous music, with obvious roots in blues and gospel, which is most likely why I've been so drawn to it. The soloists are great, but Mingus seems to always keep it focused on the band, and there's nothing I love more than a great band leader. The music is completely uncompromising - but there's nothing self-righteous about it. It is simply the sound of genius creating. Here is a clip of the Mingus Sextet featuring saxophonist Eric Dolphy in Belgium in 1964:

Blue Note just announced the release of Cornell 1964, a great show with the same sextet. It's worth taking the time to check out the digital player that they've created, as well as an additional video that they have in the player. It's awesome stuff - this is music worth delving into.

Buy Charles Mingus At Amazon

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soul Is Country and Country Is Soul

On my podcast I spoke of a great performance by Ray Charles on the Johnny Cash show doing "Ring Of Fire." Here it is:

The little bit about the difference between "city love" and "country love" before the performance is pretty priceless. Check out the very knowing look on both Johnny and Ray's faces.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Deeper Podcast Vol. 1 - A Soul Summer

So without further delay, it is my pleasure to announce the creation of my podcast series, A Deeper Podcast. Volume 1 is a two part series called "A Soul Summer," featuring some great soul tracks that for me, have always created the perfect summertime vibe. I know that "summertime mixes" are so last month, but hey, I just learned how to make a podcast.

In this two part episode you will find music from:

The Meters
Aretha Franklin
Tony Joe White
Otis Redding
Candi Staton
King Curtis
...and many more

I have to acknowledge that the sound quality on my spoken intros is not top notch - I bought a bum microphone and ended up using the mic embedded in the computer. It'll be better next time. But hey, you're not downloading these to hear me talk, are you?

Comments, suggestions for future podcasts, and love letters are all welcome. Enjoy it...and revel in the summer!

A Soul Summer Part 1
A Soul Summer Part 2

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Prince, 1983

It’s been a quiet but busy past few days at A Deeper Shade of Soul, as I’ve been learning how to use Garageband so I can do some basic home recording and do some podcasts for you all, which will be coming within the next ten days or so.

Certain artists just remind me of summer. One of them is Prince. Perhaps the association of summertime around Prince is due to the summers of 1983 and 1984, when I was at Camp Na-Sho-Pa in the Catskills. Yours truly wasn’t exactly the most popular of campers, but they had a radio station where I DJ’d for the first time and there were some very cool counselors who turned me on to some great music, including Prince, who I heard for the first time in the summer of 1983. It seemed like 1999 was on an endless loop in my bunk – not because the kids my age liked it (Billy Joel and Journey were the most popular artists amongst my peers, which partly explains why I had such an occasionally hellish time), but because the counselors insisted. Thank the good Lord that they did.

A year later it was a different story. By this time, Purple Rain had just been released and “When Doves Cry” had a firm grip on the #1 single position on the Hot 100 (keeping “Dancing In The Dark” at #2, much to my annoyance). Prince was popular, and wherever I went, I could hear the album. (I won’t even go into the first time I heard “Darling Nikki,” amidst a crowd of increasingly horny 13 and 14 year old boys who thought it was the most incredible thing in the world that someone said “masturbate” in a song.)

So in that spirit, today’s installment of Bootleg Friday is a tremendous Prince show from Providence, Rhode Island in 1983. It’s a snapshot of an artist who is in full command of his vast talent – soul singer, guitar God, bandleader supreme and last, but certainly not least, sex symbol. Not even James Brown asked, “Is he (your boyfriend) fine/Does he have an ass like mine?” Listening to it, it makes the explosion of Purple Rain seem pre-ordained.

Download: “Dirty Mind” 2/10/83, Providence, RI
Download: “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” 2/10/83, Providence, RI
Download: “Lady Cab Driver” 2/10/83, Providence, RI
Download: “International Lover” 2/10/83, Providence, RI
Download: “1999” 2/10/83, Providence, RI

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Friend Writes In...

ok so i know "rock is dead" and all, but when is the irony going to get cut out of it? I mean there's no sense of sex or danger or anything in indie rock or for that matter any other kind of rock. i get it, rock as a (popular) art form is long since dead, but still, do we have to have a bunch of sniveling hipsters being ironic all the time? It was the same thing 10 fucking years ago and nothing has changed since except the names of the newly crowned ironically challenged bands..

and i don't buy the "oh we're getting old" shtick. It's still the same thing as when we were in our 20's. nothing has really changed in 10 years except that the music has become even more sexless which i didn't think was possible.....

sorry needed to vent. was looking at some pics from recent McCarran pool shows. ugh
Does anyone have something to respond to this? Because I'm at a loss. Especially after watching Live Earth. And yes, I have heard the new Spoon record, and that's not helping matters either.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bootleg Friday On A Monday: Wilson Pickett

As promised on Friday, here is the "makeup" session of Bootleg Friday. It's a great Wilson Pickett show from Stockholm, Sweden in February of 1969. It's a very good way to start the week.

Download: "Introduction"
Download: "634-5789"
Download: "Hey Jude"
Download: "I'm In Love"
Download: "Funky Broadway"
Download: "Sweet Soul Music"

Friday, July 06, 2007

Louis Armstrong: The Founding Father

On this day thirty six years ago, Louis Armstrong, one of the fathers of American music and the absolute Founding Father of jazz, died at his home in Queens. The following is the obituary from the New York Times. It's a fascinating read, and it captures some of the dimension of his enormous impact and influence on American music. It's impossible to imagine any strain of American music without him.

(Thanks to Scott for emailing this.)

July 7, 1971
Louis Armstrong, Jazz Trumpeter and Singer, Dies
Louis Armstrong, the celebrated jazz trumpeter and singer, died in his sleep yesterday morning at his home in the Corona section of Queens. He had observed his 71st birthday Sunday.

Death was attributed to a heart attack. Mr. Armstrong had been at home since mid-June when he was discharged from Beth Israel Medical Center after 10 weeks of treatment for heart, liver and kidney disorders. He seemed in good health during an interview June 23, in which he played his trumpet and announced his intention to return to public performances.

President Nixon released this statement:
"Mrs. Nixon and I share the sorrow of millions of Americans at the death of Louis Armstrong. One of the architects of an American art form, a free and individual spirit, and an artist of worldwide fame, his great talents and magnificent spirit added richness and pleasure to all our lives."

Tributes to Mr. Armstrong also came from a number of leading musicians, including Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Al Hirt, Earl (Fatha) Hines, Tyree Glenn and Eddie Condon.

Mr. Ellington commented: "If anybody was Mr. Jazz it was Louis Armstrong. He was the epitome of jazz and always will be. He is what I call an American standard, an American original."

"He could play a trumpet like nobody else," Mr. Condon said, "then put it down and sing a song like no one else could."

Mr. Hines, who frequently said he had taken his piano style from Mr. Armstrong's trumpet style, remarked: "We were almost like brothers. I'm so heartbroken over this. The world has lost a champion."

In Washington, the State Department, noting that Mr. Armstrong had toured Africa, the Middle East and Latin America on its behalf, said:

"His memory will be enshrined in the archives of effective international communications. The Department of State, for which he traveled on tours to almost every corner of the globe, mourns the passing of this great American."

The entertainer's final appearance was last February, when he played a two-week engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Last month, noting that his legs were weak from his hospitalization, he said, "I'm going back to work when my treaders get in as good shape as my chops."

A master showman known to millions as Satchmo, Mr. Armstrong lived by a simple credo. Putting it into words a couple of years ago, he said:

"I never tried to prove nothing, just always wanted to give a good show. My life has been my music, it's always come first, but the music ain't worth nothing if you can't lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience, 'cause what you're there for is to please the people."

Mr. Armstrong was first and most importantly a jazz trumpet player without peer, a virtuoso soloist who was one of the most vivid and influential forces in the development of American music.

But he was also known to delighted millions around the world for his ebulliently sandpapery singing voice, his merry mangling of the English language and his great wide grand-piano keyboard of a smile.

Jazz music, probably the only art form ever wholly originated in America, and Louis Armstrong grew up together in New Orleans. It was in a seamy slum there that Mr. Armstrong learned to love and play jazz in the company of gamblers, pimps and prostitutes.

But in time he was to play his trumpet and sing in command performances before royalty and, through his numerous worldwide tours, to become known unofficially as "America's ambassador of goodwill."

Recognized for Role
Jazz experts, even the purists who criticized Mr. Armstrong for his mugging and showmanship, more often than not agreed that it was he, more than any other individual, who took the raw, gutsy Negro folk music of the New Orleans funeral parades and honky-tonks and built it into a unique art form.

Over the years, his life and his artistry changed radically. He left New Orleans for Chicago in the early nineteen-twenties, when he was still playing the cornet, and before 1930 made some of his most memorable recordings--with his Hot Five or Hot Seven groups.

Mr. Armstrong won his initial fame playing an endless grind of one-night stands. Under constant pressure to put on a show that made the customers tap their feet and cry for more, he did not hesitate to exploit a remarkable flair for showmanship. His mugging, his wisecracking and most of all his willingness to constantly repeat programs that had gone over well in the past won him the cheers of his audiences, along with the disapproving clucks of some of his fellow musicians and jazz specialists.

The criticism that he no longer improvised enough, innovated enough, mattered little to Mr. Armstrong. He dismissed the more "progressive" jazz approved of by some leading critics as "jujitsu music."

He did not mind being called "commercial" because he followed popular music trends, and he deliberately introduced into his repertory crowd-pleasers such as "Mack the Knife" and "Hello, Dolly!," which put his recordings on the bestseller charts when he was in his 60's.

Like 'Sandpaper Calling'
As his ability to play his horn exceptionally well waned with the years, Mr. Armstrong supplanted his trumpet solos with his singing voice. An almost phenomenal instrument in its own right, it has been compared to iron filings and to "a piece of sandpaper calling to its mate."

Just watching an Armstrong performance could be an exhilarating experience. The man radiated a jollity that was infectious. Onstage he would bend back his stocky frame, point his trumpet to the heavens joyfully blast out high C's. When he sang he fairly bubbled with pleasure. And as he swabbed away at the perspiration stirred up by his performing exertions, Satchmo grinned his famous toothy smile so incandescently that it seemed to light up the auditorium.

"I never did want to be no big star," Mr. Armstrong said in 1969, in an interview for this article. "It's been hard goddam work, man. Feel like I spent 20,000 years on the planes and railroads, like I blowed my chops off. Sure, pops, I like the ovation, but when I'm low, beat down, wonder if maybe I hadn't of been better off staying home in New Orleans."

Mr. Armstrong's early years spent in New Orleans, were marked by extreme poverty and squalor, but he emerged able to recall them without self-pity and even with good humor.

"I was a Southern Doodle Dandy born on the Fourth of July, 1900," said Daniel Louis Armstrong.1 "My mother Mary Ann--we called her Mayann--was living in a two-room shack in James Alley, in the Back O' Town colored section of New Orleans. It was in a tough block, all them hustlers and their pimps and gamblers with their knives, between Gravier and Perdido Streets."

Mr. Armstrong's father, Willie Armstrong, who stoked furnaces in a turpentine factory, left Mrs. Armstrong when the boy was an infant. Leaving the child with his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Armstrong went to live in the Perdido-Liberty Street area, which was lined with prostitutes' cribs.

"Whether my mother did any hustling I can't say," Mr. Armstrong said. "If she did, she kept it out of my sight."
However, Louis, who rejoined his mother when he was 6 years old, recalled that for many years afterward there was always a "stepfather" on the premises and that before his mother "got religion and gave up men" around 1915, "I couldn't keep track of the stepdaddies, there must have been a dozen or so, 'cause all I had to do was turn my back and a new pappy would appear." Some of them, he added, "liked to beat on little Louis."

However, Mr. Armstrong was always intensely fond of his mother, and he cared for her until her death in the early nineteen-forties.

Dippermouth, as he was called as a child, and his friends often sang for pennies on the streets. To help support his mother and a sister, Barbara, Louis delivered coal to prostitutes' cribs and sold food plucked from hotel garbage cans.

The night of Dec. 31, 1913, Louis celebrated the New Year by running out on the street and firing a .38-caliber pistol that belonged to one of his "stepfathers." He was arrested and sent to the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.

"Pops, it sure was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Mr. Armstrong said. "Me and music got married at the home."

Played in Home's Band
Peter Davis, an instructor at the home, taught Louis to play the bugle and the cornet. Soon the boy became a member of the home's brass band, which played at socials, picnics and funerals for a small fee. Louis was in the fifth grade when he was released from the home after spending 18 months there. He had no other formal education.

The youth worked as a junkman and sold coal, while grabbing every chance he could to play cornet in honky-tonk bands. The great jazz cornetist Joe (King) Oliver befriended him, gave him a cornet and tutored him.

"I was foolin' around with some tough ones," Mr. Armstrong recalled in 1969. "Get paid a little money, and a beeline for one of them gambling houses. Two hours, man, and I was a broke cat, broker than the Ten Commandments. Needed money so bad I even tried pimping, but my first client got jealous of me and we got to fussing about it and she stabbed me in the shoulder. Them was wild times."

In 1918, Mr. Armstrong married a 21-year-old prostitute named Daisy Parker. Since Daisy "wouldn't give up her line of work," Mr. Armstrong said, the marriage was both stormy and short-lived.

The same year he was married, Mr. Armstrong joined the Kid Ory band, replacing King Oliver, who had moved to Chicago. In the next three years he marched with Papa Celestin's brass band and worked on the riverboat Sidney with Fate Marable's band. Dave Jones, a mellophone player with the Marable band, gave him his first lessons in reading music.

By then Mr. Armstrong's fame was spreading among New Orleans musicians, many of whom were moving to Chicago. In 1922 King Oliver sent for his protege. Mr. Armstrong became second cornetist in Mr. Oliver's by then famous Creole Jazz Band. The two-cornet team had one of the most formidably brilliant attacks ever heard in a jazz group. Mr. Armstrong's first recordings were made with the Oliver band in 1923.

The pianist in the band was Lilian Hardin, whom Mr. Armstrong married in 1924. Miss Hardin had had training as a classical musician, and she gave him some formal musical education.

Mrs. Armstrong, convinced that as long as her husband stayed in the Oliver band he would remain in the shadow of his popular mentor, persuaded him to leave the band in 1924 to play first cornet at the Dreamland Cafe. The same year he joined Fletcher Henderson's orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.

For the first time, Mr. Armstrong found himself in the company of musicians of an entirely different stripe from those he had known in New Orleans and Chicago who, like himself, had fought their way up out of the back alleys and were largely unschooled in music. From these men, many of whom had conservatory educations, he learned considerable musical discipline.

Moving back to Chicago in 1925, Mr. Armstrong again played at the Dreamland Cafe, where his wife, Lil, had her own band, and with Erskine Tate's "symphonic jazz" orchestra at the Vendome Theater. It was at that point that he gave up the cornet for the trumpet.

"I was hired to play them hot choruses when the curtain went up," Mr. Armstrong recalled. "They put a spotlight on me. Used to hit 40 or 50 high C's--go wild, screamin' on my horn. I was crazy, Pops, plain nuts."

Billed as 'World's Greatest'
During his second Chicago period, Mr. Armstrong doubled in Carroll Dickerson's Sunset Cabaret orchestra, with billing as the "World's Greatest Trumpeter." The proprietor of the Sunset was Joe Glaser, who became Mr. Armstrong's personal manager and acted in that capacity for the rest of his life. Mr. Glaser died on June 6, 1969.

In that Chicago period, Mr. Armstrong began to make records under his own name, the first being "My Heart," recorded Nov. 12, 1925. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (and later Hot Seven) recorded, over a three-year span, a series of jazz classics, with Earl (Fatha) Hines on the piano. These records earned Mr. Armstrong a worldwide reputation, and by 1929, when he returned to New York, he had become an idol in the jazz world.

While playing at Connie's Inn in Harlem, Mr. Armstrong also appeared on Broadway in the all- Negro review "Hot Chocolates," in which he introduced Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin,'" his first popular-song hit. (He later appeared as Bottom in "Swingin' the Dream," a short-lived travesty on "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Over the years he appeared in many movies, including "Pennies From Heaven," "A Song Is Born," "The Glenn Miller Story" and "High Society.")

For several years, Mr. Armstrong "fronted" big bands assembled for him by others. By 1932, the year he was divorced from Lil Hardin Armstrong, he had become so popular in Europe, via recordings, that he finally agreed to tour the Continent.

It was while he was starring at the London Palladium that Mr. Armstrong acquired the nickname Satchmo. A London music magazine editor inadvertently invented the name by garbling an earlier nickname, Satchelmouth.

One for the King
While he was in London, Mr. Armstrong demonstrated memorably that he had little use for the niceties of diplomatic protocol.

During a command performance for King George V, Mr. Armstrong ignored the rule that performers are not supposed to refer to members of the Royal Family while playing before them and announced on the brink of a hot trumpet break, "This one's for you, Rex."

(Many years later in 1956, Satchmo played before King George's granddaughter, Princess Margaret. "We're really gonna lay this one on for the Princess," he grinned, and launched into "Mahogany Hall Stomp," a sort of jazz elegy to a New Orleans bordello. The Princess loved it.)

One of Mr. Armstrong's pre-World War II European tours lasted 18 months. Over the years his tours took him, to the Middle East and the Far East, to Africa and to South America. In Accra, Ghana, 100,000 natives went into a frenzied demonstration when he started to blow his horn, and in Leopoldville, tribesmen painted themselves ochre and violet and carried him into the city stadium on a canvas throne.

His 1960 African tour was denounced by the Moscow radio as a "capitalist distraction," which made Mr. Armstrong laugh.
"I feel at home in Africa," he said during the tour. "I'm African-descended down to the bone, and I dig the friendly ways these people go about things. I got quite a bit of African blood in me from my grandmammy on my mammy's side and from my grandpappy on my pappy's side."

Played With Big Bands
Before the war, Mr. Armstrong worked with several big bands, including the Guy Lombardo orchestra, concentrating on New Orleans standards such as "Muskrat Ramble" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and on novelties such as "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You." He did duets with Ella Fitzgerald and he accompanied Bessie Smith.

After 1947 he usually performed as leader of a sextet, working with such musicians as Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Joe Bushkin and Cozy Cole. He was a favorite at all the jazz festivals, in this country and abroad.

Mr. Armstrong lost track of the number of recordings he made, but it has been estimated there as many as 1,500. Dozens have become collectors' items.

The jolly Mr. Armstrong was quite inured to his fame as a jazz immortal. Not too many years ago, he was interviewed backstage by a disk jockey who began with the announcement, "And now we bring you a man who came all the way from New Orleans, the Crescent City, to become a Living American Legend." The Living American Legend, who was changing his clothes, dropped his trousers and began the interviews with the observation, "Tee hee!"

"Tee hee" was part of a uniquely Armstrong vocabulary, which included Satchmo-coined words such as "commercified" and "humanitarily." In his speech he arbitrarily inserted hyphens in the middle of words ("ar-tis-try" and "en-ta-TAIN-uh") and, unable to remember names too well, peppered his conversations with friends and interviews with salutations such as "Daddy" and "Pops."

Despite the hard life he led--traveling most of the time, sleeping too little, living out of suitcases, eating and drinking too much or not enough--Mr. Armstrong, even into his 60's, was still going strong. His chest was broad and powerful, and his 5-foot-8-inch frame carried a weight that varied between 170 and 230 pounds.

He was, however, keenly aware of his health. "I'm one of them hy-po-CHON-dree-acs," he would say with a delighted laugh. He was afraid of germs and always carried his trumpet mouthpiece in a carefully folded handkerchief in his back pocket. He liked to talk at length about his physic, a herbal mixture called Swiss Kriss, while at the same time he recounted how unwisely he sometimes ate, especially when his favorite food, New Orleans-style red beans and rice, was set before him.

Although in latter years he suffered from a kidney ailment, Mr. Armstrong's greatest worry was chronic leukoplakia of the lips, what amounted to a tough corn that resulted form blowing his horn. He used a special, imported salve to soothe his lips.

"If you don't look out for your chops and pipes," he said, "you can't blow the horn and sing. Anything that'll get in my way doin' that, out it goes. That trumpet comes first, before everything, even my wife. Got to be that way. I love Lucille, man, but she understands about me and my music."

He was referring to the former Lucille Wilson, whom he married in 1942.
He loved all forms of music. When asked what he thought of the country-and-Western and folk music so favored by the young, he replied, "Pops, music is music. All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song."

Some Negro militants criticized Mr. Armstrong for his earthy speech and his habit of rolling his eyes and flashing his toothy grin while performing. They said he was using stereotyped characteristics of the happy-go-lucky Negro and playing the Uncle Tom. Mr. Armstrong ignored the charges.

Comment on Selma
Nevertheless, Mr. Armstrong, on learning in 1965 that the police in Selma, Ala., had taken violent action against freedom-marching Negroes in that city, told an interviewer:

"They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched. Maybe I'm not in the front line, but I support them with my donations. My life is in my music. They would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn't be able to blow my horn."

For many years, Mr. Armstrong refused to perform in New Orleans, his hometown, because of segregation there. He did not return until 1965, after passage of the Civil Rights Act. On that occasion he triumphantly played with an integrated band in the city's Jazz Museum.

Reflecting on his more than 50 years as a musician, Mr. Armstrong said, "There ain't going to be no more cats in this music game that long."

There was no doubt that he was the most durable of the great jazzmen, nor that millions of people held him in great affection. His fellow musicians, many of whom were influenced by his artistry, looked upon him with awe.

Miles Davis, a contemporary jazz star, has asserted that "you can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played." Teddy Wilson, who played piano with Mr. Armstrong in 1933, has called him "the greatest jazz musician that's ever been."

And Leonard Feather, the eminent jazz critic and author of "The Encyclopedia of Jazz," wrote of Mr. Armstrong:
"It is difficult. . .to see in correct perspective Armstrong's contribution as the first vital jazz soloist to attain worldwide influence as trumpeter, singer, entertainer, dynamic show business personality and strong force in stimulating interest in jazz.

"His style, melodically and harmonically simple by the standards of later jazz trends, achieved in his early records an unprecedented warmth and beauty. His singing, lacking most of the traditional vocal qualities accepted outside the jazz world, had a rhythmic intensity and guttural charm that induced literally thousands of other vocalists to imitate him, just at countless trumpeters through the years reflected the impact of his style.

"By 1960, Armstrong, set in his ways, improvised comparatively little; but he retained vocally and instrumentally many of the qualities that had established him, even though entertainment values, but his own admission, meant more to him than the reaction of a minority of musicians and specialists."

As for Mr. Armstrong, it was pleasing his listeners that really mattered.
"There's three generations Satchmo has witnessed," he said, "the old cats, their children and their children's children, and they still all walk up and say, 'Ol' Satch, how do you do!' I love my audience and they love me and we just have one good time whenever I get up on the stage. It's such a lovely pleasure."

Mr. Armstrong is survived by his widow, the former Lucille Wilson, and by an adopted son, Clarence Hatfield of New York. He also leaves a sister, Mrs. Beatrice Collins of New Orleans and two half-brothers, Henry and William Armstrong, both of New Orleans. The Armstrongs' home in Corona was at 34-56 107th Street.

A funeral service will be held Friday at 1 P.M. at the Corona Congregational Church, 34th Avenue and 103d Street. Burial will be in the Flushing Cemetery.

The honorary pallbearers will include Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and Bobby Hackett.

Mrs. Armstrong requested that flowers and cards be omitted and said those wishing to do so could send contributions in her husband's memory to the Kidney Research Foundation and to the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, which promotes research on a disease that mainly afflicts blacks.

1 According to Gary Giddins, the author of "Satchmo," Armstrong's birth certificate shows that he was in fact born on Aug. 4, 1901.

Buy The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings At Amazon

Bootleg Friday: Postponed

Due to bandwidth issues and a lack of time to remedy them, I unfortunately have to postpone today's entry of Bootleg Friday until next week. However, it does mean that we will have two episodes next week to look forward to.

And to try to make it up to you, I'm going to give you some choice in what bootleg selections I put up next. Send me a comment and let me know what you want.

Here are the nominees:

Wilson Pickett - 2/10/69, Stockholm, Sweden
Tom Waits - 12/12/75, Minneapolis, MN
Leon Russell - 11/21/70, New York, NY
Prince - 2/10/83, Providence, RI
Elvis Costello - 7/7/78, San Francisco, CA
Van Morrison - 9/5/71, San Francisco, CA

Let your voice be heard!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Smashing The Pumpkins

There were three instances where I lost any interest I might have ever had in the Smashing Pumpkins. The first instance was at Roseland Ballroom in the fall of 1991, when I saw them on a triple bill, sandwiched between openers Pearl Jam and headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Pumpkins were not memorable at all, and because I had been hearing a lot of buzz on them, I walked out thinking, "What's so great about them?"

The second instance was at Lollapalooza in 1994, when they headlined and followed the Beastie Boys (dumb move to follow the Beasties). By this time, I had become a semi-fan, liking some of both Gish and Siamese Dream. But their set was so meandering, boring and self-indulgent that my friends and I left about five songs into it. And then finally, there was the moment I heard "Zero," the song that probably inspired emo's worst self-pitying indulgences, with lyrics like, "Emptiness is loneliness/and loneliness is cleanliness/And cleanliness is godliness/and god is empty just like me." After that, I was done with them - I became an official hater.

Now they're back. I got an advance copy of their latest, Tarantula, out next week, and it only confirms for me what I thought back in the day: Billy Corgan has far more ego than talent. I have very little idea of what he's now singing about, but all I get from listening is the sense that he's a somewhat frustrated man with little outlet for his empty and outsized gestures. There's no heart or spirit in his music, let alone soul, and watching and listening to him, I am relieved to say that I believe that history will eradicate any importance they may have once had. Hearing them now, they only seem silly.

When Soul Isn't Soulful

With the ascent of Amy Winehouse I’ve begun to see soul acts promoted in various places to a greater degree than in the recent past. One such act is Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators, a Finnish band led by an American soul singer, Nicole Willis. I have been hearing good things about them, but I’m sorry to write that their new album, Keep Reaching Up, is a big disappointment. It is music that approximates the sound of soul; vaguely funky drums, chunky rhythm guitar, anthemic horn lines punctuated by Willis’ retro-soul vocals. However, for a soul album to be successful, it needs to actually be soulful, and in this department the album is thoroughly lacking. There is little to no emotional resonance to be found here – nothing truly moving, affecting or sexy. Rather, it is a soul album for a lounge, something vaguely akin to musical wallpaper for a upscale bar or club while having a cocktail.

I look forward to hearing new soul artists emerge in the wake of Amy Winehouse’s success, but I hope that they get that the key to soul isn’t in approximately the sound of soul – it’s in actually laying bare your soul and sharing yourself with whoever is listening.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July, 2007

The biggest challenge for me in celebrating the 4th of July this year is separating my feelings about my country from my feelings about my government. Reading Bush's decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence is almost literally nauseating to me and makes the idea of watching a parade or waving a flag seem patently absurd. And that, in turn, is ridiculous of me. To allow myself to lose my own sense of patriotism and love of country because of the actions of George W. Bush and his cronies is a sacrifice of myself that I refuse to make. I am alive because of the refuge this country has been - my father's family came here to escape Antisemitism in Hungary at the turn of the last century, and my mother and her family barely escaped the Holocaust, literally getting on the last train out of Warsaw, Poland after the Nazis had invaded in September of 1939. When I see the flag, I see many things, chief among them gratitude. I get that that is not universal - gratitude may be far off the list of many who see the flag. But it's what I see, and it continue to provides me with a sense of promise for what this country can be.

So on this July 4th, I turn to what has always made me feel good about my country - the music, art and literature that it has produced - art that has often been inspired by America as both beautiful ideal and more complicated reality.

Download: Bruce Springsteen - "4th of July, Asbury Park" (7/31/73, Roslyn, NY)
Download: Gil Scott-Heron - "Winter in America"
Download: Chuck Berry - "Back In The U.S.A."
Download: Simon & Garfunkel - "America" (11/11/69, Oxford, OH)
Download: Bruce Springsteen - "Independence Day" (7/4/85, London, England)
Download: Little Steven - "I Am A Patriot" (11/21/93, New York, NY)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Request From My Readers

Turn me on to some new stuff! Specific songs, albums, etc. Give it up!