This is a story about two Jazz musicians, two Country musicians and a Blues song.
On July 11, 1930, a headline in the Los Angeles, California newspaper – the California Eagle – proclaimed: “Louie Armstrong Famed Record Artist in City.”
The 28 year old New Orleans-born Jazz musician and entertainer had indeed made his first visit to the West coast, taking the train from New York City. Louis’ wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong (32 years old, Memphis, Tennessee-born and an accomplished Jazz pianist, recording artist, band leader and composer in her own right) had traveled with him to Los Angeles.
Louis Armstrong was scheduled to begin an extended engagement at The Cotton Club, one of the most popular Los Angeles-area nightclubs, located in the suburb of Culver City. He would be leading the New Sebastian Cotton Club Orchestra and the club was heralding Louis as “King of the Trumpet” and “The World’s Greatest Cornetist.”
On July 16, 1930 – the day before he opened at The Cotton Club – Louis and Lil Armstrong spent part of the day at Hollywood Recording Studios in Los Angeles. They went there to make a record with the reigning King of Country music – singer/guitarist Jimmie Rodgers.
Jimmie Rodgers (born September 8, 1897 in Pine Springs, Mississippi) had been recording at the Hollywood Studios since the 30th of June. The session on the 16th was the last of nine dates in July when Jimmie was in the studio. Jimmie Rodgers’ producer on all of these recording sessions was Victor Records’ Director of Artists & Repertoire, Mr. Ralph Peer.
Ralph Peer (born May 22, 1892 in Independence, Missouri) had first recorded the then-unknown Jimmie Rodgers on August 4, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee. Peer was working as a talent scout doing field recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Rodgers recorded two songs – “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep Baby, Sleep” – on the next-to-the-last day of 10 days of auditions and recording. These legendary sessions are now known simply as The Bristol Sessions.
Ralph Peer had known the Armstrongs even longer than he’d known Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1924, Ralph was working for OKeh Records. He met Louis and Lil in Chicago that year, probably around the time the couple got married. In 1925, Ralph Peer signed Louis Armstrong to his first recording contract while Louis was playing with the Fletcher Henderson band in New York. Peer then arranged for Louis to record with his own five-piece band, including Lil on piano, back in Chicago.
That band, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five gathered for its first recording session on November 12, 1925. From then until December of 1927, Louis and Lil played together with either His Hot Five or His Hot Seven on forty-eight recordings for OKeh Records. Lil Hardin composed several of the pieces these groups recorded, including “My Heart” – the first number cut by the Hot Five.
[OKeh Records were marketed by The Otto Heinemann Phonograph Corporation starting in September, 1918. OKeh Records established a “race records” series in 1922. Louis and Lil Armstrong had first recorded for that branch of OKeh in April, 1923 when they were members of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. OKeh Records was acquired by Columbia Records in November, 1926. “Race records” was a term that was used throughout the American record industry up to 1949.]
The song that Louis and Lil Armstrong would record with Jimmie Rodgers on July 16 was called “Blue Yodel No. 9 (Standin’ On The Corner).” Written by Rodgers himself, “Blue Yodel No. 9” bears a certain resemblance in some parts to two older songs: “Frankie And Johnny” and “The Bridwell Blues.”
There are some Folk music scholars who claim that the song “Frankie And Johnny” has been around since the Civil War or even earlier. On April 4, 1904, a song by Hughie Cannon called “He Done Me Wrong (The Death of Bill Bailey)” marked the first time that a melody similar to that of “Frankie and Johnny” appeared in print. The first time an actual song was published called “Frankie and Johnny” was on April 10, 1912. This song was credited to “Leighton Bros. and Ren Shields.” Jimmie Rodgers recorded his rendition of “Frankie and Johnny” under the title “Frankie And Johnnie” on August 10, 1929.
“The Bridwell Blues” was written by Nolan Welsh and Richard Jones. Baritone vocalist Welsh recorded the song in Chicago, Illinois for OKeh Records on June 16, 1926. Pianist Richard Jones and cornetist Louis Armstrong accompanied Welsh on the recording.
Here is “Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jimmie Rodgers with Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano and Louis Armstrong on trumpet.
When Victor Records released “Blue Yodel No. 9” on September 11, 1931, neither Lil or Louie were given credit on the record for their contributions. “Blue Yodel No. 9” would also be the last record that the not-so-happily married Armstrongs would make together.
It would not, however, be the last time Louis Armstrong would play “Blue Yodel No. 9.”
On October 28, 1970, 69-year-old Louis Armstrong was the special guest on that evening’s nationally televised broadcast of The Johnny Cash Show. For one of the numbers that he performed during the show, Louis sat down with the 37-year-old Cash (born February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas) and put together a rousing re-creation of “Blue Yodel No. 9.” Lil Hardin Armstrong’s piano part was played off-camera by Bill Walker, The Johnny Cash Show’s musical director.
[The Johnny Cash Show aired on ABC-TV starting on June 7, 1969. The fifty-eighth and final episode of this hour-long, prime time, music/variety program ran on March 31, 1971. Every show was taped before a live audience at the Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville, Tennessee.]
As you watch the video below and listen to this performance, keep these words of Louis Armstrong in mind: “When I pick up that horn, that’s all. The world’s behind me, and I don’t concentrate on nothin’ but it… That my livin’ and my life. I love them notes. That why I try to make ’em right.”
Louis Armstrong was born this day, August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His mother was Mary Ann Albert, his father was William Armstrong.
Louis Armstrong passed away on July 6, 1971.