Louis 'Country and Western' Armstrong

Louis 'Country and Western' Armstrong

Armstrong's last studio album was also one of his oddest - an collection of Country and Western standards recorded in New York City on August 3-6, 1970 with some of Nashville's finest session musicians. Although one commentator has indicated that the instrumental tracks were recorded in Nashville with vocal tracks overdubbed later, it is clear from photographic and media evidence the musicians were flown up to NYC to record together with Armstrong.

While the motivation for the project was almost certainly more pecuniary than artistic, it's not an entirely unsatisfying collection, as the recording of "Almost Persuaded" linked on this page can attest. And Pops could certainly find an accommodation with country musicians, as this television performance of "Blue Yodel" with Johnny Cash demonstrates. It's an acquired taste, and an example that few subsequent jazz musicians seemed inclined to follow. But the effort was certainly in keeping with musical currents of the day that saw Country music making its way in the American pop mainstream.

A reporter from the Houston Post (which was merged into the Houston Chronicle in 1995) was at the sessions and filed a report that appeared in the 12 November 1970 edition.

Jeannie Ackerman, wife of session drummer Willie Ackerman, was at the sessions and her son, Trey, shared some of her recollections for this site:

The recording studio was a funky, funky building in New York. An old building like a warehouse. We had to take a freight elevator upstairs, I don't know how many floors, to get to the studio. Some of the walls in the studio had that old paper egg-carton like treatment for sound-proofing. It wasn't fancy at all. Not like RCA or some of the other studios in Nashville as I was expecting for someone like Louis Armstrong. Wish I could remember the name of the place. Lucille, Louis' wife, came to every recording session. Also, Louis had an old, thin, jewish doctor with a bald spot on his head that stayed near them the whole time. The doctor was more than just a doctor though, he was like a really good friend to them as well. They recorded the tracks there for three days. I really wanted to stay longer so we could see more sites. But, there was never more than 6 or 7 retakes of any song and Louis never blew his horn once. He only sang.

I was the only wife that went and Louis' wife Lucille was really, really friendly, a real sweetheart of a lady, and we just hit it off right from the start. Everybody was having their picture made with Louis but, I was too bashful to ask to have my picture made with either of them so, I had one made with your dad while holding a signed photo of Louis instead. We stayed in a hotel in midtown Manhattan across from the YWCA, which didn't have any blinds on their windows. The musicians bought a pair of binoculars so they could see the girls running around the YWCA. It was funny as all get out! The jokes and them teasing each other never stopped.

A couple of months later when they came to Nashville for the Johnny Cash show, I guess to promote the album, I went out to the airport to meet them. They were so thrilled to see me. Lucille said, "I'm so glad you're here. You're the only face I know." I was really suprised nobody else came out to meet them. It was Louis, Lucille and the old Jewish doctor. And did you know it, Lucille later told me someone put them in a damned old partially-segregated motel downtown by the Capitol building in what was then a rough, red-light district. I was so embarassed for Nashville when Lucille was telling me about their motel and that they had no hot water. It didn't make any difference how famous Louis Armstrong was. Sadly, it was still like that back then in the south. I know it wasn't Johnny Cash's people that put them there. Johnny would have been so upset if he knew.

On the day of the show, I met Lucille and the doctor backstage at the Ryman Auditorium before Louis' appearance. Lucille said Louis was in the dressing room and to come on in, he wanted to see me. He was sitting in front of an old makeup table with a mirror and lights. He was wearing a white dress shirt, with a white dinner napkin tucked in around his neck and white boxer shorts. He had skinny, skinny legs sticking our of those boxers with black dress socks on his feet and some kind of garter that held his socks up. I was a little embarrassed to see Louis in his boxers but, it didn't bother the doctor, Lucille or Louis so, I didn't let on. Louis got up from his chair, came over and gave me a great big hug then kissed me right on the lips! He had something sticky on his lips and I said, "Louis, what in God's name do you have all over your lips that is so sticky!?" Everyone laughed and Louis said with his great big smile full of teeth and that wonderful gruff voice, "Ohhh, it's just my glycerin and beeswax."

A little while later me, Lucille and the doctor sat in about the second row from the stage. When Louis finally walked out on stage, all the symphony string players started tapping their bows on their music stands, the horn players and other musicians started applauding! It was really quite a moment to see the love those wonderful musicians had for Louis.

Jeannie and Willie Ackerman
Louis working on arrangements with Larry Butler (on piano) and Billy Grammer (foreground)
(from left) Larry Butler, Jack Clement, Louis Armstrong, Willie Ackerman, Henry Strzelecki, Stu Basore; (seated) Billy Grammer, Jack Eubanks
Houston Post article on the sessions