Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Louis Armstrong’s “Gut Bucket Blues”

[Due to technical difficulties, this article didn’t post on Friday they way it should have, which means that Louis Armstrong’s birthday was last week.  Ooops; my bad.  Sincere apologies for the delay.]

Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong!  This is the birthday week of one of the greatest figures in jazz, if not the greatest.  Born August 4, 1901, Armstrong would have been 114 years old this week.  Louis had always claimed his birth date to be July 4, 1900 and proudly celebrated his natals on the nation’s birthday, but recent research into New Orleans baptismal records indicates that he was really born 13 months later; in fact, he may not have known the correct date himself.  Jazz, on the other hand, may have been born in New Orleans among the whorehouses and saloons of Storyville, but it grew up in Chicago – during the Roaring Twenties – and the young Louis Armstrong was its greatest co-creator, performer and exponent.  He did that here, right in the middle of the Prohibition years, even as Route 66 was being born.

Known in his youth as ‘Dippermouth’ or ‘Satchelmouth’ for his big embouchure (the way a trumpeter’s or trombonist’s lips and facial muscles wrap around the stem of a brass instrument) and his even bigger smile, later as just ‘Satchmo’ or ‘Pops,’ or just plain Louie, Armstrong was a seminal figure in both Chicago and New York in the mid-to-late part of the decade.  The conscious evolution of his own playing style set the direction and shaped the development of jazz during its formative years and heavily affected other jazz musicians for decades to come.  Even now, Armstrong’s music remains strongly influential: nobody becomes a jazz musician or jazz vocalist of any worth without knowing and being influenced by the music of Louis Armstrong, even if indirectly.  The innovations he brought to jazz make it impossible to do otherwise.

What we have for you today is a recording that helped launch that big change in the direction of jazz:  a classic 12-bar blues that Armstrong improvised on the spot during a recording session for Okeh Records in Chicago on November 12, 1925, almost a year to the day before Route 66 came into existence in November 1926:  “Gut Bucket Blues.”  Banjoist Johnny St. Cyr described it as “a low down blues.”  In fact, we have two takes of the same song, recorded 32 years apart, for comparison – the original 1925 recording with a 24-year-old Armstrong and his newly formed Hot Five, and a 1957 version with his All Stars, made for the vinyl LP album set Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography on Decca Records (the latter has been remastered and reissued on CD within the last decade).

Louis Armstrong in 1953

Louis Armstrong in 1953  (Photo via of Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Rosemary Clooney

Greetings, fellow roadies and road music lovers!  It’s time for that Route 66 Song Of The Week, one of the multitudes of versions of our favorite travel anthem.  We really meant to put this one up last year around the time that George Clooney got married (hoping that he and his new bride would take the hint from George’s Aunt Rosie), but for some reason we never did, silly us.

Rosemary Clooney was the prototypical ‘girl singer’ of the World War II and postwar era.  There was always at least one attached to most big swing bands.  In the case of Benny Goodman, it was Peggy Lee.  Duke Ellington had Joya Sherrill and a few others.  Count Basie stuck with the guys most of the time – Jimmy Rushing and, later, Joe Williams – but Basie was atypical.  Rosie began her recording career in 1946 singing with Tony Pastor’s big band for Columbia Records.

Rosemary Clooney, head and shoulders, 1954

Rosemary Clooney in a 1952 publicity glamour photo.

Before that Rosie Clooney and her sister Betty, who grew up with their brother, newsman and broadcaster Nick Clooney (George’s dad) in Maysville, KY, about 60 miles southeast of greater Cincinnati, started singing locally on Cincinnati’s radio station WLW in 1945.  By 1951, she had a hit single on the pop music charts, “Come On-a My House,” which turned out to be the first of many hit recordings during the 1950s and 1960s.  She’s perhaps best known for having co-starred with Bing Crosby, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye in the musical film White Christmas, which featured the song of the same name, and for her many TV appearances during the 1950s and 1960s.  However, her career began to wane during the 1960s in part because of her bipolar disorder and drug addiction.  She also had a nervous breakdown in 1968 following her second divorce from actor José Ferrer (in 1967; she had divorced him the first time in 1961 and had remarried him in 1964), from which it took her some years to recover.

Her singing career got a reboot in 1976 when she signed with United Artists Records for two albums, then got a further boost in 1977 when Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him at a show marking his 50th anniversary in show business.  Starting that same year, she recorded an album a year for Concord Records, a jazz label.  She continued rrecording until her death in 2002.  What most of the younger (Gen X?) generation might remember, however, is her guest appearance with nephew George on the popular TV series ER in 1995 (in which George was one of the stars), for which she received an Emmy nomination the following year.

A lolngtime smoker, Clooney died from lung cancer.  This recording is from one of her later albums.  We hope you enjoy it.  It includes actress Dorothy Malone and Bobby Troup himself, author of our favorite Route 66 song.  Cheers!

Until next time,
your own DJ SweetMarie


Route 66 Christmas Song Of The Week:  Chicago has its own holiday song!!!

Hello there, fellow roadies!  Bet you didn’t know Chicago has its own seasonal song now, did you?  Actually, this baby will do for a general holiday song.  And since tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, we figured we’d better get our holiday greeting out there to everyone (don’t worry, Buddhists like me still celebrate Christmas and Saturnalia; Joe and Keith, on the other hand, are strictly Christmas guys).  Besides, I’m late in sending Hanukkah cards to my Jewish friends … but never mind that.

Cindy Lyn holiday close-up - blog (MRTraska)

Greetings of the Season (minus snow) at the Cindy Lyn Motel on Route 66, Cicero, IL

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Route 66 road music:  Duke Ellington on the road and Joliet’s Polka Mass-ters

Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s time for the Route 66 Song Of The Week, but we have an unusual entry for you this weekend, plus a recommendation for you jazz roadies out there. Let’s get to the second part first.

Tuesday, April 29th was the 115th anniversary of Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington’s birthday, and in honor of that celebration, I offer you an appropriately named a double-album set that I think you’ll love: All Star Road Band, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, originally recorded on the road (Volume 1 in Carrolltown, PA in June 1957 and Volume 2 in Chicago at the Holiday Ballroom on May 31, 1964) and released in 1964 on CBS Records.  Included here are particularly swinging versions of “Satin Doll” and “Take The A-Train” plus a spirited performance of “Such Sweet Thunder” that makes you think of Othello (from Duke’s 1957 album of tunes inspired by Shakespeare) and what must be the loveliest recording of the ballad “Isfahan” from Ellington’s The Far East Suite.  I first purchased this set some time during the 1970s or ’80s on vinyl as a Columbia double-album reissue, but it’s been reissued since on CD.  This set is enduring proof that Duke Ellington never forgot that his orchestra was first and foremost a dance band.  These road performances have given yours truly many years of listening pleasure, and I hope they do the same for you.

Here’s a clip with the track of “A Train” from Volume 1, guaranteed to keep you rocking and smiling even in the worst traffic jam.  Continue reading

Route 66 Song Of The Week: The Replacements, via Minneapolis

Hello again, fellow roadies!  IT’s that time of the week again, and here in Chicago, it’s a nippy evening after a sunny but cool day.  Looking forward to Easter Sunday, belatedly sending my Jewish friends Passover greetings (I always get that either too early or too late, darn it), and generally hoping that the tulips and daffodils start popping up soon.  Must need a few more April showers, I guess.

Anyway, our musical tribute this weekend comes in a roundabout way.  Some of you may know that Andrew Evans of NatGeo Traveler has just begun traveling down Route 66 form Chicago this week.  His Twitter feed (@WheresAndrew) has lots of entries for the last two days.  We’re glad he made it to Springfield, IL by evening for dinner at Saputo’s — but, like most non-Chicagoans, he figured there really wasn’t much to see between downtown Chicago (Noooooo!  Not again!!) and the city limits of Joliet, and so he skipped over most of what yours truly has been researching for almost three years.  Sigh … we knew there was a reason we’re writing this book, but honestly: you’d think more people would have caught on by now that they’re missing a lot in the metro area.

So, in honor of Andrew Evans, who may have missed a lot in metro Chicago even while he was techinically on the Route, this week’s rendition of our theme song comes from The Replacements, a garage-punk-alt-rock band that originated in Minneapolis, MN … which is way off the track of Route 66, but we applaud their hearty take anyway.  Listen in:

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Route 66 Song Of The Week twofer:  it’s Ray Charles and Kevin Mahogany!


Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s 68 bloody degrees F. here right now and sunny in Chicago — HELL yeah! — and it promises to be a high of 75 degrees tomorrow.  Excellent!  Must do something to celebrate that, so boy, have we got a treat for you today.  It’s a road music double-header.  Only the best from vocalists Ray Charles and Kevin Mahogany.  Can you say encoreOui, mes amis!

The clip from the versatile Mr. Charles is from the year 2000, by which time Ray’s voice wasn’t the best.  All those years of smoking had caught up with him.  The live performance is in Paris.  Ray made it to the gig at the Grand Olympia, but alas, three-quarters of his band was still in L.A., as in on another continent due to travel problems.  So what does a veteran performer do?  Why, he improvises like any a jazz or blues artist would.  He took a tune from his early playbook, when he was still trying to sound like Nat King Cole so that he could get nightclub bookings, and used it to give the audience a performance that felt like a small, intimate jazz club rather than a huge venue.  Only now he really sounds like himself, not Cole, particularly in the phrasing and expression.  There’s no mistaking who it is, even though at the beginning he starts with Nat’s classic piano lead-in.  It’s like a musical inside joke.  Needless to say, he wowed the crowd.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week for April 1st:  Nelson Riddle vs. The Simpsons (April Fool!)

In this very strange day and age, we suppose such a thing was inevitable.  But really, could there possibly be a face-off of any kind between the venerable but long-deceased Nelson Riddle, composer of the famous “Route 66 Theme,” and Matt Groening, creator of that terminally irreverent and irritating cartoon series, The Simpsons, an animated celebration of All Things Dumbed Down?  And if so, who would win?  If you could even call it a win.

The by now 25-year-old cartoon series featuring a family of misfits has been a vehicle of satire for its creator, cartoonist Matt Groening.  Groening was drawing a newspaper cartoon called Life In Hell for the alternative weekly Los Angeles Reader when writer and producer James L. Brooks contacted him about creating some short animated skits for his then-current TV program, The Tracy Ullman Show.  That’s where The Simpsons debuted.  The cartoons were spun off into a separate series in 1989, and the rest was TV history.  The Simpsons has been steadily mocking popular culture and modern life ever since.  And the theme music, written by TV and film music composer Danny Elfman, is a Jetsons-sounding bit of whimsy that is instantly recognized all over the world.  (Thus, the power of American media.)

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