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Thread: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Along with Yank Rachell ("Blues, Rags, & Stomps" #2 & 3), Howard Armstrong (1909-2003) was probably the most popular and influential of old blues-mandolin players, in part because both lived long lives and had long careers as musicians. Armstrong's first record was released in 1930, his last in 1995. He grew up in LaFollette,Tennessee, and had some formal musical training in school. With his brother, Roland, and Carl Martin, Howard Armstrong played mandolin and fiddle as a member of the Tennessee Chocolate Drops (such names -- "Hot Chocolate Revue", "Hot Fudge Band", etc. -- signalled that musicians were African-American, so that they would not be booked at, then turned away from a venue).

    Throughout the 1930's, Armstrong toured and recorded with both Carl Martin, who played mandolin, guitar, violin, and double bass, and the guitarist Ted Bogan, under the name Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong. (All of us at Mandolin Cafe would undoubtedly agree that every good three-person band should have two mandolinists.) They performed on their own, as well as backing other musicians including Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. Armstrong recorded briefly under the name "Louie Bluie.", This pseudonym was revived when the mandolinist and record collector, Terry Zwigoff, made a documentary film in 1985, called Louie Bluie. I've see no evidence that Armstrong himself used this pseudonym since the early 30's except when collaborating with Zwigoff.

    Howard Armstrong served in World War II, then worked in the auto plants of Detroit. After he retired in 1971, Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong reunited, touring and performing through the 1970's. In their early days, like many commercial musicians of the time, they had a wide repertoire that included blues, pop, jazz, old-time, and country music. Record companies, often based in New York, created artificial distinctions by not recording "blues" by "white" musicians or "hillbilly music" by "black" musicians, although some blues musicians were of European descent, and a great many African-American blues musicians were not such "pure" blues players as their recordings would suggest. Throughout his musical career, Armstrong's repertoire continued to show great variety. On many recordings and videos, Armstrong plays violin rather than mandolin. Rich DelGrosso teaches a couple of Armstrong's mandolin tunes in Mandolin Blues.

    In the film, Louie Bluie, Howard Armstrong comes across a real character, a storyteller and artist as well as musician. The movie is available on YouTube (in my country at least), and is enjoyable, informative, and sometimes off-colour. To the naive among us, be warned: don't believe everything the old guys tell you.

    Here is Howard Armstrong's classic "State Street Rag" from 1934 -- not "State Street Rage" as it's called on the website -- whatever rage Armstrong felt didn't come out in his music. As well, he's "Howard", not "Robert" as he's renamed on the YouTube headline. (If you can't connect, enter "State Street Rag, Louie Bluie Armstrong" into YouTube.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhbqDnHvtuY



    And here's a recording from Armstrong's later life, in which he plays the blues with the guitarist and singer, Nat Reese in 1995. (If you can't connect enter "Just A Dream Nat Reese & Louie Bluie" into YouTube.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YA7jiKgeYo

    "It's just music; you can't break it."

    Buffy Ste-Marie on experimenting with your sound.
    "On Reserve", CBC Radio.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Looking forward to hearing those videos when I get back to my computer & Ethernet tonight - right now I'm reading/typing this using phone 'data' (not wifi), a couple of videos could gobble up our entire month's worth of phone data.

    Anyway, I met Howard Armstrong in the late 1970s or early 1980s when he was a faculty member one year at the Fiddle Tunes festival in Port Townsend WA. It's been a long time & I don't remember all the details but I do remember that I liked his music, and he was a great guy & had a good sense of humor. He was there with an accompanist he called "LC" (or Elsie?) who, if I recall correctly, he said was his brother. Both were good musicians.

    Howard wasn't too pleased that they made him play acoustic though, at that festival, he said he preferred electric. That preference was a mystery to me until decades later when I finally tried an electric instrument, woohoo what a rush, so many more options for finesse with expressiveness. So, now I finally understand what Howard was saying. Although, of course, in his case he sounded just fine regardless of what instrument he was playing.

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    Anyway, I met Howard Armstrong in the late 1970s or early 1980s when he was a faculty member one year at the Fiddle Tunes festival in Port Townsend WA. It's been a long time & I don't remember all the details but I do remember that I liked his music, and he was a great guy & had a good sense of humor. He was there with an accompanist he called "LC" (or Elsie?) who, if I recall correctly, he said was his brother. Both were good musicians.

    Howard wasn't too pleased that they made him play acoustic though, at that festival, he said he preferred electric. That preference was a mystery to me until decades later when I finally tried an electric instrument, woohoo what a rush, so many more options for finesse with expressiveness. So, now I finally understand what Howard was saying. Although, of course, in his case he sounded just fine regardless of what instrument he was playing.
    Thanks. I had the pleasure of hearing Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong at the 1975 Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, and thoroughly enjoyed them. A great many early blues musicians started out acoustic, then went electric, which was especially important for volume when playing bars, then went acoustic again when they were "re-discovered" by folk and blues revivalists. In fact, some blues players had different repertoires and instrumentation for their black and white audiences. Again, many of these people were commercial musicians, and played what paid. In the director's commentary to the documentary, Louie Bluie, Terry Zwifoff points out another issue. He was trying to get the musicians to reproduce their early sound. He said this especially irritated Ted Bogan. Zwifoff said something to the line of, I can't blame him; he spent his whole life learning chords, and I'm asking that he play like he did as a less skilled musician.

    Enjoy the videos.
    "It's just music; you can't break it."

    Buffy Ste-Marie on experimenting with your sound.
    "On Reserve", CBC Radio.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Zwigoff's film was among my earliest influences for plectrum banjo - Ikey Robinson who is a hoot. It's a most potent instrument for entertaining - became my primary for about a decade.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    ... A great many early blues musicians started out acoustic, then went electric, which was especially important for volume when playing bars, then went acoustic again when they were "re-discovered" by folk and blues revivalists. In fact, some blues players had different repertoires and instrumentation for their black and white audiences. Again, many of these people were commercial musicians, and played what paid. In the director's commentary to the documentary, Louie Bluie, Terry Zwifoff points out another issue. He was trying to get the musicians to reproduce their early sound. He said this especially irritated Ted Bogan. Zwifoff said something to the line of, I can't blame him; he spent his whole life learning chords, and I'm asking that he play like he did as a less skilled musician. ...
    Good points.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Martin, Bogan & Armstrong used to come down to Iowa City and play the Mill Restaurant frequently in the early 70s when I was in college. I shared a house across the street form the Mill & was disappointed for 15 minutes that I heard them the first time, because they weren't the Chicago Blues band that I expected. Fortunately my first beer lasted 20 minutes, and after that I stayed until they closed the place down and caught them every chance I could get. Always left their gig with a smile.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    The only Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong song that I have learned to date is the 'Barnyard Dance'.
    "Those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well." - Bruce Cockburn

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Quote Originally Posted by Teak View Post
    The only Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong song that I have learned to date is the 'Barnyard Dance'.
    Thanks. "Barnyard Dance" is a fun song that illustrates the fact that Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong strayed pretty far from blues. There are a few versions on YouTube, but not with M,B,& A playing. A few of their CD's are available for sale online.
    "It's just music; you can't break it."

    Buffy Ste-Marie on experimenting with your sound.
    "On Reserve", CBC Radio.

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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    So glad you posted the link to the film!
    Jim Y

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    Anyway, I met Howard Armstrong in the late 1970s or early 1980s when he was a faculty member one year at the Fiddle Tunes festival in Port Townsend WA. It's been a long time & I don't remember all the details but I do remember that I liked his music, and he was a great guy & had a good sense of humor. He was there with an accompanist he called "LC" (or Elsie?) who, if I recall correctly, he said was his brother. Both were good musicians.
    JL277z and I have already established in personal messages that Howard Armstrong did play with his brother, L.C. Armstrong. But if others are interested, if you look at the video for "Blues, Stomps, & Rags #8", you'll see a picture at 2:07 of a man playing the guitar. The fine print above the picture says that he's "L. C. Armstrong, Howard's brother." The picture immediately preceding shows Howard on fiddle, and his brother Roland with a homemade bass that their father made. The little lads were his other brothers.
    "It's just music; you can't break it."

    Buffy Ste-Marie on experimenting with your sound.
    "On Reserve", CBC Radio.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Blues, Stomps, and Rags #7

    Back in the early 80's I attended a week long Augusta Heritage workshop with Howard. Well it was supposed to be Howard but Rich Delgrosso did most of the teaching. Howard would show up when he wanted and tell stories, teach a few tunes now and then and so on. He was a very smart, funny and charming gentleman. I still play "Dupree and Betty" and " State Street Rag" that he taught us.
    The stories though were what really made the experience special.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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