Sunday, April 14, 2019


I absolutely loathe this song. Or at least in the iteration it is best known, the version that ruined weeks and weeks and weeks of my childhood, spoiling my Top of the Pops viewing by being number one forever, or seeming to be. Louis bloody Armstrong, gurning away to the camera, all grimaces and duff notes, perpetually mopping his brow. How could anyone sweat that much? And as for the "woahhhhh yeaaaaaah" at the end. Dreadful, and still able to bring me out in hives. Now, don't get me wrong, I was probably about 10 years old, how was I to know that this buffoon was one of the seminal voices of jazz, albeit via a trumpet than his frayed vocal cords? I know all that now and respect the dude but still cannot allow myself much to like him. (And don't get me started on 'Hello Dolly'........)

But you know, it isn't actually a bad song. Or at least is capable of being made into quite a good song. There have been very many covers, many of which are clearly tributes to the original and, broadly, unnecessary. Then there are the standard make-overs in the idiom of the day. And others that are just downright odd. As in, what were they thinking? (I think a look in the eyes of the performers might just answer that question.)

But here are trio that, I believe, pass muster.

You could say this is just another idiom of the day offering, but you will have to understand the amount of love I have for this venerable performer, the sadly late Rico Rodriguez. This pillar of reggae trombone delighted me for many of his decades of activity in music. I probably first came across him on, again, Top of the Pops, he always present, alongside sidekick Dick Cuthell, on flugelhorn, whenever the Specials had a song in the chart. I later understood he had been an original in the early days of ska and reggae, in Jamaica, associated with the Skatalites, ahead of becoming an occasional member of Georgie Fame's Blue Flames in the 60s. His latter days were spent as a focal member of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, his solo spots always getting fond applause, even if eventually did little other than hold his trombone and sing a little. (Come to think of it, were I to witness, as a 10 year old, these performances, him as a grey bearded ancient, I wonder too whether I would have a similar opinion as I do now of Satchmo?)

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John is a serious fan of Armstrong and his legacy, producing a whole album in tribute to him. And it is a corker, start to finish, all tempered with the loose N'Awlins swing for which Rebennack is rightly lauded. This version also featured the Blind Boys of Alabama, vocal staples of a gospel and r'n'b sensibility since the cusp of the 40s. Having started off as a session man, a member of the fabled Wrecking Crew, Dr John invented himself as voodoo shaman, the Night Tripper, in 1968. However, he has perhaps become now more associated as a custodian and standard bearer for the musical pot-pourri that is his home city, often working with other vintage names from the heritage of New Orleans. His live shows remain a thing of wonder.

Finally I offer the majesty that is the vocal of Robert Wyatt. I apologise for each of my three choices having grey and grizzled beards; such now is the territory of musical iconography. Wyatt is another with a long lineage harking back into the 60s, initially as the drummer for proto-jazz-proggers Soft Machine and then his own band, Matching Mole. Following a terrible accident, in which he broke his back, he has become an elder statesman of a politically-hued brand of often unclassifiable blends of jazz, latin and all else available, both on his own and in any number of collaborations. And the odd hit single. This version of the song is the closing track on a wonderful 3 hander, alongside saxman, Gilad Atzmon and violinist Ros Stephen. This distils all the kitsch out of Armstrong's version, leaving a lighter sweetness that doesn't cloy on repeated. I love it.


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