Sweet Old Song
March 21, 2003 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Sweet Old Song. '91-year-old Howard 'Louie Bluie' Armstrong has two great loves: his music and artist Barbara Ward. Their artistic and musical collaboration brings to life nearly a century of African-American experience.'
View a gallery of Howard and Barbara Ward Armstrong's art, and read a bit about their personal histories here. Take a look at the illustrated children's book they have collaborated on here.
posted by plep (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In 1986, Terry Zwigoff (director of Crumb) made a documentary about Armstrong called "Louie Bluie". It was pretty good.

However, in the film, Zwigoff spends a bit of time highlighting Louie's illustrated sex/porn book which he has been working on for decades. It was fascinating and I wish that they'd made a documentary just on the book. Check out the film on video if you can find it.
posted by dobbs at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2003 [1 favorite]

He first recorded in 1928, and is on Violin, Play The Blues For Me, which as you can tell from the notes alone is a sumptous package--note the Terry Zwigoff interview about him there.

The career of Howard Armstrong embraces a wide spectrum of African-American secular music, combining the older sounds of minstrel shows, country dances, and ragtime with newer influences such as vaudeville, blues, and jazz. Armstrong was born in 1909, and raised in LaFollette, Tennessee with eight brothers and sisters who all performed in the family chorus and string band. In a conversation with filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, he described his early love of the fiddle:
And now, I was happy for a while, playing my old daddy's potato-bug mandolin. But one day there was a blind man who came to town from Knoxville playing the fiddle, named Roland Martin. He'd show up at the coal mines on payday and play for the workers and pass the hat around. He could play those old country tunes like Turkey in the Straw, Sourwood Mountain, and Downfall of Paris and make classics out of 'em! When I heard that I didn't want too much more to do with the mandolin. The fiddle, that was my instrument, I wanted to learn to play! And so, my dad didn't have money to buy me a violin. So, he took a goods box and a pocket knife and carved me one. Cut me out a little fiddle. I wish I had it today. It was a very neat instrument and it had a nice tone. And I ran a nag a half a day to get the hair off the tail to make the bow. He made me the bow with one of my mother's curtain sticks, you know. And so, I started whittlin' away on the fiddle.
Armstrong formed a string band with Roland Martin and Martin's half-brother Carl, and the trio made a single record in 1930 when Brunswick-Vocalion held a session in Knoxville. Using the name Tennessee Chocolate Drops, they laid down a lush instrumental entitled Vine Street Drag, with a tune based loosely on the old hillbilly song Bully of the Town. Here, Armstrong turns in a richly modulated performance on violin and Carl Martin contibutes especially fine bowing on the double bass. In 1934, Armstrong (using his newly-acquired pseudonym) joined guitarist Ted Bogan in Chicago to record for Victor's Bluebird label. Louie Bluie and Ted Bogan performed a fiddle-guitar duet they called Ted's Stomp, a tune that highlights Bogan's skillful flat picking, while Armstong turns loose his arsenal of bowing techniques (embellished with pizzicato), making this performance an outright tour de force. As Bogan later remarked, "The guy told us if we played any faster, the thing would catch on fire!"

He is, along with Robert Jr. Lockwoood, Henry Townsend and Devid Edwards, one of the handful of the first generation left alive. I don't know about Townsend, but Lockwood still plays as does Edwards. If they come to your town, see them.
posted by y2karl at 7:35 AM on March 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

eek, that's David Edwards, or more popularly, David "Honeyboy" Edwards.
posted by y2karl at 7:36 AM on March 22, 2003

Great post, plep! And y2karl - thanks for the additional info. I am supposedly working today, but guess not much of that is going to happen now as I go off on this stuff. Thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:54 AM on March 22, 2003

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