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Tracks Unwrapped

Sugar Foot Blues (Stomp)


Sugar Foot Blues was recorded by Fletcher Henderson's Band in 1925. It had started out with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band as Dippermouth Blues in 1923, the tune variously credited to both King Oliver and Louis Armstrong (one of whose nicknames was, of course, 'Dippermouth'). We read: 'Armstrong plays second cornet on the April 6, 1923, recording, with Honoré Dutrey on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin on piano, Baby Dodds on drums and Bill Johnson on banjo and vocal. Oliver's plunger mute solo on first cornet became one of the most frequently-imitated solos of his generation ... The song is a strong example of the influence of the blues on early jazz. There is a twelve-bar blues harmonic progression, with frequent bent notes and slides into notes'.

Listen to King Oliver's 1923 version.





We hear someone call out 'Oh play that thing!', a call that has stayed with Dippermouth Blues recordings ever since. There has been Bud Scottdebate about who initially made that call, with claims that it was either Bill Johnson or Bud Scott. Similarly there seem to be debates about whether Johnson was playing bass or banjo on the recordings.

Bud Scott


Ricky Riccardi analyses the options in a detailed article (click here) and quotes this passage from The Baby Dodds Story: 'as told by the drummer himself: “On one number I was caught very unsettled. That was ‘Dippermouth Blues'. I was to play a solo and I forgot my part. But the band was very alert and Bill Johnson hollered ‘Play that thing!’ That was an on-the-spot substitution for the solo part which I forgot. And that shows how alert we were to one Bill Johnsonanother in the Oliver band. The technician asked us if that was supposed to be there and we said no. However, he wanted to keep it in anyway and ever since then every outfit uses that same trick, all because I forgot my part.”


Bill Johnson


'During Armstrong's tenure in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the song was recorded on May 29, 1925 in a new arrangement by Don Redman under the title Sugarfoot Stomp. After his departure, the Henderson Orchestra recorded the tune again as Sugarfoot Stomp on March 19, 1931'.

In The Oxford American Magazine, Cynthia Shearer writing in 2015 about Fletcher Henderson, said of his 1925 recording:

'If Henderson’s men had something to say, they had to say it with their instruments. This is why those solos often achieved the power of human voice, clarinets bubbling up out of the bass line to exchange witticisms with the trumpets. A tuba would burp along amiably, then suddenly assert its right to pontificate. “Sugarfoot Stomp” (1925) runs like a souped-up Model T with a creaky carburetor, syncopating about a half-hitch too fast. You can hear all the way into the future on that side: a barely containable twenty-three-year-old Louis Armstrong and a twenty-year-old Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone, each already in possession of a singular instrumental voice, with Billie Holiday’s dad, Clarence, keeping it all glued together with guitar. The effect is rollicking and wonderfully crunk'.


Here is Fletcher Henderson and Sugar Foot Stomp - 'Oh play that thing' is still in there..




The meaning of Sugar Foot (Sugarfoot) is generally seen as a 'term of endearment', and used towards either men or women. The Urban Dictionary says: 'Sugarfoot is a term for a sweetheart. A kind soul, who is a solid female friend and always has your back. When apart (in prison, across states/countries, down the street) she is the one you think of and its good feelings all over. You know, the kind that are all warm and fuzzy.  Also, the kind of girl that will put money on your books and/or send you care packages to show you she cares and you are not forgotten. "I got a letter and a package from my sugarfoot today. That girl deserves the world, she's such an angel"


Perhaps you wouldn't expect Sugarfoot Stomp at an English Pontin's Holiday Camp but here is Italy's "King of Swing" - Emanuele Urso and his Orchestra playing at Pakefield in 2013.




Another unexpected version comes from the Ukraine. This video is from the 2017 show 'The Jazz Age' and features the Shiny Stocking Chorus Line. Sugarfoot Stomp follows their rendition of Oliver/Ellington's Creole Love Call:






Sugarfoot Western



We still haven't quite sorted out the meaning of 'Sugarfoot'. 'Sugar' is well used for someone who is 'sweet', but what has that to do with a 'foot'? I haven't had much luck in answering that question. The name does appear again in a different context in the 1950s where it came to the big and small screens in two Westerns.

A television series 'Sugarfoot' featured a young correspondence-law student who travelled west in search of adventure. He was given the nickname 'sugarfoot' as he was one level below a 'tenderfoot'.

The 1951 movie 'Sugarfoot' was adapted from a Western novel by Clarence Budington Clelland and featured Randolph Scott 'streaking across the screen in a swirl of gunsmoke and glory'. Neither featured the jazz tune, but the use of the word 'tenderfoot' might help as that dates back to the mid 1800s in America and was used to describe a newcomer to the ranching and mining regions, unused to hardships.

It only helps, perhaps, in the way 'foot' has been added to the word 'sugar'.





Emanuele Urso might be Italy's 'King Of Swing' but we should not ignore Benny Goodman's version of Sugarfoot Stomp. There two very different versions. The first from 1937 has a smooth dancefloor approach and features a roll call of jazz musicians of the day:





The second version, from 1943, after Gene Krupa, Jess Stacy, Allan Reuss and Hymie Shertzer had returned to the band, is taken at speed:




Back to the screen and another emergence of 'Sugarfoot', this time in Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker cartoons of 1954. This Sugarfoot is a horse - and once again, a 'sweetheart'. The only footage of Hay Rube that I could find seems to be dubbed in Swedish, but with a cartoon, I guess it doesn't matter too much. Sugarfoot appears again, updated, in later Woody Woodpecker cartoons that are, you guessed it, Westerns, such as Wild Bill Hiccup.




As the tune and the story evolves so do performances. There are countless versions of Dippermouth Blues, so here is Wynton Marsalis and the Original Liberty Brass Jazz Band playing Dippermouth Blues in 1990:






and here is a snatch where Dippermouth Blues emerged in the 2009 Disney film The Princess And The Frog:




Oh play that thing!


Paul Adams at Lake Records argues that the calling out of 'Oh, play that thing' might not be as clear as first thought ....

'I take Baby Dodds’ explanation of how that exclamation came about with a pinch of salt. If you listen to the first recording of the tune on 6 April 1923 Baby Dodds is clearly expecting a break, but not a drum one because he brings the band to a stop with a choked cymbal crash. The cry then follows perfectly in time and doesn’t sound like someone who has wondered why the drum break hasn’t come. Another take doesn’t seem to have been made to correct the mistake. The second recording of the tune on 23 June 1923 sees the tune played at a faster tempo and exactly the same thing happens. They clearly didn’t remake it to correct Dodds’ error on 6 April. He doesn’t emphasise the break in the same way. Perhaps, if it was an error they decided it was a good one and the reason for the remake was to have a brisker tempo. Perhaps King Oliver’s ego liked the idea of someone shouting at the end of one of his solo pieces. We’ll probably never know, but my feeling is that it was intended from the start'.


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