Howard Armstrong (musician)
|Birth name||William Howard Taft Armstrong|
|Also known as||Louie Bluie|
|Born||March 4, 1909|
|Origin||Dayton, Tennessee, United States|
|Died||July 30, 2003
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
|Instruments||fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vocals|
|Years active||1920s – 1990s|
|Associated acts||The Tennessee Chocolate Drops
Martin, Bogan and Armstrong
Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong (March 4, 1909 – July 30, 2003) was an African American string band and country blues musician, who played fiddle, mandolin, and guitar and also sang. He was also a notable visual artist and raconteur.
William Howard Taft Armstrong was born in Dayton, Tennessee, and grew up in LaFollette, Tennessee. As a young teenager he taught himself to play the fiddle, and joined a band led by Blind Roland Martin and his brother Carl. They toured the United States performing a wide range of music, from work songs and spirituals through popular Tin Pan Alley tunes and foreign language songs.
In 1929 he recorded with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell. The following year he recorded in Knoxville for Vocalion Records, with his brother Roland Armstrong and Carl Martin, billed as the Tennessee Chocolate Drops. Adding guitarist Ted Bogan, the band toured as part of a medicine show and backed blues musicians such as Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. As Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, they also performed at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. In 1934 Armstrong and Bogan recorded "State Street Rag" and "Ted's Stomp" on the Bluebird label, with Armstrong using the stage name "Louie Bluie" which he had been given by a fan.
Although Armstrong's early recordings were in the style of country rags or blues, this was not his sole repertoire as a performer. According to his sometime accompanist, author Elijah Wald, his early theme song was the Gershwin standard "Lady Be Good", and his group's repertoire included a wide range of hit songs of the period, including Italian, Polish, Mexican and country songs which he would play to meet the varying demands of his audience.
After serving in World War II, Armstrong moved to Detroit and worked in the auto industry until 1971. With a revival of interest in oldtime African American music, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong reunited to perform. The band recorded, performed at clubs and festivals and went on a tour of South America sponsored by the U.S. State Department. They played together until Martin's death in 1979.
Around this time, both Armstrong and Bogan were contacted by Terry Zwigoff, a fan of their "State Street Rag" recording. Zwigoff's interest in Armstrong eventually blossomed into a one-hour documentary, Louie Bluie, released in 1985. Armstrong was later the subject of another documentary, Sweet Old Song. He continued to perform with a younger generation of musicians, and released his first solo album Louie Bluie on Blue Suit Records in 1995, earning him a W.C. Handy Award nomination.
Along with his music, Armstrong was an expert painter, designing album covers for his group and occasionally for other artists, including Elijah Wald. He also made necklaces from beads, pipe cleaners and "found objects." He also spoke several languages.
"Louie Bluie" (Blue Suit Records, 1995)
- Biography by Jason Ankeny at Allmusic
- Biography by Todd S. Jenkins at The Last Post
- Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta : Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues, 2004, ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2
- Tributes, Remembering Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong
- 1998 interview with Armstrong
- 2001 interview
- Howard Armstrong at Find-A-Grave
- Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival