Q: While I enjoyed your recent answer about “The East St. Louis Blues,” I’d like you to know that in the 1920s Duke Ellington recorded a song called “The East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.”
Bestine Tourijigian, of East St. Louis, et al.
A: Sometimes I just can’t win. Usually I’m accused of overstuffing my columns with irrelevant and arcane details. So, of course, the one time I decide to omit something because it doesn’t quite match the question, I get a half-dozen calls and emails (which I really appreciated, don’t get me wrong).
You’ll have to trust me that I am a particular fan of “The East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” because in 1974, one of my all-time favorite groups — Steely Dan — put it on its “Pretzel Logic” album. In fact, it was the only instrumental that the three-time Grammy winner would ever record on an album, according to music historians.
But as you note, it originally was written by Ellington and trumpeter Bubber Miley way back in 1926. It would become Ellington’s first charting single when Ellington, 27, redid it in March 1927 for Columbia Records under the moniker Duke Ellington and His Washingtonians. Some say it was Ellington’s original theme song.
For Steely Dan’s update, Walter Becker used a talk box to re-create the sound of Miley’s muted trumpet while Jeff “Skunk” Baxter used his pedal steel guitar to do the trombone. Ironically, three months after “Pretzel Logic” was released in February 1974, Ellington died of lung cancer and pneumonia at age 74. And, sadly, Walter Carl Becker died just last month at age 67.
You can enjoy both versions at www.YouTube.com.