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French Lick


Jazz legend Louis Armstrong sitting backstage

I hope you won’t consider this a commercial endorsement, but since the product in question hasn’t been marketed for over half a century, I’m probably in the clear. Pluto Water was the bottled version of natural sulfur springs commonly found throughout south-central Indiana. Taking the waters, it was once called. Good for what ails ya, it was once claimed.

I come by this association honestly. My childhood home in upstate New York was surrounded by many mineral spring spas popular in decades that long preceded me. Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, Richfield Springs.

Truth be told, next to maybe head cheese and canned plums, Pluto Water might be the most challenging consumable ever produced. Magnesium sulfate gives this magical potion the odor/aroma of rotten eggs, not that it ever dissuaded the fervent and the faithful. These waters are what initially gave French Lick and the nearby West Baden resort their reputation, and also provided convenient cover for years of illegal gambling.

West Baden had taken its name from the famous German spa Baden Baden. French Lick came by its name from the early trappers and traders, no matter what might be suggested by that ageless joke: Indiana, where South Bend is in the north, North Vernon is in the south and French Lick isn’t all it’s cranked up to be either.

The most famous spokesperson for Pluto Water was never featured in print ads, even while being a devoted user of the stuff since childhood. Louis Armstrong dedicated an entire suitcase to insure himself an ample supply for his many travels. There’s actually a picture of him in a dressing room backstage with a bottle of Pluto Water plainly visible to his left.

Appropriately, our travels in this episode will take us to Frenck Lick, Indiana in the summer of 1958 for a jazz festival unlike any other. For what we’re about to see or smell, you’ll need your imagination. And for what we’re about to hear, it couldn’t hurt. This is jazz performed live in 1958. It’s also good for what ails ya.

, Artist, Album, Time

And It Stoned Me, Van Morrison, Moondance, 4:33 

Pluto Water, Firesign Theater, Dope Humor, 5:49

Our Lady Of The Well, Jackson Browne, For Everyman, 3:39 

Diminuendo In Crescendo, Duke Ellington, At Newport ’56, 14:15

As Catch Can, Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Newport Jazz ’58, 3:58 

Little Girl, Barbara Carroll Trio, Self-titled, 3:07 

There’s A Big Wheel, Wilma Lee and Stoney, Big Midnight, 2:21 

I’m Movin’ On, Hank Snow, Country Legends, 2:49                       

Oh Lonesome Me, Don Gibson, Country Legends, 2:30     

I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, Roy Orbison, Orbison Sings Gibson, 2:45 

Oh Lonesome Me, Neil Young, After The Gold Rush, 3:49      

Angel Eyes, Four Freshmen, Collectors, 3:34 

La Paloma Azul, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Ballads, 6:06