“As Digby Fairweather points out in his notes to the Avid set, you can hear Pops admonish Kenny John at the start of “Flee As A Bird.” John leads off with some drum theatrics before Pops comes in with “Flee As A Bird.” However, as soon as the band hits their first note, John unleashes a tremendous bomb, whacking his snare, bass and cymbal at the same time.
Pops stops the band and says, “Hold that there, son. You don’t hit no cymbal in a funeral. You’ll wake up the man up!” It’s a funny line but Armstrong obviously didn’t deliver to the audience to get a laugh as all you hear is some nervous tittering in the crowd, though Bigard sounds like he’s finding it all very humorous. Anyway, I think Armstrong was legitimately miffed at John but, professional that he was, tried making light of it. “
Since the Carolina concert occurred on May 8, it’s even more historically important because it captures one of John’s final days in the bands. As already discussed, Armstrong didn’t sound pleased with John’s playing on the “New Orleans Function” and he couldn’t have liked his incessant crashes, bangs and booms that occurred between every song.
Armstrong’s private tapes at the Armstrong Archives at Queens College has a tape that is undated but I researched some of the comments made on the tape to date around the early part of 1954. Armstrong is somewhere with his secretary/mistress “Sweets” and he’s venting about a fight he just had with his drummer, Kenny John (Armstrong doesn’t use his name, but like I said, I boiled the choices down and it couldn’t be anybody else).
“I told him, ‘You’re playing too fast, man,” Armstrong says. Later, he adds, “I caught up with him, still salty about what I said. I said, ‘Well, Finder you. I’m the leader, man.’ mess, and all backstage, we was getting ready to tie asses. I said, ‘I’m the leader and I’ll go down with this nice ship cause I’m playing right and you got to play it right.’ And everybody told him he was too fast. He’s got a nervous foot. He can’t play a slow tempo to save his life. I haven’t seen one tempo yet that he didn’t finish up faster. I dig all them drummers. They’re all nuts, motherfuckers. All of them, nuts.”
So in the case of Kenny John, Pops was fed up with his playing, his attitude, his drinking, everything and took matters into his own hands to get rid of him (nothing else is known about John’s post-Armstrong career, not even when he died).”