IMPERIAL 5082; JUNE 1950

 
 

 

After two songs that each used to same basic piano licks as their foundation, leading you to believe that even as good as they were he might be fairly limited artistically, New Orleans piano man Archibald delivers something different.

Though it doesn’t approach the brilliance of his debut, nor does it quite match the infectious spirit of the top side of this release, it does show that he was more than a one-trick pony.

That may not seem like much in the big scheme of things, but if nothing else it bodes well for what is still to come, as we now have reason to hope that another direction he might choose to follow will have some magic of its own.
 

 

Barrelin’ Along
As one of a long line of barrelhouse pianists who were a fixture in the New Orleans scene dating back to the first time some intrepid businessman discovered that by mixing boisterous music with alcohol it might result in a steady flow of cash, Archibald was somebody who knew the value of putting on a show while sitting at the keyboard.

The music he produced didn’t necessarily have to be too complex, nor even all that melodic, provided that it was rousing enough to keep patrons from ever feeling bored and complacent while sitting in the establishment.

The more laid-back audiences were, the more they’d nurse their drinks which was good for nothing (other than their liver and kidneys). Yet the more he pounded away on the ivories the more people would feel compelled to move around themselves, working up a thirst and laying down their money to buy more booze. As the one responsible for encouraging that activity Archibald would be rewarded with steady work.

That meant he needed a steady supply of piano workouts and since it was a sure bet that most people on their fifth shot of bourbon weren’t in any condition to pay attention to trivial details like stories, lyrics and vocals, Archibald would dispense with those altogether and just give them instrumentals… songs where the individual notes might not even be noticed, but the prevailing spirit the music gave off would permeate the stagnant air in the club.

Because of this you’d expect Ballin’ With Archie to be little more than a generic boogie, the kind we’ve heard dozens of times in rock’s early rise to prominence (and to be honest the kind you’d have heard in early pre-rock styles as well), but probably thanks to the production of Dave Bartholomew, this turns out to be a little bit more ambitious than that.
 


 
 

A Full Arsenal
The song starts off with just Archibald on the keys, his left hand playing a rapid boogie before his right hand joins in the fun to add some different shadings. It’s a simple progression but as with most boogies it gets the job done.

The horns come in next, saxes riffing in the background before Bartholomew’s trumpet adds a few grace notes. If anything they’re even more basic than Archie’s piano, and you can certainly make the argument that the song might’ve been better off had they taken more of a starring role with an inventive riff or some showy solo, but we can see what Bartholomew has in mind here, as he’s merely adding layers to the arrangement, building a dense wall of sound, a chance for him to experiment on what is essentially a throwaway B-side.

Somewhat surprisingly the featured instrument on Ballin’ With Archie might just be the electric guitar which gets the first real solo to speak of, unless you count Archibald’s piano intro. It too is playing a boogie, a little murky sounding maybe but effective in its own right by giving you a different texture to get hooked on.

Earl Palmer’s drums are worth noting as they play a thunderous turnaround heading into Bartholomew’s own soloing spot, which for a trumpet in a rock song isn’t too bothersome if that’s what you were worried about (and you wouldn’t be alone in that fear either).

More horns follow before Archibald comes back to the forefront to take this to the finish line, his parts making for the best aspect of the record, though on the whole he remains somewhat underutilized, especially considering it’s his career at stake.
 

From The Ground Up
Though as a song it’s nothing particularly special, as a record it is a little more unique, especially as we have some modern understanding of the people behind it and their ambitions at this early stage of the game.

Archibald is merely one small component of his own record a key factor maybe, but not the only factor in its aims.

The bigger story is Bartholomew trying to see what works, what doesn’t and how all of his ideas fit together. Ballin’ With Archie is a test run for various concepts and ideas that would come to fruition down the road – unfortunately with artists other than Archibald getting the benefit from what was learned here.

Because a piano boogie made for such a simple foundation it was an ideal way for Bartholomew to add different elements to the mix to see how they’d react to one another. The depth of vision aspect of it – each group of instruments playing their own repetitive parts on top of one another… IE. the “layering” of the sounds – was something that would be refined and work to his advantage before long.

But where he needed to tighten up though was in not allowing the core attribute – in this case the piano riff – to get lost in the din. In the future he’d keep the main focus out front and double up on the rhythmic drive and everyone from Fats Domino on down was the beneficiary of that approach.

By that point Archibald was back to playing the clubs from which he came, no longer backed by such a large band and thus free to take over a song in ways in which he was unable to do here. Part of you wishes he got more of a chance to cut loose on this record to show us what he was capable of, yet another part realizes that for progress to be made on a larger scale than just one record by an itinerant musician certain sacrifices were required.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Archibald for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)