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Give him credit for one thing… when Dave Bartholomew returned to Imperial Records after a year and a half’s absence he made sure the artists he’d worked with his first time around who’d been unceremoniously dropped by the label in the interim got back in the studio to pick up their recording careers where they’d left off.

Maybe that was his mistake, as you can file this one under: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.


The Sun Ain’t Been There Since
It’s been awhile since we last came across Leon T. Gross, a/k/a Archibald, a popular New Orleans barroom pianist and singer who was already middle-aged when he cut his first sessions for Imperial Records in early 1950.

He scored a massive and influential hit with his first release, the two part epic Stack-A-Lee, still one of the most important and enduring songs, if not records, of rock ‘n’ roll, but prior to his first tour to capitalize on it hitting the national charts, Archibald’s ulcers acted up and he had to bow out.

Sadly, it’s not hard to envision his insecurities about leaving the safe environs of The Crescent City. After all, even younger and more ambitious artists like Fats Domino were uneasy about going on the road, facing situations they’d never encountered before, especially as black men in a racist America. So it’s easy to understand how someone who probably had already resigned himself to just eking out a living playing locally might think it was just as well if he avoided any undue hassles outside of his own backyard.

Regardless of the reasons for his absence on tour, he never was able to build on that commercial momentum, despite some good follow-up songs, and perhaps just as crucially never seemed to regain the trust of Imperial Records who had issued his final sides on their subsidiary label Colony Records more than a year ago.

But with Dave Bartholomew back at the helm it was only natural that he’d want to bring those artists he had a history with back in the fold. You can rest assured the label wasn’t going to put their foot down over it and risk alienating him right away, although when it came to trying to revive his commercial prospects Archibald had more or less exhausted his original material two years earlier. He was used to playing songs that relied on floating verses and even classical pieces done in a barroom manner, and so Bartholomew pulled out Great Big Eyes, which had marked his own inauspicious debut for DeLuxe back in 1947.

The idea seems to have been to let Archie’s expressive vocal mannerisms take center stage, but it appears that even he knew this was little more than an uninspired song that was basically a charity case for him, and so however generous it was to give him another shot at glory, his final vocal side becomes a sad epitaph for somebody who deserved better.


Everybody’s Got Bad Feet
Well, let’s give him this… Archibald’s piano playing is really good. Granted it’s not very complex, but at least it gives us a deep bottomed groove to start with before his vocals kind of put the damper on our enthusiasm.

It’s not just the fact we’re overly familiar with the song itself, seeing as how Gatemouth Brown also turned in a rendition of it before, but rather it’s that the composition itself is so weak and for once when it comes to Archibald, the performance is even weaker.

Since this is third time we’ve studied Great Big Eyes, albeit under three different titles, we don’t need to delve into it too much other than to say it’s meant to be funny and isn’t, but what do you expect from a song mocking a woman’s physical proportions? This is the type of song better suited to a grade school kid just beginning to be attracted to, but still intimidated, by girls and looking for a way to acknowledge what he sees while not being incriminated by his budding feelings.

Archie changes some of the lyrics from previous renditions, but they might even make matters worse. Depending on your tolerance for such things, the new put downs might not be more offensive than what’s already there, but they aren’t going to salvage the song, largely because of the second issue which is his own underwhelming vocal performance.

You can see what he’s trying for here by using sort of a razzing vocal technique, which I suppose fits the concept they’re going for, but that only draws even more attention to the snide lyrics and without a laugh to be found he’s only coming off as an insensitive boor.

Luckily we get a respite from the crudity thanks to an extended sax solo and while it’s hardly invigorating at least it’s a distraction. Better still is Archie’s work on the keys in the coda, where at least he gets to do what he does best and has a solid rhythm to work with.

As always with Dave Bartholomew we can’t find much fault in the arrangement, which is tight, well played and in tune, but it can’t cover up for what is a pretty monotonous track to begin with which, when coupled with the redundant story begging for laughs it will never receive and the grating vocals that go along with it, makes for a pretty dismal end to a once promising career for Archibald.


In The Street
By the fall of 1952 Imperial Records had their most valuable asset, Dave Bartholomew, back in the fold and his return had already paid off with some hits. The artistic quality of the records being made had improved across the board with him running things as well, but maybe because the company sensed that was enough to not just get by, but excel, they suddenly became far less ambitious going forward.

They’d already lost out on local teen acts Lloyd Price and Shirley & Lee, who scored huge hits under Bartholomew’s production for Specialty and Aladdin respectively, while Imperial was content to ride the sales of Fats Domino, and to a lesser extent Smiley Lewis, as far as it would take them.

I’m sure it wasn’t hard to convince themselves that it made sense… fewer releases centering on more reliable artists equals lower overhead and bigger profit margins. In that game plan there was no room for acts with limited long term potential… such as Archibald.

But though he may have been forty years old, and his lone hit was two years in the past and was a song that had been around for a half century before that, he still had it in him to come up with some really good rockers, but for some reason they sat on the best thing he laid down this fall, Soon As I Go Home, which went unreleased for decades.

Instead they they put out Great Big Eyes, the weakest of the four songs they recorded with Archibald this fall, pairing it with the lesser of two instrumental cuts and then didn’t shed any tears when it failed to click. This way they didn’t piss of Bartholomew by ignoring Archie completely, but had reason to cut ties with him when the record didn’t sell.

I’m not insinuating that if they had thought that other cut would be a huge hit, they wouldn’t have put it out. No company was going to turn down a best seller. But chances are it’d have been merely a small hit around New Orleans at best, but that would still be enough to complicate matters and essentially force them to keep cutting sides with Archibald for another year or two without any chance he’d become a consistent star at his advanced age with limited creative instincts of his own.

Granted, all of that is just speculation and there’s no proof that Lew Chudd put the kibosh on the best song to rid himself of an artist he considered commercial dead weight so as to force Bartholomew to concentrate fully on his biggest hitmaker.

Then again the other explanation is that Chudd was deaf and stupid to think this warmed over mediocrity was better than the only obvious standout track from a four song session, so even if we give him the benefit of the doubt as to his reasoning, he’s the one who comes out looking worse than the artist whose career began with a bang and sadly ended with a whimper.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Dave Bartholomew (December, 1947)

Gatemouth Brown (December, 1949)