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Looking at this label there’s a lot of warning bells that should go off before you cue up the record… and that’s not even counting the extra “T” they mistakenly added to this young lass’s name.

For starters it’s the first single released by New Orleans piano ace Archibald in a full year, which is an alarming gap for someone who’d scored a legitimate hit in 1950. Yet it’s not on Imperial Records where he scored that hit, but rather it came out on their barely seen Colony subsidiary, two telltale signs which show they’ve lost faith in him already.

Then there’s the fact that you have an artist with a potentially limited repertoire to begin with who is cutting a song theoretically based on a children’s story which seems like a desperate reach to find a novel concept that might sell the single, suggesting that he wasn’t capable of coming up with anything more original on his own.

So imagine your surprise when you hear a fairly unique creative lyrical twist on the subject itself and a musical track that points the way to an imminent style of rock being born across the Gulf Of Mexico on an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.


Giving That Jive Away
Early musical threads between styles separated by a number of years – and in this case a number of miles and a vast expanse of open water – tend to be rather tenuous.

That’s not to say they don’t exist, all musical concepts have a precedent of some sort and there are only so many notes, chords and musical instruments to be found and thus connections will be all but inevitable if you look for them, but people are funny and like to see a very definite link that can’t be missed just to be sure it exists.

Goree Carter’s guitar style begat Chuck Berry’s even though it seemed to have taken most writers a half century to discover this because none bothered looking very hard. Berry’s licks in turn were much more easily seen in early Beach Boys and Rolling Stones records, certainly helped by the fact those artists were a lot more open about their debt and far more people in 1964 had heard Berry’s work than those from 1957 who’d had the pleasure of hearing Goree Carter’s late 1940’s records.

When it comes to the Jamaican forms of rock ‘n’ roll – ska, rocksteady, reggae and beyond – the basic prototypes were found in America and slightly reconfigured, but owing to the different dialect in the vocals and a disturbing tendency towards cultural homogeneity many writers pass those styles off as something completely different from rock ‘n’ roll rather than just a foreign twist on the same musical foundation all rock styles were built from.

In the case of these styles native to Jamaica all focused on the off-beat, giving the music its most distinctive qualities which centered around the upstroke of the guitar (which was taken from the role of the banjo in mento, a native folk music) with horns punctuating this rhythm while the drums and piano accentuated the bass line – and it’s on Little Miss Muffett where you hear a lot of those pieces falling into place before the first ska tracks were ever recorded.

These “oddities”, as it were, can sound quite sloppy to virgin ears because rather than the music being neatly divided between rhythm and melody which are designed to compliment each other while still remaining in their own lanes, with these musics there’s far more overlap, less separation – both instrumentally and also in their respective roles – and as a result it has a tendency to sound like a jam session gone awry which is exactly the point of Archibald’s performance here which he lays out for you without much ambiguity.

Knocked Out All Nice And High
Because the track is lacking a guitarist, or at the very least has him buried deep in the mix, the most obvious connection between the two stylistic cousins is severed, but with Archibald relegated to establishing that rock of left hand for the bulk of the song behind his own vocals, it’s the horns taking up the banner in a way that can hardly be missed.

Their parts are almost designed to come across as shambolic with all of them seeming at first glance to be trying to elbow one another out of the way, yet as it goes on you appreciate how Dave Bartholomew is integrating three different patterns that finds one always surging while another is peaking and the last of them is receding, giving it a constant movement that never lets up.

Unfortunately – or maybe fortunately if you find it all too messy – this only lasts while Archibald sings, for when he rests his tonsils the song reverts back to a far more predictable (for 1951 America) arrangement in the instrumental break where Archibald’s right hand now gets to create a more “sensible” melody with enough quirky runs to keep it interesting.

Meanwhile the horn parts become streamlined, all working in unison more or less which keeps things a lot neater without sacrificing too much of the rhythmic drive, but while all of this is reasonably good in its own right it seems predictable by comparison to what came earlier when they bordered on mayhem.

But as educational as all that became later on, what was sure to be the focal point of Little Miss Muffett at the time it came out was the story which takes the familiar children’s tale about a little girl hording her cottage cheese when a friendly but hungry spider takes offense to her selfishness and frightens her off to sample this meal for himself, and turns it into something altogether different and much more colorful.

In Archie’s telling of it the story involves an after hours jam session where coagulating milk and the leftover slop called whey have been replaced by musical instruments on which characters like Hip Cat Horner go wild, hence the source of the musical collision found within. The lines themselves are almost insider jokes with musician slang taking up the bulk of the action, but it’s easy enough to follow the gist of plot which is more about musical sustenance than the nutritional variety the children’s poem used as its centerpiece.

As such it’s a typically cockeyed tale, even for Archibald, but not without its charms.


They Dug What They Saw
It’s always difficult to say with pinpoint accuracy what records made the Jamaican shores in the 1950’s and were used in the early sound system battles that defined the native music scene.

We’ve encountered some with verifiable first hand accounts though and quite a few were largely obscure sides in America at the time (San Diego Bounce by Harold Land and Willis Jackson’s Later For The Gator) which indicates the scarcity of today’s record on the decidedly minor subsidiary of Imperial Records would not necessarily have been much of a hindrance to it being adopted by that community.

Then there’s also the fact that being as close to New Orleans as it was – 1,200 miles as the crow flies or fish swims – they were able to receive some radio broadcasts from The Crescent City and while Little Miss Muffett was not a hit, even locally, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t played some night by Dr. Daddy-O.

Then again maybe it’s just what we stated early on which is there are only so many notes, chords and instruments and a limited amount of ways in which to play them and thus it’s entirely possible that the sounds were created independently of one another and the similarities therefore had more to do with coincidence than influence.

But considering Jamaica’s open acknowledgement of the impact of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll and the production work of Dave Bartholomew in particular, this stands as one of the more obvious sources even if seventy years later corroboration is all but impossible to find. As always though your ears should provide the most definitive answer to all your music questions.


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