BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of the many skilled pianists to emerge from New Orleans, the mercurial Archibald had just a lone – albeit influential – hit at the start of his career before quickly fading from view but his small catalog of records showed he was not lacking for quality material.

Officially known Leon T. Gross, the man later dubbed Archibald came into the world in September 14, 1912 (at 12:16 AM according to the man himself, which may be why some sources erroneously claim he was born in 1916 instead). He’d gotten his nickname playing piano as an under-aged kid in brothels where patrons would call out “Archie Boy” and over the years it morphed into his familiar stage name. Influenced by the countless piano professors around the city, Burrell Santiago – “The King Of The Boogie” – foremost among them, Archibald had a style that ran the gamut from pounding boogie rock to more ornate classical material, all of which he performed with flair and a room filling presence.

After serving in World War Two overseas he returned to New Orleans where he picked up work playing in bars and clubs, one of countless professional musicians in the city who likely never imagined they’d be asked to make records. However when Imperial Records came to town in late 1949 seeking to expand into the booming rock market by focusing on New Orleans, Archibald was one of many local artists who were deemed to have the requisite style and talent to give them something marketable and with his sessions produced by Dave Bartholomew he scored right out of the gate with his first release.

Though Archibald cut many original tunes the song that stood out was an extended rendition of the traditional black folktale of gambling, murder and postmortem retribution called “Stack-A-Lee”. Despite its unorthodox structure and delivery, Part Two, highlighted by his engaging piano playing, cracked the national Top Ten in the fall of 1950. Unable to tour in support of the record due to a flare up of ulcers his time in the spotlight turned out to be all too brief, even though his later sides showed he had a firm grasp on the rock styles that were dominant at the time.

His recording career ended after 1952 – a proposed session for Ace Records in the late 1950’s falling through – but he continued playing clubs around New Orleans, holding court at the Poodle Patio Club on Bourbon Street for years. Though he died in 1973 of a heart attack just past sixty years of age he lived long enough to be interviewed in 1970 for the first of many books about that city’s massive rock legacy, Walking To New Orleans (a/k/a Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans) by John Broven, providing the writers/researchers with an impromptu concert at the piano in his home where he played a stirring “Hungarian Rhapsody Boogie” in addition to reprising his enduring hit “Stack-A-Lee”.
 

ARCHIBALD DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

STACK-A-LEE (PTS. 1 & 2)
(Imperial 5068; April, 1950)
A brilliant, almost cinematic recounting of the brutal events surrounding Lee Shelton and Billy Lyons split into two stand-alone parts, the second of which was the hit and the most compelling section, as the sparse production gives Archibald’s dexterous piano and casual vocal commentary the spotlight it deserves. ★ 10 ★