Born John Leon Gross, 14 September 1916, New Orleans, Louisiana
Singer, pianist. Archibald was one of the last in the long line of New Orleans' original barrelhouse pianists. These piano players were usually semi-professional musicians who often played merely for drinks, or whatever tip was thrown on the piano. Some of them (Champion Jack Dupree, Professor Longhair, Archibald) were recorded, but hundreds more never were.
Virtually all existing sources say that he was born on September 14, 1912. They are probably all copying John Broven ("Walking To New Orleans, 1974). The Social Security Death Index, the Census (1920, 1930) and the U.S. WW2 Enlistment Records all give his year of birth as 1916. (With thanks to Eric LeBlanc for this info.)
Archibald (Leon Gross) learned to play piano at an early age and soon played at local parties and fraternity houses under the name Archie Boy. His main influences included Burnell Santiago, Tuts Washington and Eileen Dufeau. After serving in India during World War II, Archibald returned to his native New Orleans in 1945, where he continued to play the clubs and bars in the French Quarter. Talent scout Al Young signed him to Lew Chudd's Imperial label in 1950, as part of the same wave that also brought Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino onto the company's roster. On March 23, 1950 Archibald had his first recording session, at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studio, supervised by Dave Bartholomew. The first single that resulted from this session (Imperial 5068) was "Stack-A-Lee", a two-sided workout on the old folk song, which is best known in the version of Lloyd Price (# 1 pop in February 1959, under the title "Stagger Lee"). "Stack-A-Lee" sold well enough to reach # 10 on Billboard's R&B charts in October 1950 and Archibald's future looked promising. A tour of the West Coast was prepared, but this was cancelled when he fell sick with ulcer trouble. Although he had four further singles on Imperial and Colony, Archibald never again had the chance to tour and was not recorded after 1952. "Stack-A-Lee" was to remain his only hit.
His career was hampered by illness and a dispute with the Musicians Union. Johnny Vincent wanted to record him for his Ace label in the late 1950s, but this did not materialize. Vincent said Archibald's voice was gone ; Archibald himself said Vincent did not offer enough money. He continued to play during the 60s and is especially remembered for his long residency at the Poodle Patio Club on Bourbon Street. His powerful New Orleans boogie piano style has undoubtedly influenced many New Orleans pianists, including Fats Domino, James Booker, Huey 'Piano' Smith, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John, but his style never came to grips with the rock 'n' roll age. He died of a heart attack in 1973, leaving behind a small (11 tracks), but high-quality recorded legacy.
Seven of Archibald's Imperial recordings (counting "Stack-A-Lee, Parts 1 & 2 as one) are available on Disc 1 of the 4-CD set "Gettin' Funky : The Birth Of New Orleans R&B" (Properbox 28). The liner notes for this set (by Joop Visser) were very helpful. What is presented as "Stack-A-Lee, Parts 1 and 2" on the EMI 2-CD set "The Genius Of Dave Bartolomew" (1992) is actually "Stack-A-Lee, Part 2" and the instrumental "Ballin' With Archie" (Imperial 5082).
Further acknowledgements :
The legend of Stagger Lee : http://www3.clearlight.com/~acsa/stagroot.htm This was written before the publication of "Stagolee Shot Billy" by Cecil Brown (Harvard University Press, 2003), probably the best book on the subject.
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