Tom Archia


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Born in East Texas in 1919, Ernest "Tom" Archia came up in Houston, just down the street from Russell and Illinois Jacquet. By the early '40s Archia was gigging steadily in Chicago, where his tough, sophisticated style fit snugly into a thriving rhythm and blues scene. The Aristocrat label specialized in dance tunes often laced with smutty lyrics. No topic seems to have been out of bounds for these people. "Ice Man Blues" gives George Kirby a chance to make references to a lady's "box," Buster Bennett sings about fishing with his "very long pole" and Sheba Griffin fixates on her missing "cherry." This kind of naughty mischief had been finding its way on to records for many years, three notable early practitioners being Bo Carter, Half Pint Jaxon and Bessie Smith. On "Drinkin' Blues," a nasty testimonial during which Dr. Jo Jo Adams brags that he's "using cocaine, reefer and two fifths of whiskey every day," Archia calmly quotes "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" and the first few bars of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." Although these vocals are entertaining in their own way, the switch to instrumental bebop does seem refreshing. "Jam for Sam" resembles Ellington's "C-Jam Blues" but in a solid bebop groove with rhythm & blues propulsion. The brisk bop lines of "Macomba Jump" are exhilarating. This one could easily be mistaken for a Wardell Gray performance. "Downfall Blues" is a rare example of Archia the vocalist. After a fine, laconic opening chorus he takes the horn from out his chops and sings in a booming voice about the importance of whiskey. While this is a very funny performance, especially when he sings "gimme some alcohol," there's something unsettling in this casual idolization of such a powerfully addictive drug, one which ultimately took him out for keeps. "Slumber" is a gorgeous blues that seems to be pacing the floor with its hands behind its back. Archia's expressive abilities are given free rein during this powerful meditation. "Hey Tom Archia" uses a more brutal approach to the blues, as the highly combustible Gene Ammons is featured during a 1948 blowing session documented with decidedly dicey discographical details. Two live recordings were issued as by Skeetz Van and his Orchestra. "Come Back to Sorrento" seems at first a surprising choice for these young toughs, but after a pleasant first chorus they kick it to pieces. "Bronzeville Swing" burns even hotter as the band works itself into a state of collective hysteria. "Doc" Jo-Jo Adams returns for a rhythm and blues parable about getting cuckolded. Originally issued in two parts, this rolls seamlessly as one long involved tale of inebriation and domestic confusion. After describing what he's sure are various body parts belonging to an unwelcome male visitor, Adams winds up describing the intruder's "thang" and ends up employing a bit of Slim Gaillard's "vout-o-reeny" hep talk to ease himself out of this very phallic predicament. Back with Gene Ammons in October 1948, Archia participates in a full five-minute version of his own exciting "Jam for Boppers." They also cooked up an unusually hip Christmas medley, all bop and no vocal, still regarded as one of the best seasonal jams in all of early modern jazz. A languid "Talk of the Town" sprouts a passage from "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" and the rocking two-tenor "Battle" rounds off this invigorating package of full-strength vintage bebop and rhythm & blues.

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