D'Angelo's Brother Luther Archer Shares D's 'Origin Story' w/ RBMA
Before D’Angelo became the genre-reinventing musical messiah we now know and cherish, he was just Michael Eugene Archer, a young boy growing up in Virginia who loved playing piano for his church choir and getting togethr funk bands during his high school days in Richmond, Virginia. Now, in a new interview with Red Bull Music Academy, D’Angelo’s older brother Luther Archer has shared a multitude of firsthand memories of those early years–times in which the young soul prodigy was still honing his craft and banging out Prince tunes on the family keyboard. “I was just getting out of the Marine Corps,” Luther recalls in the interview, speaking of a teenage D’Angelo testing the waters of full-band performing, ” I came in and helped them to stay focused and disciplined, put together a practice schedule for them, and helped with all the logistics. So, that was my little contribution to that experience. [laughs] I sort of brought the drill instructor mentality to it.”
The interview is without a doubt a must-read for any fan of D’Angelo (read: Okayplayers), especially given the fact that the virtuosic soul musician himself has always held information about his private life and work process so close to the leather-studded vest. But the piece’s best moments don’t focus on behind-the-scenes studio tales or inside scoops on song meanings. It’s Luther’s depiction of D’Angelo as a living, growing human–one who was once rugged in his skill and worked painstakingly to improve at his instruments.
RBMA: Between the ages of 16 and 17, he was starting to hit his stride as a young musician. What was his go-to instrument since he was working with two different groups?
Luther Archer: His go-to instrument was always the piano at that time. I didn’t see him pick up any other instruments until after the Brown Sugar album. He had the ability to learn different instruments back then, though. I saw it during the making of his “Me and Those Dreamin’ Eyes of Mine” video. He was really playing those instruments in the video.
Also, by this time, he discovered the Ensoniq, which was a synthesizer that you could sample real live instruments with. He would go to this one store and get these sounds on a disk and come back and load them on this Ensoniq, and he was able to have the real instrument sound on the synthesizer and play it as a piano. For instance, he would go get a sample of a bass guitar, and he was able to load it onto the synthesizer, and whenever he would play the keys, it would be a real live bass that was playing.
When he played for my grandfather’s church, you could see him transitioning to guitar. He would have his synthesizer on the left hand side, and on the right hand side, would be the piano. He would play the treble on the real piano and then he would play the bass on the Ensoniq with his left hand. So, he was playing two pianos at the same time and getting the sound out of it. When he was speaking to Nelson George about wanting to create from the standpoint of a guitar, it was because he always created that sound with a piano. That’s exactly how it was. He was playing this way when he was in church. The first instrument he picked up outside of the piano was the drums, then it was the bass guitar. He started really becoming proficient with it after the making of “Lady” and meeting Raphael Saadiq. He picked that up with no problem.
The entire Luther Archer interview is a fascinating read, and paints our favorite modern funk messiah as a dedicated prodigy who never lost sight of the pure joy that is music.