He was born Archibald Martin Bleyer in the Corona section of the New York City borough of Queens. His father was a well-known trumpet player who had played with the Metropolitan Opera. The younger Bleyer began playing the piano when he was only seven years old. In 1927 he attended Columbia College, intending to become an electrical engineer, but as a sophomore switched to a music major. Without graduating, he left to become an arranger. In the early 1930s, Bleyer wrote a number of songs that were recorded; all 'hot' novelty numbers, including "Mouthful O'Jam", "Business In F" and "Business In Q".
In 1934 he began to lead his own band at Earl Carroll's club in Hollywood, California. Bleyer's orchestra recorded for Vocalion Records in 1934 and in 1935 moved to the ARC group of labels (Melotone, Perfect, Romeo, Oriole). One of the vocalists who worked with this orchestra was Johnny Mercer, who later became known as a songwriter and co-founder of Capitol Records.
The Godfrey years
He became Arthur Godfrey's musical director in 1946, remaining in this role until 1953. Many close to Godfrey considered Bleyer's creativity and understanding of music to be pivotal to the success of Godfrey's radio and TV programs. And while Godfrey was known to be short-fused and controlling, he often deferred to Bleyer's judgment in the areas of presentation and production.
Bleyer founded Cadence Records in 1952. The label's first artist was Godfrey alumnus Julius La Rosa. Along with several instrumental hit singles of his own, Bleyer signed many other artists who had performed on Godfrey's programs including The Chordettes, one of whose members, Janet Ertel, became his wife in 1954.
In the fall of 1953, Godfrey dismissed La Rosa on the air and later claimed the young singer "lacked humility", which heavily damaged Godfrey's popularity. That same day, Godfrey fired Bleyer, claiming he was offended when Bleyer recorded Chicago radio personality Don McNeill, host of Don McNeill's Breakfast Club. This Godfrey-like show was based in Chicago and broadcast nationally, but its popularity was mainly in the Midwest and tailored to that audience. Always insecure, Godfrey felt McNeill, whose show had once been a competitor, was still in competition though Godfrey was the dominant personality of his generation. Godfrey later claimed when he confronted Bleyer and threatened to fire him from at least one of the three shows Godfrey hosted, the conductor shrugged and told him to do what he had to do.
Radio historian John Dunning has suggested, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, that Bleyer's relationship with Janet Ertel was also a factor in Godfrey's decision to fire him; Godfrey tried to enforce a no-dating policy among his cast and fired several who dated each other. After leaving the show, Bleyer never made a public comment about his days with Godfrey. The public furor that surrounded LaRosa's firing and, to a lesser extent, Bleyer's, began the unraveling of Godfrey's seemingly unstoppable dominance of radio and TV as Bleyer's career was just beginning to blossom. The loss of Bleyer's expertise in staging and production matters, where he served as an informal mentor to Godfrey despite their age differences, was detrimental to Godfrey's programs.
While LaRosa was unable to sustain his early successes, later Cadence artists included Andy Williams and the label's biggest act of all, The Everly Brothers whose hits such as "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie" were produced by Bleyer in Nashville with country studio musicians led by Chet Atkins. Bleyer circa 1963 was also the step father-in-law of Phil Everly. He had his own instrumental recording hits on the Cadence label as well. Don Shirley, who appeared on the label in 1955 with "Tonal Expressions". It became a Top 15 album in the spring of that year, reportedly selling more than 20,000 copies, a respectable debut for a jazz artist. Ironically, it was the only chart album Shirley was to enjoy, but his sales remained steady enough that he was with the label until it closed in 1964, cutting around a dozen long-play releases Don Shirley Discography.
Bleyer also had his limits to his tolerance for rock and roll. While he clearly, and correctly, viewed the Everlys as a commercially appealing, clean-cut act whose country-influenced harmonies could reach a vast following, he was not so tolerant of pioneer garage-rock guitarist Link Wray. In 1957, Bleyer reluctantly agreed to release his no-frills, roaring instrumental "Rumble" on Cadence in part due to his daughter's fascination with the song. Wray had a contract with Cadence, but in 1958 after he submitted a newly recorded album of similarly raw material recorded in Nashville, Bleyer was convinced the instrumental music was morally and musically inappropriate and shelved the album and canceled Wray's contract. The material wouldn't see the light of day for decades until it was acquired by the British Rollercoaster label. Cadence had a short-lived jazz subsidiary, Candid, which lasted for about a year from 1960 (it was reactivated under new owners several decades later).
Cadence had another major hit in 1962 with comic Vaughn Meader's album The First Family, which featured Meader's comedic sketches and his peerless impersonations of President John F. Kennedy. The album was an enormous seller, as was a followup, until Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Cadence always maintained a small roster of artists. Other Cadence hits included 14 chart hits by Johnny Tillotson, 10 by The Chordettes, 4 by Lenny Welch, 2 by Don Shirley. In 1964, Bleyer, who was unable to accept the changing pop music market at the dawn of the British Invasion era, sold the Cadence label and all its recordings (except for certain material—like the Link Wray album—he kept to himself) to Andy Williams who formed Barnaby Records to manage the Cadence catalog.
Bleyer was a freemason, and a member of St. Cecile Lodge No. 568, New York City.
- "Musician Archie Bleyer, Fired By Godfrey." Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1989, p. 20
- Andy Rooney, "Bleyer Was Musician's Musician." Marietta (GA) Journal, March 29, 1989, p 6
- Bleyer, Archie (June 1953). "The Arthur Godfrey I Know" (PDF). Radio-TV Mirror. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
- "Archie Bleyer to Wed Singer." New York Times, November 9, 1954, p. 23
- Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0195076788
- 'Archie Bleyer, 79, Music Director, Dies,' New York Times, March 21, 1989