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ALADDIN 3056; APRIL 1950



In music three years can be like a lifetime. Styles change, audiences move on, what once was familiar quickly fades away and is replaced by something remarkably different which itself is then cycled out in short order for something even newer.

In a musical genre that was just starting up three years ago when nothing about the music or its listeners could possibly have been firmly established, let alone easily defined and widely recognizable, this was even more the case.

In the months to follow trends came and went… record labels were started with high expectations only to fold up shop before long, the victims of commercial indifference or creative stagnation… and we saw the rise and subsequent fall of plenty of artists who seemed poised to become stars based on their initial offerings only to fall prey to the shifting tastes of the growing pool of listeners.

For all of its success as a whole, rock ‘n’ roll was proving to be an unpredictable road to navigate.

Unless of course you were Amos Milburn, the defining artist of that era who steered a steady course – consistently popular, persistently innovative and incredibly good at all he did.

But three years is still a long time and even he might not be immune from sounding out of date when reaching back that far in the past for a new single to compete with the very latest sides laid down by his competitors as recently as last week.


I’m Not Singin’ This Song For You
On one hand any chance to rescue a vintage Amos Milburn cut from languishing forever in the vaults of Aladdin Records was cause for celebration.

On the other hand you could reasonably ask why a 23 year old at the peak of his creative powers and popularity in 1950 wasn’t recording enough new material to fill both sides of his latest single.

Whichever view you chose had its points.

The biggest issue though wasn’t the opportunity to hear something we otherwise would’ve missed out on, nor the denial of hearing whatever might be stirring in Milburn’s musical consciousness at the current moment, but rather… would a three year old track be up to snuff in mid-1950?

The answer for most rock artists, even most great rock artists at the time, would have unquestionably been no.

Roy Brown in late 1947 had certainly drawn the blueprint of what rock songs should be but hadn’t yet gotten the best materials with which to carry out those plans… meanwhile Wynonie Harris was still unconvinced as to its potential… Ivory Joe Hunter was still toying around with various far-flung conceptions… The Ravens were boldly breaking new ground but it’d be others who’d soon race to build more towering monuments on that ground… and all the sax players rock was accumulating hadn’t learned how to really cut loose yet.

But Amos Milburn, holed up that fall in the studio with Maxwell Davis, was in the process of churning out so many indelible sides that were completely appropriate for the musical maelstrom that would follow, it wasn’t surprising that there’d be some that got overlooked at the time.

One such cut was Anybody’s Blues, and in spite of it being pretty long in the tooth by this point the record shows just how ahead of the game Milburn was from the very start.

If You Don’t Love Anybody
The song was written by John Erby, an interesting figure to say the least who’d already contributed two minor gems for Milburn.

Born way back in 1899 Erby was a pianist and singer, albeit one who had gotten more acclaim as a songwriter, penning classic sides for a who’s who of female blues stars of the 1920’s – Ma Rainey, Trixie Smith, Ida Cox and Ethel Waters – and who worked as a sideman for Victory Spivey and Lonnie Johnson with his group The Fidgety Five.

Unlike so many from that era who faded away by the 1930’s when the Great Depression all but stopped record companies from cutting blues artists, Erby kept at it and by the late 1940’s he benefitted from another generation of artists seeking material for a new style of music at which he proved quite adept.

His previous sides for Milburn were I Still Love You, released in May of 1948, and Empty Arms Blues, which got put out finally in August of 1949. Both were cut at the same session as this song, so maybe the folks at Aladdin were being careful not to flood the market with John Erby material which is why they were issuing just one of his compositions per calendar year!

Like those songs Anybody’s Blues is cut from the same cloth – all were meditative ballads allowing Milburn to emote with his most soulful vocals while showcasing his dexterity on the keyboards and leaving ample room for Maxwell Davis to blow warm and sensuous sounds from his tenor sax.

It was a simple game plan maybe but one that had lost none of its potency in the ensuing twenty eight months.


It’s So Easy To Be Happy
Like returning to your childhood home, the surroundings are familiar and eminently comfortable the moment you enter as Milburn’s piano starts off with a very strong right hand setting both the rhythmic drive and the melodic threads to be pulled later on. It’s forceful without being alarmingly so and makes the shift to a more subdued pattern as his vocals start all the more effective.

But Amos is hardly taking it easy on those vocals, softly crooning in the dim light. Instead he’s rather declaratory, at least to start with, hammering home the fact he’s got something important he wants to get off his chest and is going to make sure you listen to what he’s got to say.

As for WHAT he’s got to say, here’s where Anybody’s Blues more than justifies its belated release, as this is one of the more strikingly clever lyrical jobs we’ve come across, a testament to Erby’s continued relevance as a songwriter over the decades.

This is a big picture theme type of song – maybe not quite a state of the world message but certainly a universal point of view that Erby captures when it comes to finding happiness in life and how tied in that feeling is to having someone to share it with, and conversely how being in love also opens you up to the risk of losing that person and the happiness that goes with it.

Those are some deep psychological views being crammed into a three minute rock song. But despite its topic it can hardly be termed “a love song”, as Milburn’s not singing TO anybody, nor ABOUT anybody specific, which might actually make it more relatable to all listeners no matter their current relationship status.

Everything is laid out in pretty basic terms, contrasting being with someone to being alone, the highs of romance followed by the lows of not having your love reciprocated… but Erby’s lyrics are so efficient in their points, so nimble in their wordplay, that they seem even more profound than they probably are. When he caps it off by ingeniously tying in what had been up to then a rather perplexing title in the closing line, turning it around to serve as a mirror for the audience, you can’t help but smile at how deftly it was all pulled off.

You Better Learn This Song
Of course none of it would work nearly as well without Amos Milburn and company adding their own various strengths to the mix.

Davis’s saxophone is as enchanting as ever, pulling you in with a calm self-assurance… drawing out each line as if the clock on the wall suddenly stopped ticking and he had all the time in the world to work his magic.

Though Milburn’s road band sported a few great sax players in their own right who were now getting their chance to shine on his latest releases, there was something about Davis’s approach that had meshed perfectly with Milburn, the two of them possessing an extrasensory musical perception that was utterly remarkable and listening to Anybody’s Blues you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Maxwell Davis wasn’t the best part about the record.

But that’s not to say that he’s the only part you should focus on, not when there’s a few scant notes by a guitarist that seem to drop in from nowhere, so discreet you may miss them unless you’re on the lookout for it but which add immeasurably to the ambiance of the recording suggesting a pensive fragile mood that’s eternally at risk for being broken.

Meanwhile Milburn’s piano work throughout this is exemplary. It might actually be his most varied playing on record, shifting effortlessly from an anxious anticipation to a more contemplative nature before taking off on some whimsical flights of fancy, subtly holding the rhythm down with his left while shading the song with so many disparate runs that he might never have been able to replicate it again on stage. On record though… you just want to keep listening to him play it over and over again.

For what can only be termed a throwback record due to circumstances, it’s amazing that it still sounds so fresh. When talking about the greatest rock artists in history, and by that I mean top fifty of all-time, this might not be the record you’d pull out to make your case for Milburn’s mandatory inclusion but as a punctuation mark for that case it’d be pretty compelling.


You Should Be Happy As A Dove
At some point well in the future with the advent of career boxed sets that came out starting in the CD era, there was always the hope that there might be some hidden gems left behind in the archives to be heard for the first time long past their expiration date as current music came and went.

Usually these unearthed sides weren’t adding much to their career résumés other than filling in a few blanks from some moments lost to the mists of time, but every so often something turned up that served as a reminder just how special the great ones really were.

Fans may not have had to wait decades to hear Anybody’s Blues but three years still has the ability to make something really good suffer from the passage of time… but not this.

It might be a record he’d forgotten he ever made, and as a B-side it might not have been what current record buyers were focusing on most fervently when bringing home his latest release in 1950, but regardless of when it was cut or why it took so long to be released, this is a performance that could stand with almost anything Amos Milburn ever recorded and that’s really saying something.


(Visit the Artist page of Amos Milburn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)