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Well, I suppose after such a dominant run as rock’s biggest star to close out the 1940’s Amos Milburn might have a few dollars left in his pocket to spend at the dog track.

Wait, this isn’t about dog racing but instead is about the bus line? Oh, okay.

Well then, I suppose that after his comparative commercial downturn in the early 1950’s – still scoring some big hits, just not as frequently – Amos Milburn’s expenses as a star have started outweighing his income and as a result he’s reduced to riding a bus to get to his next show.

So if you see him on the side of the road with his thumb out, be sure to stop for the poor fella.


Roll On…
We’ve seen a lot of early rock songs dealing with trains, including some that Amos Milburn himself sang, which makes a lot of sense considering the era we’re in when trains were still a more common means for people traveling great distances than airplanes or even automobiles were.

But as air travel became more widespread and people less afraid of leaving the ground in an effort to get to where they were going, train travel began to decline. Similarly with improved roadways – and soon the adoption of the National Highway Act – as well as the gradual move away from cities to the suburbs requiring every household to have a car, it meant that driving yourself long distances was becoming an increasingly viable option for people.

Meeting in the middle of those two changes was the public bus system, wherein for a reasonable fee anyone could ride (though depending on your racial qualities you couldn’t always sit where you damn well wanted) and be taken to their destination, whether near or far.

The biggest company operating buses nationwide was Greyhound, a funny name for something so wide and slow, but maybe they were being facetious.

It’s this mode of transportation that forms the centerpiece of what is a really creative look at romantic estrangement as following actual bus sound effects the song sort of turns some of those musical train motifs sideways such as utilizing a rolling horn rather than a droning one to simulate the sound of driving (beware of the re-recorded version from much later which substitutes guitars for this and unfortunately is the only one currently available on Spotify).

With our journey now underway Amos starts by asking the bus… be it the driver, the company president or the actual inanimate vehicle itself… to “bring my baby back”.

His mood is downcast, there’s weariness in his voice and little hope in his eyes during the mellow first half… a good song so far, a fine performance, though hardly a memorable one. But then things abruptly start to change and the energy spikes as he takes matters into his own hands, hops aboard one of those buses and goes looking for her himself all across the country.

Man, before cell phones people sure had to waste a lot of time tracking others down, didn’t they? But I digress.


A Fast Choo-Choo
What makes this record rather inventive is the arrangement, specifically that intertwining rhythm, with the horns playing a deep five note riff endlessly while underneath it Jesse Sails is playing a different shuffling pattern on the snare. The effect of this is the keep the song moving at a faster pace than Milburn is singing, yet it works well because he’s not forced to align himself with their parts since they’re separate from the melody.

It also works thematically within the song, because unlike driving your own car where you have to be alert enough to steer, brake and turn, when you’re merely a passenger on a Greyhound bus surrounded by strangers while devoid of the responsibility of navigating the roads, your own mind tends to wander, talking to yourself in your head, as the sights whiz by.

That numbing monotonous feeling is conveyed by the aforementioned rhythm, yet the lyrics – and Milburn’s increasingly key-up delivery – keep the song from ever becoming boring once he starts listing his own itinerary as he goes hunting her down. That double-time pace, delivered in an almost semi-spoken patter, is really endearing, not to mention something with built-in audience appeal in live venues when he name drops your general location (James Brown was surely listening to this, as he lifted that idea intact for his vocal version of Night Train a decade from now).

Not content with that catchy crowd-pleasing vocal interlude, he keeps the same quicker pace to give us an actual conclusion to the story that is colorful and satisfies our need for closure to a plot. That should be standard fare in songs of course, but as we’ve seen that’s not always the case as a lot of songs recently have had decent set-ups and an interesting middle act, but made no attempt to wrap it up, choosing instead to repeat the information already served us and leaving us hanging as to the ultimate outcome of their tale.

Milburn’s journey may have cost him considerable time and a lot of money in bus fare, but it was definitely worth the trip even if the record itself only made a few stops on some regional charts en route (Los Angeles, Atlanta and Newark) rather than rode up the national listings he once made his home.


Keep Me Satisfied
Without knowing what was still to come from Amos Milburn, you might’ve been glad to know that he cut a whopping nine songs during a two-day session from August from which this was the first release.

Maybe that was deemed necessary after they’d actually scheduled a different single earlier in August which included a tune that dated back to his earliest days on the label in the mid-1940’s. They even gave it a number (3146) but it never saw the light of day once they had a new batch of more up-to-date songs at the ready.

We’re also glad to see that Aladdin was still providing him with great musicians, as cocktail blues star Johnny Moore guested on guitar while Jewel Grant handled the alto and baritone saxes, and with tenor sax legend Maxwell Davis at the helm the quality of the productions weren’t going to suffer.

But it is interesting to note that none of the songs were written by the once prolific Amos Milburn himself. Instead, Greyhound, along with four other cuts, were penned by the great Rudy Toombs, hardly a step down in quality but definitely a sign that Milburn’s well of inspiration might be running dry.

Is that a troubling sign? Yeah, I think so. You always want to maintain a firm grip on your own musical direction rather than let different people pull you every which way in an attempt to unlock the key to a new formula. But even if his lack of input into the material was ominous, with songs this good it was kind of hard to complain… unless of course you only judged his success by chart placements and record sales.

Maybe if the Mesners paid him more Milburn could’ve stopped off in more places on his cross-country bus tour and starting plugging nickels in every jukebox he came across to boost those totals considerably allowing this minor gem to take its place alongside his biggest hits as an unexpected career highlight.


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