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Perception is a strange thing.

There’s little doubt Amos Milburn was the top rock artist of the 1940’s and while he’s been more inconsistent once the 1950’s rolled around, the number of really good to great records is exactly the same by our count in this decade as last… and in an identical span of time no less.

But whether he’s just not standing out as much because there’s more competition now, or if we’ve gotten so used to him that we take him for granted, it’s safe to say that as 1952 winds down the widely held perception is that Amos Milburn has been demoted from superstar down to plain ol’ ordinary star and with just one minor hit in the last year and a half even that designation seems in limbo.

It’s not… at least not for another year or so… but you can at least see why Aladdin Records were intent on trying to remind rock fans of Milburn’s legacy before it was too late.


Started To Leave, I Got To The Door…
No artist, no matter how good they are, stays on top forever and the general time span for peak impact in rock is usually around seven years in the singles era and even that’s for only a select few.

Even with the rather barren stretch he’s had of late, Amos Milburn will fall just short of that when it comes to major hits, though this is as much due to Aladdin’s own meddling with his output – insisting on a string of cover songs rather than originals – as it is Milburn’s own diminishing talents.

But recently Aladdin Records were trying to get him back on track by seeking out more relevant quality material from outside sources now that Milburn wasn’t penning a lot of his own songs anymore. For the August session that produced these last two singles of his they got Greyhound from Rudy Toombs, one of the best songwriters in the business and while it wasn’t a national hit, it did get some regional chart action plus a lot of covers from other acts.

Here they don’t even have to travel outside their own studios, as Rock, Rock, Rock was contributed by fellow Aladdin artist Peppermint Harris, who probably should’ve kept it for himself since he’s in need of a hit too despite some great recent output of his own.

But Milburn sure won’t complain as he knows it’s far better to be singing a song that makes its musical allegiance clear rather than have his record company hand him another country, jazz, blues or pop song that he’s forced to try and turn into something relevant.


Rocked All Day, Rocked All Night
If looking at the title you were hoping this was a storming track where he and the band push each other to the extreme… well, you aren’t alone.

That’s been one of the biggest disappointments in Amos Milburn’s comparative downturn the last few years… just how few times he’s really been allowed to cut loose.

Though this one doesn’t give him that opportunity either, that’s ultimately less important than what it DOES do for him, which is give him a song that has the kind of message that we want out of him, not to mention the type of arrangement that best suits him… and us for that matter.

That said, it doesn’t start off great. Not that the song is at fault, but Milburn seems a little lethargic… distracted… maybe a little unconvinced if you want to go that far. The first stanza he sounds sluggish and you wonder if he’s had too much to drink or if it being the last cut of a double session – eight songs rather than four – has left him worn out.

But then the pieces of Rock, Rock, Rock fall into place, Milburn clearly gets inspired by the tune and from there on in everything runs smoothly, in large part due to Maxwell Davis who isn’t about to let a song this good go to waste.

Though only a mid-tempo romp rather than something running on higher octane fuel, Davis gives it a laid-back swagger that suits it fine, letting Jesse Sailes’ drums emphasize the shuffling beat while the other instruments are mostly laying back.

But in the breaks they leap to the forefront, especially his own saxophone delivering a series of grinding solos, while the guitar of Johnny Moore adds tasty fills, as does Amos himself on piano later on. Though none of the solos ever get out of control which would throw the whole balance of the record out of whack, they’re still energetic in a compact sort of way, growling and pacing like a caged animal.

As for Milburn, he may seem a little buzzed while singing this but once he gets into the song that attitude fits the presentation well, as for a song about sex he’s got to maintain a casual nonchalance so as not to seem like a guy who expects this kind of outcome when he’s with a girl. But at the same time he can’t be so laid-back that we call into question whether he actually got it on or is just saying he did to save face.

Don’t worry, he does more than enough to convince us, as he delivers this all with a sly grin, a sort of detached sense of eroticism that acknowledges it was fun but is still trying to make sure the girl seems more enthused about it than he is to maintain his cool take-it-in-stride demeanor.

By the end he’s too caught up in the excitement not to let it show and for that we’re grateful. Just like a girl wants to know her man was pleased in bed, the rock fan who is welcoming the return of an artist to the kind of material they craved wants to know that he wasn’t just following orders in the studio, but that he too liked what they were putting down.


Rockin’ My Blues Away
Though everybody had to be disappointed that this wasn’t a big hit, thereby running the risk of having Aladdin get the idea that they needed to head in an altogether different direction next time out, it did make some Cash Box regional listings – in Philly, Atlanta and Houston – it was never quite enough to push it into the national charts.

The fact is though you can kind of see why it might’ve had a little trouble breaking through.

The R&B Charts at the end of 1952 were a strange mix of styles that we thought had been largely pushed aside by rock ‘n’ roll. Blues in particular are having a huge commercial upswing of late with Willie Mabon, Guitar Slim, Little Walter, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Brownie McGhee, Eddie Boyd and Jimmy McCracklin all vying for the spots that just recently were filled with rock hits.

Meanwhile jazz vets like Count Basie and Illinois Jacquet, and jazz influenced artists more in the pop realm now like Nat Cole and Dinah Washington, were competing for space right alongside them.

All of which meant that rock ‘n’ roll was now left fighting for their place in the spotlight once again. Naturally that favored artists with more recent consistent success – The Clovers, The Dominoes, Fats Domino – whose records were sought out immediately, while newer artists like Johnny Ace, Shirley & Lee, The “5” Royales and right around the corner Jesse & Marvin and Big Maybelle were the ones who were turning heads for the first time which generates a lot of word of mouth.

By contrast someone like Amos Milburn was sort of taken for granted by now and while Rock, Rock, Rock would be met with approval by those who heard the record, it was going to take a little more to push those who’ve given up on him, or those younger rock fans who’d never knew what the fuss was about, to realize this was one worth getting and seek it out.

If nothing else though these recent efforts were definitive signs that Milburn was enjoying a creative revival of late and paving the way for one last burst of sustained commercial success that would put him consistently back on the charts throughout 1953.

We were never quite ready to give up on him around here, but even so it’s good to see he hasn’t lost his touch even if he somehow misplaced it for awhile.


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