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ALADDIN 3133; MAY 1952



Though in terms of actual years it hasn’t been all that long since Amos Milburn was among those who put rock ‘n’ roll on the map in the late 1940’s, helping to define its vast stylistic possibilities and ensuring with hit after hit that it would be commercially viable, but in some ways it seems like ancient history already thanks to the multitude of artists who’ve followed in his wake and have expanded on what he laid forth.

While Milburn’s still scoring hits, they’re not as frequent as before and he’s no longer ahead of the curve creatively. He’s become an elder statesman of sorts – at just 25 years old!! – a highly respected veteran all-star, but no longer a rising phenom.

Yet in that role Milburn can still excel, especially when he seems to be subtly reminding one and all just how prominent rock ‘n’ roll has become under his watch.


Sure Know How To Roll
Since Amos Milburn did not write this song we can’t accuse him of blowing his own horn with the lyrics, but keep in mind we tend to quote actors and the characters they play rather than the screenwriters when attributing movie quotes, so the fact this is coming from Milburn’s lips – and fits his backstory – gives it more impact.

In truth though it might be referring to Jelly Roll Morton, the legendary jazz pianist from New Orleans, which it DOES reference by name (Milburn remember was from Houston), but since everything else seems to describe Amos’s own music career, including the actual TYPE of music he played which Morton never did (IE. rock ‘n’ roll) we’ll take liberties with who we assign the part being laid out in the story.

Besides, while Roll Mr. Jelly is far from perfect as a record, the attitude Milburn inhabits on it is flawless and considering how it practically gives a state of the union address for rock ‘n’ roll in 1952 as it seems poised to break through to an even larger national stage, it probably deserves a better reputation than it currently has.

After all, any chance to hear one of rock’s original stars singing the praises of the music that he made famous – and made HIM famous in exchange – at a time when that era was barely in the rear view mirror is one to cherish.


That Rockin’ Rockin’ Rhythm That Satisfies The Soul
Maybe we should start with the few things here that don’t quite live up to our expectations so that nobody becomes concerned we’re overlooking them to praise the other elements that stand out in comparison.

For starters there’s the rather restrained horns on the opening. While the simple riff they’re playing isn’t out of place, it’s lacking the gritty textures that suggest something more sinister that would help to put this over right out of the gate.

When Milburn comes in he seems to be conscious of reining himself in just enough so that he doesn’t overwhelm them, meaning that his introduction, even with the appropriate wordplay, isn’t selling the lyrics with quite enough emphasis.

But that doesn’t last long, for once he’s got his feet under him then he starts to sing with a smirk which leads to the second – and perhaps more likely – scenario regarding the subject matter of Roll Mr. Jelly.

As most experienced Lotharios know, “jelly roll” is a term for the female genitalia and while the song skirts this issue by swapping the placement of the offending words so it isn’t as obvious to the morality police, it’s not hard to see beyond that clever subterfuge to see what the true meaning could be.

Sure enough there are some lines here which describe that very thing, or at least how Milburn satisfies that very thing with as many women around town as he’s able, and if that’s your interpretation of the subject matter, by all means enjoy your flavorful dish. The song works almost as well when taken that way, but in spite of the obvious pleasures gotten from such a situation the record doesn’t quite have the same punch as it does when you consider this to be Milburn crowing about his own prowess in another area.

The musical one.

That’s frankly the more interesting one for us as listeners, since sexual boasts tend to… umm… get kinda limp without more rakish humor than is shown here. By contrast the cocky strut of Milburn singing his own praises as a musician on Roll Mr. Jelly hold more weight with rock fans who’ve obviously are in agreement over his prowess as an artist as evidenced by the roll call of his sixteen national hits and counting.

With a torrid slow burn sax solo by Billie Smith of his road band, some sneaky guitar work by Wayne Bennett and Milburn himself banging away on the keys, this has got that late night roadhouse feel as the track progresses and the band lets loose. That’s where Amos is in his element, and to hear him crowing about women waking him at four in the morning to be with him (admittedly for sex, presumably not him singing to them, though you never know) you realize that the two topics go hand in hand.

You get your rocks off tonight and sing rock ‘n’ roll tomorrow to celebrate it and that way in the end you wind up covering all the appropriate bases with this music.


Nobody Around Town Can Do The Things I Can
Surprisingly this record – at least this side of this record – didn’t even make a regional chart, which either shows that Milburn’s popularity was dwindling after all, or that he had the misfortune to have it issued right on the heels of so many all-time classics in the span of two or three months that were dominating the charts as we speak.

Regardless, while Roll Mr. Jelly isn’t about to take its place with his own all-time classics, it does show that one of rock’s founding fathers wasn’t ready for the retirement home yet.

Whether you want to claim that’s because he’s still getting laid every night by a half dozen or more women, or if it’s due to him still being able to raise your temperature without anyone shedding a stich of clothing simply by singing and playing like this, it probably doesn’t matter.

This shows that rock’s best act of the 1940’s is as vital as ever artistically in 1952, even if commercially he’s got to slug it out with his own musical offspring just to be heard.

Maybe that’s the take away from this one… his role in making rock ‘n’ roll as popular as it became meant there was never any shortage of vital artists in the field for the rest of his time on earth.


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