No tags :(

Share it

ALADDIN 3059; JUNE 1950



Though the fallout commercially from his decision to become a prototype version of Pat Boone or Georgia Gibbs – IE. a shameless cover artist – wouldn’t be very long lasting (indeed, after giving up this habit he’d quickly rebound on the charts) but when it comes to cementing what should’ve been an unassailable lasting legacy Amos Milburn seemed hellbent on handing away his artistic credibility.

Between Feburary and June 1950 Amos Milburn released a four singles, meaning eight sides, half of which were cover songs of records that were stirring action for others.

At first he focused on non-rock songs which at least gave him the excuse that he was introducing the tunes to an entirely new audience but with both sides of this release he finally lowered himself into ripping off his own brethren in the rock field, first Roy Brown on the top side and now Percy Mayfield, putting their sales at risk and conceivably weakening the rock landscape should he succeed and lessen the impact of other notable acts.

Witness protection program paging Amos Milburn.


Still In Misery
Before this record popped up I’d been wondering how to cover something which was bound to either go unmentioned until the fall of 1950, or would have to be awkwardly re-inserted into the new release rolls even though it was an old release being given a new airing on a different label, but thanks to Milburn here’s my chance to do it relatively seamlessly.

I’m talking about the fact that Percy Mayfield, whom we last saw in September 1949 on the about to go out of business Supreme Records, would have his lone release for that label be re-issued on the equally small Record In Hollywood imprint this past month where it’d promptly soar up the charts, establishing Mayfield as one to watch. It’d be the success of that record which would lead to him signing with Specialty Records where he’d quickly become a star while establishing himself as one of the most unique and original performers in rock’s first half dozen years.

Yet we already reviewed that song, Two Years Of Torture, not once but TWICE, as he’d cut a much more stripped down version for the Gru-V-Tone label back in late 1947 that was available for about eight and a half days in a twelve mile radius in Los Angeles sometime in early 1948. So while the later Supreme release was now turning heads on another label and becoming one of the defining records of June of 1950 where we find ourselves now, we couldn’t exactly stick the old review in here to inform readers about that unlikely turn of events.

As a result it looked as if we’d be forced to cram all of that information into his first Specialty release a few months from now. But then here comes Amos Milburn to solve our problem for us by covering Two Years Of Torture in a scurrilous attempt to derail poor Percy’s budding career.

Luckily for Percy Mayfield even someone as skilled as Milburn couldn’t hope to compete with the originator’s take on his own intricate composition and so this record was justifiably ignored by the masses and has slipped through the cracks of Amos’s catalog, destined to be forgotten… everywhere but here that is, where such an attempt won’t be looked upon kindly.

Stole My Gal From Me
The mounting disdain around here for the previously beloved Amos Milburn should let all readers know that when it comes to criticism nobody is let off the hook around these parts, even such revered figures as rock’s greatest artist to date.

But if there were any holdouts who might’ve felt we were guilty of pulling our punches in some way let today’s target dispel those thoughts once and for all, for now we take aim at Maxwell Davis, a man who we’ve praised as much as anyone thanks to his position as rock’s finest producer in its young history, but who on Two Years Of Torture is the one most likely responsible for its wholesale hijacking.

This recent cover craze has led us to throw blame at Aladdin Records for most likely pushing these songs on their artist in an attempt to jump on a ready-to-order hit, and we haven’t spared Amos in this either, for he could’ve flat-out refused to cut these things and put an end to it.

But here, Milburn’s first official studio session in months, the blame has to fall at the feet of the otherwise unimpeachable Davis because it was he who’d also arranged, played on and produced Percy Mayfield’s record that was currently making waves. If anybody should’ve had Percy’s back in this deal, it was Maxwell Davis.


I Guess I’m Doomed
The problem here is that the song has been overhauled to play to Milburn’s strengths which is a good move in theory and true enough, it’s hard to complain about Milburn’s vocals on a purely aesthetic level as his expressive soulfulness is a highlight on any record where it’s showcased as much as it is on this.

But whether it’s suitable to hear on this is another matter altogether as Amos’s delivery changes the entire mood at the heart of Two Years Of Torture. Whereas Mayfield was contemplative about much larger societal issues, Milburn seems to be brooding over a more personal problems, changing the focus and consequently lessening the impact.

To be fair it’s not completely ineffective by any means and is actually helped enormously by Davis’s sympathetic arrangement which, unlike the brass-heavy Mayfield production, reverts back to a low-key reed-centered ambiance led by his own infinitely warm saxophone lines. Sure enough the two play off one another as deftly as ever with Milburn’s occasionally stabbing piano breaking things up nicely alongside some more discreet guitar work by the always appreciated Gene Phillips.

In another time – well removed from the Mayfield release – maybe this would’ve been better received, as you could’ve more easily embraced the elements of it that fall into Milburn’s wheelhouse. But while it might be more sonically connected to the mainline of rock circa 1950, it’s not nearly as connected with its own source material which is where it falls apart.

I Still Remember
Though Amos Milburn was by far the more skilled singer with a much better voice it’s often hard for any good vocalist to compete with the one who wrote the song to begin with, especially when the writer was as quirky as Percy Mayfield.

Lyrics are always the focal point of any Mayfield composition but the stories he spins are so idiosyncratic that it’s easy for someone else to get lost trying to interpret them properly. Percy adds such distinct character to his readings that it shapes the story as much as the actual words do and even someone who is no slouch as a lyrical interpreter as Milburn would have his hands full with Two Years Of Torture.

It’s hard to tell whether it’s the structure of the lines which throws Milburn off his game, or if he’s simply unable to grasp the more esoteric nature of the lyrics and thus it upsets his timing as he tries – and often fails – to emphasize the right word in the right way. If the next sentence I wrote was in another language you probably would be able to work your way through it phonetically but without a knowledge of what it meant and the intricacies of its phrasing and accents you’d sound out of your element… the way Milburn does here.

The more he sings, the more uncomfortable he sounds… stretching syllables far past their breaking point, in effect trying to instill some alternate fabricated meaning into something whose real meaning is lost to him. I’m not suggesting he’s stupid and couldn’t understand it, but the real question is how much time went into actually studying Mayfield’s version… twenty minutes maybe? If that?

What made Percy Mayfield’s two versions work so well, despite sometimes non-existent or excessively strident musical backing, was voicing his own perspectives in the way he envisioned from the start. He was asking questions through his music and naturally the records embodied that approach.

Milburn on the other hand is asking different questions with his… namely, “What the heck is this song supposed to be about?”… and that’s no way to connect with an audience.

My Heart Feels Just The Same
As we’ve said before, all may be fair in love, war and the record business but there are exceptions to every rule and this is it.

Rock ‘n’ roll needed originality, it was what was going to allow it to stand out in the face of being dismissed in mainstream society and an industry that saw little value in it compared to other genres. Having rock’s biggest artist pilfering the work of OTHER rock acts was harmful to the entire movement.

Milburn’s shameless rip-off of Two Years Of Torture was soundly thrashed in the marketplace by Mayfield’s original, not just proving the folly of Milburn’s recent immersion in cover records (zero hits with them despite being the biggest star in the entire field) and so the potential ramifications became a moot point.

But all the same it’s worth considering what might’ve happened had Mayfield’s version had been quickly overtaken on the charts, blocking his road to stardom and perhaps even preventing him from getting the record deal that would turn his fortunes around. Who was to say if he’d have gotten another chance, or if he’d have chosen instead to focus solely on writing rather than performing.

If Amos Milburn had been responsible for robbing the rock world of three decades of Percy Mayfield gems still to come then this innocuous little record would’ve been all the more unforgivable.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Percy Mayfield – Version One (May, 1948)
Percy Mayfield – Version Two (September, 1949)