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After being critical of the mindset of Aladdin Records when it came to recording a cover version of a currently popular, but nonetheless still out of date, non-rock tune and then releasing it as an A-side on their biggest artist, we’re back to grant them something of a reprieve when it comes to their choice of what to pair it with.

Yet in spite of this song satisfying all of the basic needs of a flip-side – different tempo, different lyrical perspective, different instrumental highlights and even assuring that the artist himself got a writer’s credit on the back of a song written by someone else – this record also illustrates why after coming off a fifteen month stretch where he was the most popular AND most consistently impressive artist in all of rock Amos Milburn now seemed to be walking instead of driving when it came to his career.


To The Graveyard
In isolation a song like this would be a welcome sight, for it’s always good to see an artist, especially one as successful as Milburn has been, to tweak their approach to avoid becoming formulaic yet at the same time still delivering something suitable for their talents. But no song can ever be taken completely out of its environment at the time it was released and so the presence of this interesting but quirky record can’t help but seem a little underwhelming compared to what we’ve come to expect.

In the case of Walking Blues we get some of what’s expected in the form of his languid, practically sultry, vocals which is his preferred delivery for mid-tempo songs like this.

But maybe saying “songs like this” is misleading because he hasn’t given us songs like this before… in fact, outside of Cousin Joe and The Velvetones, NOBODY has given us songs like this in rock yet as in the very first line he confesses to shooting his girlfriend and then after trying to bury her finds out she’s still alive and kicking and not mad at him for trying to end her life for no good reason, but rather she’s still horny for him!

Needless to say this isn’t your usual “moon/June” romantic song.

But while such a lead-in has us riveted, wondering where in the hell he can take such an audacious idea after that opening stanza knocked us on our ass, he inexplicably eases off on the menace and seems to completely switch up perspectives, leaving her bullet riddled corpse behind in search of another girl presumably… and frankly by the sounds of it, in search of another song with an entirely different theme.


Back Your Mule Up To My Stall
Just so as to not leave you hanging with the grim reaper’s quest for his next date, Amos proceeds to find another girl who doesn’t know about his past breakup technique and he proceeds to hit on her in the crudest way imaginable, then just rambles around the town making a series of off-the-wall observations, never seeming to be in a hurry, either in the story or in the song’s pacing. Yet for all of his stops along the way he never actually gets anyplace, in the end leaving us more bewildered than fully entertained.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still fascinating to hear but the individual lines are better than the end result when they’re all fitted together because it really has no narrative thread and the emphasis on “walking” as the key story device is never quite explained. The main vocal hook – not so much a chorus as a punctuation to each brief scene – is that he’s “so glad that trouble doesn’t last always”.

Well sure, that’s a reasonable thought to have if you’re attempting murder, having indiscriminate sex in alleys and prostituting your new girlfriend, all of which he does here without so much as batting an eye at their inappropriate nature, but I defy you to figure out how merely walking away from this self-created trouble gets you anywhere in life… or in the song for that matter.

This brings us to issue number two, not only does the song sort of… (well, I suppose its too obvious not to use here)… “walk around in circles”, never establishing a plot, character motivation or a resolution, as he’s still walking and sinning at the end of the tale, same as he was at the beginning, but musically it also leads nowhere but in circles.

The reason for this, and admittedly this was why we were complilemnting it at the beginning for bringing something new to the table, is the reliance on the electric guitar of Texas Johnny Brown whose lucid playing is a welcome sight, giving Walking Blues not only the right mood for the story but also a different sound than the usual sax and piano driven arrangements that Milburn’s songs normally featured.

But that new edgy guitar sound becomes disconcerting in a way when it remains the only noteworthy accompaniment for the entire track, playing sharp biting licks that are always interesting but don’t deviate from the tempo or intensity that was established at the start. As a result the record starts to lurch rather than surge ahead, which considering all of the nefarious activity being described is what you really want – a good chase scene!

Musically what that would entail is either a booting sax solo or at the very least having Brown ramp up his playing, launching into a frantic boogie or even downshift to emphasize the tormented nature of the sentiments involved he could twist and gnarl the strings as if strangling another sadomasochistic female that crossed his path.

Instead, despite some great interjections along the way, it never really breaks away from the established framework giving the record far too monotonous a feel even if you greatly admire the technique Brown brings to the table.

Sell Some For A Nickel, Sell Some For A Dime
Milburn’s piano is the other primary instrument heard here and at least it gets room to stretch its legs a little more during the mid-song instrumental break but while he too plays well it’s not quite the explosive outlet we’re hoping for considering the foreboding atmosphere created by the lyrics.

Ahh yes, those lyrics, ominous and macabre as they are, which means his method of delivering them becomes paramount in how this is perceived… and why this doesn’t quite connect as well as it should.

It’s not exactly accurate to say he sounds emotionally detached during Walking Blues, he’s certainly not mailing it in by any means, but rather he’s coming across like a true psychopath in that he has no feeling for the lives around him, whether good or bad, a victim or a fellow perpetrator, he’s viewing them almost through a zombie’s eyes, too far over the edge to have any emotions left.

I suppose in that way it’s a superlative acting job, but without a more detailed script and character motivation we’re left more stunned than absorbed by his narrative.

Let’s also bring up the fact that during the instrumental break we can hear conversation in the control room (or possibly other musicians on the studio floor, say the horn section that’s sitting out) leaking onto the tape. They certainly might have plenty of interesting topics to discuss, like say gossiping about the girl in the story who according to Amos has just bought her way out of prison by servicing the judge sexually, but having their murmured voices on the track was hardly intentional which means this is just sloppy production.

Those kind of behind-the-scenes looks are rare from this era and would be quite welcome on some in-depth boxed set with alternate takes galore to go with studio chatter and demos, but this was a released single, not some outtake that found its way into collectors hands fifty years down the road.


I’ll Keep Walking
So the question becomes, what to make of all this?

Milburn’s performance – and that of Johnny Brown – contain some really good moments and no real flaws, other than merely missed opportunities to shake things up a little bit more. The lyrics will stop you in your tracks for sure if you’re not given a fair warning of what’s to follow, but they mostly leave you hanging, hoping for an explanation you never get.

Aladdin’s choice to pair this with the far more flimsy content of Johnson Rag makes good sense, as does its use of the different sound textures and vocal approach, but while I definitely recommend hearing it and find it endlessly fascinating to imagine what was going through Amos’s head when he wrote this, neither side of this single is what should’ve been pulled off the shelf when hoping for a hit record.

Most record labels were run by non-musical people without much interest in the artistic side of the equation to begin with however and so it’s entirely possible that Aladdin’s Eddie Mesner didn’t really listen closely to the song besides just hearing the overall sound and just released it because it fit the A-side/B-side prototype sonically.

It’s even possible that Amos Milburn recorded this as something of a lark – taking an extreme situation and seeing what he could spin out of it – and was curious to see if Mesner would release it without scrutinizing the content, thus explaining the truly wild subject matter as well as the somewhat unfocused recording. If he did I’d be tempted to boost the grade up a point for the sheer audacity of it alone.

As it is though Walking Blues only really stands out as being one of the more atypical songs we’ve come across, a truly bizarro tale from the crypt as it were. Due to the talent of the artist and band it almost can’t help but sound good but because they don’t go all out on it and really try for a knockout performance it remains little more than an intriguing curiosity.


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