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Let’s see what we have here… a young piano player vocalist from Houston making a record for a rock label in mid-1949…

Wait! Hold it right there! Obviously based on the information just laid out here we have no need to go even one step further and try and humor any of you into thinking that we might have a surprise to uncover.

In fact the only surprise about this release is that they put the more generic – but still quite good – uptempo song on the top side, because given the circumstances you and I both knew that ONE of these songs was going to be a blatant imitation of an Amos Milburn ballad.

This is that song.


‘Til The Stars Begin To Fade
Each generation of rock has their signature artist, the one who not only scores the most hits but also seems to dominate the thinking of other labels and artists who seek to emulate them in a desperate attempt at getting noticed. For the late 1940’s it’d be futile to try and argue for anyone other than Amos Milburn as being that standard bearer in rock.

Everywhere you looked it seemed his records were being played and if not HIS records, then there were plenty of other guys who did their very best to sound just like him.

Granted, outside of Little Willie Littlefield none of them managed to build lasting careers after starting off as Milburn-imitators, but you can certainly understand the appeal for those like Littlefield who were just coming of age in Houston after watching Amos leave town and find national stardom just a few years earlier.

Add to that list Carl Campbell who on Between Midnight And Dawn acquits himself fairly well for a 16 year old making his debut while being asked to pretend he’s somebody else entirely.

Feel So All Alone
The Milburn formula that was easiest to emulate was found on ballads where his soulful vocals over a sultry tenor sax with his piano filling in the cracks spun a decidedly seductive web over listeners. Since most of the guilty parties when it came to appropriating his style were pianists themselves, not to mention Houston natives sharing the same vague regional accent, this was a natural persona to slip on like a jacket on a cool morning.

Campbell reputedly wasn’t playing piano on his session, leaving that to another frequent Milburn-acolyte, Lonnie Lyons, but the pieces on Between Midnight And Dawn are all present and accounted for no matter who gets the credit where a slow choppy piano intro soon gives way to Campbell’s plaintive yearning.

We know that for most of these cuts the sentiments aren’t going to change much. They were songs of heartbreak which need only to set an appropriate mood of remorse, where the singer is alone with their memories of a lost love, pining away for someone we in the listening audience will never know by design because the songwriter is banking on us filling in the blanks with our own similar experiences.

Campbell does that with reasonable effectiveness here, giving us just enough of an outline to suffice while adding one clever detail as he’s thinking about this girl while in his rocking chair which brings a double, or is that triple, meaning to the line “Rock from midnight”.

The literal meaning of course is that he’s just sitting alone in the chair as his mind wanders back to when they were together. The more suggestive one however tells us what he’d like to be doing with his girl if they reconciled. Then on top of it all it also serves as a form of advertising for the style of music he’s singing. Talk about getting more bang for your buck… another term with multiple meanings come to think of it.

As for how he sounds during all this, well he sounds like a less potent Milburn, a little more nasal and without the layers of emotional nuance that Amos brought to the table, but close enough to get you to do a double take if passing the speaker without knowing who it actually was and that’s probably what Freedom Records was hoping for – deceiving you into thinking there was a Milburn record you hadn’t gotten your hands on yet.

Need You In My Arms
To pull this subterfuge off effectively they’ll need The Hep-Cats to deliver a good facsimile of the Los Angeles studio pros led by Maxwell Davis which is easier said than done considering the distinctive tone he gets from his saxophone has proven thus far to be somewhat elusive for other horns.

Sure enough that proves to be the case here as well, the parts following the basic blueprint without quite replicating the exact effect.

Lyons’ piano is just a little too simplistic to evoke Milburn’s style, skirting the edge of crudity at times, both in terms of what he plays and how he plays it. The saxophone, probably Sam Williams on tenor, giving us a fair imitation of Davis’s languid approach while never fully achieving the same hypnotic pull, where the notes seem to melt in your ears.

As a result Between Midnight And Dawn is a serviceable fill-in that loses its value once the authentic artist and records come into view.

If there was some unexplained dearth of Amos Milburn releases all of a sudden, had he suffered the kind of career threatening injury that a Jimmy Liggins was enduring at the current time that threatened to take him out of circulation for a year or more, well then, this kind of substitute would be most welcome.

But looking around we see Amos Milburn is alive and well and releasing new singles like clockwork every few months, all of which were routinely better than this takeoff. Not only that but Littlefield was still drawing heavily from the Milburn prototype and was hitting his stride at this time with the vaguely similarily titled It’s Midnight (which was recorded months AFTER Campbell laid this down, in case you were wondering if he was copying Willie instead) you can see the logjam starting to form when it comes to this approach.

Campbell’s efforts here, while a fairly well executed imitation, are still just an imitation and there’s not much mileage in that no matter how good you are.

Won’t Have To Worry
Because it’s such a thin line between respectful homage and crass rip-off, usually that’s more than enough to keep most truly ambitious artists steering clear of these ill-fated attempts, but when taking into account Campbell’s youth, his similar background and the inexperience of Freedom Records we can probably cut them a little more slack in this case… but not much.

The deeper we get into rock ‘n’ roll history it’s becoming clear that originality is the attribute that most often separates the great artists from the hoi polloi. The fact that Littlefield was currently proving to be the very glaring exception to that rule might make Carl Campbell feel a little better in his decision to plow the same ground with Between Midnight And Dawn, but that arguably only makes it twice as tough for him to score now… after all, he’s now no better than third in line for filling the audience’s needs with this type of record.

But creative decisions aside, Campbell does show enough on both sides of his debut to at least make us curious as to his future course, whether he can develop his own musical persona, or at the very least refine what he’s given us so far.

Since sixteen year olds tend to be impulsive even in normal situations, there’s still plenty of time for him to start exploring other ideas and gradually settle into his own skin.


(Visit the Artist page of Carl Campbell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)