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The method used for where to place these sporadic From The Vault tracks is sort of like tossing hand grenades – you aren’t necessarily concerned with pinpoint accuracy, just looking to hit a fairly large target area.

Since we’re only throwing a few of the better unreleased sides into the mix in order to more thoroughly show rock ‘n’ roll’s creative evolution – and since typically only top tier artists recorded enough material to have good work left on the shelf – it means that some names will pop up frequently in this capacity, especially early on when there were relatively few rock acts in the studios.

So where to put these “lost” records comes down to what spot on the release schedule for them or their label has a “hole” in it. For Amos Milburn, already one of Aladdin’s most promising acts, that means this song cut in 1947 would’ve still made for a timely release in early spring off 1948 when he was still months away from achieving a real breakthrough.

Had this one been issued as the daffodils and crocuses bloomed it might not have sped up his assent to stardom, but it would have been all but guaranteed to turn the head of any one fortunate enough to hear it.


Tried To Hold ‘Em Down
The strange quirk of Amos Milburn’s career was that he was cutting uptempo rocking tracks before rock ‘n’ roll “officially” existed but after Roy Brown established this new genre as a standalone entity in late summer 1947 Aladdin spent much of the next year releasing a string of soulful ballads on Milburn, save for his best record to date, the storming Bye Bye Boogie.

Maybe that sold less than the ballads had recently, so they mostly stuck with the slower tunes until next fall. Though he didn’t have the commercial returns yet to prove it, certainly no one with working ears could fail to appreciate Amos’s diverse talents as a songwriter, pianist and vocalist in whichever course he chose – downbeat or uptempo – and so with so much ground to cover it was probably inevitable that one aspect of his persona would be at risk for being neglected for a time while they tried to establish him in other approaches.

But as there are traditionally two sides to every single it would’ve paid to have put something like Nickle Plated Baby on the back of one of the more introspective songs just to remind people what Milburn was capable of when cutting loose. (Since this was never released on record we can’t see how Aladdin would have spelled it, but they use this “alternate” spelling of “nickle” on the Chronological Classics CD, so blame the French if it looks wrong to you too).

Now that Wynonie Harris had released what will soon become rock’s first #1 hit with Good Rockin’ Tonight, it would’ve made sense for Aladdin to release a powder keg of a record like this in an effort to try and throw down the gauntlet with Harris – and with Brown – to see which of them was going to be the first to take the rock crown.


Loves To Have Her Fun
The thing about piano rockers of the late 1940’s through the end of the 1950’s is the intros don’t necessarily reveal their specific era. Horns definitely do, guitars – not that they’re used much now – do, and any number of other instruments do as well, as all of them have stylistic cues indicative of their time and place. But not pianos.

Sure, pianists focused on frantic pounding of the treble keys (Little Richard) while others leaned towards laying down heavy left hand basslines (Jerry Lee Lewis), but the rhythms they use are fairly interchangeable on rock tracks and when Amos Milburn come storming into the picture here you’d believe this was cut in 1957 just as easily as you would 1947.

If that were all Nickle Plated Baby had going for it musically it’d still be a strong record, but anytime Maxwell Davis is involved you know there’s going to be multiple levels to the arrangement that will make it stand out and this is no exception. First off there’s the unique way in which he positions his own saxophone, sort of shadowing Milburn’s vocals, moaning behind him and then using a discreet stuttering technique in between stanzas which is kept back in the mix giving it a haunting sort of feeling, the reasons for which might become more evident as the song unfolds.

Before we get there however he steps aside for an unnamed guitarist who adds a third distinctive sound to the mix, easing into the picture with some hesitant notes, almost as if he’s unsure of whether he should intrude on Milburn’s relentless piano before deciding he might as well take his turn too. His solo is hardly flashy but very efficient as the two instruments merely switch places, Amos still playing in the background to keep the pace churning while the guitar takes a more measured approach. This shifting focus technique allows the song to feel as though it never lets up while never seeming repetitive.

The main focus for most of the performance though has to be Amos’s vocals which are designed to grab your attention, not because they’re being sung fiercely, but rather because he’s singing such fierce lyrics. “She can do more damage than five atomic bombs” tells you everything you need to know in just one line about the woman he is taking out and after that extended instrumental break he drops the hammer regarding just how potent she is you recoil in shock at the conclusion which breaks new ground in that it’s the first rock record to be delivered from beyond the grave.

The story may not be very deep – well, no more than six feet deep anyway – but Milburn is so devilishly sly in his delivery that it’s impossible not to be captivated by him. Listening to him tear it up on the keyboards, casually drop necrophilia into a song and somehow sing an uptempo tune in a laid back style it’s hardly a stretch to say that his future stardom seems all but inevitable after this one.


Long Before The Break Of Day
Would something this… futuristic?… offbeat?… incendiary?… have been a hit in 1948? Well, maybe not officially, the markets that were actively being surveyed for their tastes were still probably too mainstream and adult-oriented for this to have much penetration, but it’s no stretch to envision a record like this creating a host of instant converts to Milburn and to rock ‘n’ roll among those who heard it.

But for some inexplicable reason Aladdin kept Nickle Plated Baby under wraps. Yes, they had an embarrassment of riches with Milburn, but leaving something so much fun – musically, lyrically and otherwise – on the shelf was hard to fathom.

The only way people can be turned on to new music, new artists and new songs of course is to let them hear them and as great as Amos Milburn was from the start – and as popular as he’d become down the road – there’s arguably an entire catalog of his songs never released during his heyday that would’ve had the same effect had they swapped out all of his hits for these lost sides.

In the spring of 1948 as Wynonie Harris and Paul Williams and The Ravens were setting rock’s commercial wheels in motion, Milburn was largely taking a back seat, but this is yet another piece of evidence that the hit parade was the only place he was lagging behind.


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