Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Amos Milburn (April 1, 1927 January 3, 1980) was an American rhythm and blues singer, and pianist, popular in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born and died in Houston, Texas.

Life and career
Born in Houston, one of thirteen children, by the age of five Milburn was playing tunes on the piano. He enlisted in the United States Navy when he was fifteen and earned thirteen battle stars in the Philippines, before returning to Houston and organizing a sixteen-piece band playing in Houston clubs, and mixing with the Houston jazz and blues scene. He was a polished pianist and performer and in 1946 attracted the attention of an enterprising woman who arranged a recording session with Aladdin Records in Los Angeles. Milburn's relationship with Aladdin lasted eight years during which he cut over seventy-five sides. His cover of "Down the Road a Piece" (1946), a blues with a rocking Texas boogie beat that bordered on rock, was ahead of its time. However, none caught on until 1949 when seven of his singles got the attention of the R&B audience. "Hold Me Baby" and "Chicken Shack Boogie" landed numbers eight and nine on Billboard's survey of 1949's R&B Bestsellers.

He became one of the leading performers associated with the Central Avenue music scene of Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood. Among his best known songs was "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer". In 1950 Milburn's "Bad, Bad, Whiskey" reached the top of the R&B charts and began a string of drinking songs (none written by Milburn, but several penned by Rudy Toombs). However, there is no evidence that Milburn had a drinking problem.

Milburn continued his successful drinking songs through 1952 {"Thinking and Drinking", "Trouble in Mind"} and was by now touring the country playing clubs. While touring the Midwest that summer, he announced that he would disband his combo and continue as a solo act and that fall he joined Charles Brown for a Southern concert tour. For the next few years his tours were made up of strings of one nighters. After three years of solo performing he returned to Houston in 1956 to reform his band. In 1957 Milburn's releases on Aladdin Records did not sell well, and the record label, having its own problems, went out of business. He tried to regain commercial success with a few more releases on Ace Records but his time had passed. Radio airplay was becoming focused on the teenage market.

Milburn contributed a fine offering to the R&B Yuletide canon in 1960 with his swinging "Christmas (Comes but Once a Year)" for King. Berry Gordy gave him a comeback forum in 1962, issuing an album on Motown predominated by remakes of his old hits that doesn't deserve its extreme rarity today (even Little Stevie Wonder pitched in on harmonica for the sessions).

Nothing could jump start the pianist's fading career by then, though.

Milburn's final recording was on an album by Johnny Otis. This was in 1972 after he had been incapacitated by a stroke, so much so that Otis had to play the left-hand piano parts for his enfeebled old friend. His second stroke led to the amputation of a leg because of circulatory problems. He died shortly after at the age of 52 from a third stroke.

Legacy
The Texan boogie woogie pianist and singer was an important marker in the map of blues music in the years following World War II. His best work encapsulated much of what was good about his Houston, hipster's romp style, piano work. Thus, Milburn remains an important figure in the history of blues musicianship.

Milburn's boogleing R&B records rocked as hard as the later Rock 'n' Roll. Milburn was one of the first performers to switch from sophisticated jazz arrangements to a rougher jump blues. He began to put rhythm first and technical qualities of voice and instrumentation second. His high-energy numbers, about getting 'high', led the way for a 10 year party, jointly celebrated by fellow musician admirers, such as Little Willie Littlefield, Floyd Dixon and his prime disciple, Fats Domino.

He was a commercial success for eleven years and influenced many performers. Fats Domino consistently credited Milburn as an influence on his music. At least one person has noted the similarity between Milburn's piano fills and Chuck Berry's later guitar styling's. Milburn was a musical pioneer, who made the transition from the swing and jump blues of the 1940s, to the R&B of the late 1940s and early 1950s, that evolved into today's rock music