Our man found an early connection to Country and western music and later fused it with the other two predominant musical influences of the Mississippi Delta: Gospel & Blues. A youthful Little Milton began studying what he heard and practiced; mastering songs and reciting them, no matter what the style or difficulty. By his early teens, he was performing in local clubs and bars across the Delta. As Milton grew into a young man, he didn't waste any time learning the ropes or absorbing all the musical possibilities that existed at the time. He played street corners, alleys, dives, you name it, carefully developing his craft and attracting the attention of established acts and local record labels. By the time Ike Turner introduced Milton to Sam Phillips of Sun Records in the early 50's, he was a young but seasoned performer with a momentous live show that created a buzz in every town he played... ..N'joy
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He may not be a household name, but die-hard blues fans know Little Milton as a superb all-around electric bluesman -- a soulful singer, an evocative guitarist, an accomplished songwriter, and a skillful bandleader. He's often compared to the legendary B.B. King -- as well as Bobby "Blue" Bland -- for the way his signature style combines soul, blues, and R&B, a mixture that helped make him one of the biggest-selling bluesmen of the '60s (even if he's not as well-remembered as King). As time progressed, his music grew more and more orchestrated, with strings and horns galore. He maintained a steadily active recording career all the way from his 1953 debut on Sam Phillips' legendary Sun label, with his stunning longevity including notable stints at Chess (where he found his greatest commercial success), Stax, and Malaco.
James Milton Campbell was born September 7, 1934, in the small Delta town of Inverness, MS, and grew up in Greenville. (He would later legally drop the "James" after learning of a half-brother with the same name.) His father Big Milton, a farmer, was a local blues musician, and Milton also grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio program. At age 12, he began playing the guitar and saved up money from odd jobs to buy his own instrument from a mail-order catalog. By 15, he was performing for pay in local clubs and bars, influenced chiefly by T-Bone Walker but also by proto-rock & roll jump blues shouters. He made a substantial impression on other area musicians, even getting a chance to back Sonny Boy Williamson II, and caught the attention of R&B great Ike Turner, who was doubling as a talent scout for Sam Phillips at Sun. Turner introduced the still-teenaged Little Milton to Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Turner's band backing him, Milton's Sun sides tried a little bit of everything -- he hadn't developed a signature style as of yet, but he did have a boundless youthful energy that made these early recordings some of his most exciting and rewarding. Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton's association with Sun was over by the end of 1954. He set about forming his own band, which waxed one single for the small Meteor label in 1957, before picking up and moving to St. Louis in 1958.
In St. Louis, Milton befriended DJ Bob Lyons, who helped him record a demo in a bid to land a deal on Mercury. The label passed, and the two set up their own label, christened Bobbin. Little Milton's Bobbin singles finally started to attract some more widespread attention, particularly "I'm a Lonely Man," which sold 60,000 copies despite being the very first release on a small label. As head of A&R, Milton brought artists like Albert King and Fontella Bass into the Bobbin fold, and with such a high roster caliber, the label soon struck a distribution arrangement with the legendary Chess Records. Milton himself switched over to the Chess subsidiary Checker in 1961, and it was there that he would settle on his trademark soul-inflected, B.B. King-influenced style. Initially a moderate success, Milton had his big breakthrough with 1965's "We're Gonna Make It," which hit number one on the R&B charts thanks to its resonance with the civil rights movement. "We're Gonna Make It" kicked off a successful string of R&B chart singles that occasionally reached the Top Ten, highlighted by "Who's Cheating Who?," "Grits Ain't Groceries," "If Walls Could Talk," "Baby I Love You," and "Feel So Bad," among others.
The death of Leonard Chess in 1969 threw his label into disarray, and Little Milton eventually left Checker in 1971 and signed with the Memphis-based soul label Stax (also the home of his former protégé Albert King). At Stax, Milton began expanding his studio sound, adding bigger horn and string sections and spotlighting his soulful vocals more than traditional blues. Further hits followed in songs like "Annie Mae's Cafe," "Little Bluebird," "That's What Love Will Make You Do," and "Walkin' the Back Streets and Cryin'," but generally not with the same magnitude of old. Stax went bankrupt in 1975, upon which point Little Milton moved to the TK/Glades label, which was better known for its funk and disco acts. His recordings there were full-blown crossover affairs, which made "Friend of Mine" a minor success, but that label soon went out of business as well. Milton spent some time in limbo; he recorded one album for MCA in 1983 called Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number, and the following year found a home with Malaco, which sustained the careers of quite a few old-school Southern soul and blues artists. During his tenure at Malaco, Milton debuted the song that would become his latter-day anthem, the bar band staple "The Blues Is Alright," which was also widely popular with European blues fans. Milton recorded frequently and steadily for Malaco, issuing 13 albums under their aegis by the end of the millennium. In 1988, he won the W.C. Handy Award for Blues Entertainer of the Year, and was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Over the years, Malaco has released 14 of Little Milton's albums, including the critically acclaimed, Billboard blues smash hit Cheatin Habit. Cheatin Habit followed his wildly successful Little Milton's Greatest Hits compilation. Some of Little Milton's Malaco cuts that have become American blues standards include Annie Mae's Cafe, The Blues is Alright, Little Bluebird, Room 244, I Was Trying Not to Break Down, Catch You on Your Way Down, Murder on Your Hands, and Comeback Kind of Love.
The year 2001 marked a successful run of sold out shows in the United States and Europe and the release of Feel It. Malaco doubled back in September, 2002, with the release CD number 14, Guitar Man. It's celebrated cuts include Guitar Man, Still Some Meat Left on this Bone, and Milton's soulful rendition of My Way.
In 2005, after more than a half century after his early SUN recordings, Little Milton made his debut on the Telarc label with the release of Thnk Of Me, a mesmerizing CD consisting of a dozen tracks distilling a lifetime of rich guitar skills, compelling vocals and deft songwriting all wrapped into a single high powered package. It would be his last studio recording. The man who made the the Blues is Allright a national anthem with blues enthusiasts around the globe, passed away on August 4, 2005, after suffering a massive brain stroke. Hundreds of family, friends, and fans attended his memorial on August 10, 2005 in South Haven, Mississippi in a final farewell to "MR. C".
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Milton Campbell was a blues chameleon in his early recording career for Sun and Bobbin, changing styles seemingly with every record he made. But he found his groove -- a Bobby Bland-style R&B with a bluesy edge to it -- when he came to Chess Records in 1963. These 16 tracks collect the highlights of his six-year tenure at the label, featuring the hits "We're Gonna Make It," "Who's Cheating Who?" and "If Walls Could Talk." The majority of the sides feature strong horn charts courtesy of Oliver Sain and Gene Barge, the core of Milton's sound during this period. The stylistic connection of Milton to Bland is no more stronger evidenced than on his cover of "Blind Man," but equal mention in the soulful department must go to the heart-wrenching ballad "Let Me Down Easy" and "Poor Man's Song," one of two songs collected here that Campbell had a hand in writing. Interesting updates of Little Willie John's "All Around the World" ("Grits Ain't Groceries"), Chuck Willis' "I Feel So Bad" and Rosco Gordon's "Just a Little Bit" complete the package. As part of MCA's Chess 50th Anniversary Series, this sweats the two-disc Welcome to the Club: The Essential Chess Recordings down to a perfect introductory package to this sometimes misunderstood (is he blues? soul? R&B?) artist.
Little Milton - The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (flac 312mb)
01 We're Gonna Make It 2:40
02 So Mean To Me 2:33
03 Blind Man 3:23
04 Who's Cheating Who? 2:57
05 We Got The Winning Hand 2:50
06 Man Loves Two (Man's Temptation) 3:00
07 I Feel So Bad 4:03
08 More And More 2:45
09 Let Me Down Easy 2:42
10 Grits Ain't Groceries 2:39
11 Just A Little Bit 2:23
12 Let's Get Together 3:01
13 Poor Man's Song 2:44
14 I Play Dirty 2:31
15 Baby, I Love You 2:44
16 If Walls Could Talk 3:06
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Milton cut four albums for the Checker subsidiary, and now the last one, If Walls Could Talk (recorded in '69 and released in ‘70), is reproduced here. The album had as many as five single sides on it. Let's Get Together is an energetic mover, again written by Morris Dollison aka Cash McCall, and Poor Man makes you stomp some more. If Walls Could Talk is another rousing scorcher, which, by the way, has always reminded me of Hi-Heel Sneakers. The song was written by Bobby Miller. A cover of Jimmy Holiday's impressive beat ballad, Baby I Love You, gave Milton another top-ten hit in a row, and finally it's back to rough and raw with I Play Dirty, written by Pearl Woods.
Among the other cover songs there's a slow and intense reading of Bobby Parker's Blues Get Off My Shoulder, a swaying soul ballad from the pens of Aretha Franklin and her then-husband Ted White called Good to Me As I Am to You and two melodic and catchy mid-tempo songs, Your Precious Love (by Morris Dollison and Sonny Thompson) and I Don't Know (by Brook Benton and Bobby Stevenson).
On If Walls Could Talk, Little Milton continues to fuse blues with soul -- if anything, the album leans toward soul more than blues. Supported by a band with a thick, wailing horn section, Little Milton sings and plays with power. Though there a couple of wonderful solos, the focus of the record is on the songs, which all sound terrific, thanks to Milton's compassionate vocals. If Walls Could Talk may not be Milton's best album, but it's a good sample of his work in his heyday.
Little Milton - If Walls Could Talk (flac 196mb)
01 If Walls Could Talk 3:09
02 Baby, I Love You 2:47
03 Let's Get Together 3:00
04 Things I Used To Do 3:53
05 Kansas City 3:14
06 Poor Mans Song 2:44
07 Blues Get Off My Shoulder 3:12
08 I Play Dirty 2:27
09 Good To Me As I Am To You 2:40
10 Your Precious Love 2:46
11 I Don't Know 2:21
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Although Little Milton (Milton Campbell) is chiefly remembered for his fine Chess Records sides from the '60s, his stay at Stax Records in the early '70s saw him expand his palette with horns and strings in a more soul-oriented direction, and in many ways it was his most creative period. He never strayed too far from the blues, particularly as a guitarist, but his Stax sides increasingly showcased his amazingly expressive singing, and his intense vocals on the best of these tracks is nothing short of redemptive. This generous single-disc overview of Milton's Stax years (it comes in at a little over 70 minutes in length) has a little bit of everything, from live tracks featuring his precision guitar skills to fully arranged sessions with horns and strings that spotlight his voice.
The opener, a live take of "Let Me Down Easy" from the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival featuring the odd, driving drum skills of Calep Emphrey, is an emotional tour de force and is easily one of the most powerful tracks here, with Milton singing like a desperate, displaced angel. Another live cut, a version of Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" recorded at the Summit Club in Los Angeles in 1972, showcases Milton's lead guitar work, which is reminiscent of B.B. King but with a larger and more raw tone. Highlighting the studio tracks are the impressive "Walkin' the Back Streets and Crying" from 1972 and the loose, garage-feel of 1971's delightful "I'm Living off the Love You Give," which edges into Motown territory with its romping rhythm, backing chorus, and efficient use of both horns and a string section. Another clear highpoint here is Milton's 1973 take on Roy Hawkins' (by way of B.B. King) "The Thrill Is Gone," which is simply an ominous, desperate gem with an eerie string chart played by the Memphis Symphony. Little Milton's Chess years still contain his most clearly defined work, but as he stretched out a bit with Stax, Milton revealed that his guitar and vocal skills weren't just restricted to blues pieces. That he didn't have more commercial success with Stax is a bit of a mystery.
Little Milton - Stax Profiles (flac 404mb)
01 Let Me Down Easy 5:30
02 I Can't Quit You Baby 7:44
03 That's What Love Will Make You Do 3:48
04 Walkin' The Back Streets And Crying 5:00
05 Blind Man 8:30
06 The Thrill Is Gone 6:27
07 If That Ain't A Reason (For Your Woman To Leave You) 3:22
08 Behind Closed Doors 3:58
09 If You Talk In Your Sleep 3:18
10 Tin Pan Alley 3:50
11 I'm Living Off The Love You Give 2:48
12 Blue Monday 5:43
13 Lovin' Stick 2:52
14 Little Bluebird 6:46
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Albert King and Little Milton Campbell were part of the East St. Louis, Illinois blues scene in the late Fifties. Their first hits for the local Bobbin label showed both men to have been heavily under the spell of B.B. King. By the time their paths crossed again at Stax Records in Memphis more than a decade later, each artist had developed a distinct, highly personal style of his own. This compilation brings together the two Mississippi-born blues giants' biggest Stax hits of the early through mid-Seventies, including King's No. 15 r&b "That's What the Blues Is All About" and Campbell's No. 9 r&b "That's What Love Will Make You Do."
Albert King-Little Milton - Chronicle (flac 292mb)
01 Albert King - Can't You See What You're Doing To Me 4:17
02 Albert King - Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven 4:22
03 Albert King - Angel Of Mercy 4:21
04 Albert King - I'll Play The Blues For You 3:59
05 Albert King - Breaking Up Somebody's Home 4:00
06 Albert King - That's What The Blues Is All About 3:55
07 Little Milton - If That Ain't A Reason (For Your Woman To Leave You) 3:25
08 Little Milton - That's What Love Will Make You Do 4:00
09 Little Milton - What Is It 3:10
10 Little Milton - Tin Pan Alley 3:34
11 Little Milton - Behind Closed Doors 4:00
12 Little Milton - Let Me Back In 3:07
13 Little Milton - If You Talk In Your Sleep 2:43
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