Blues Hall Of Famer Little Milton is simply one of the greatest bluesmen of the modern era- every bit as deserving of the acclaim a B.B. King enjoys. Blessed with a thick, hearty soul/blues voice Milton also proved to be a top guitarist and songwriter. James Milton Campbell was born September 7, 1934, in 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. At age 12 he began playing guitar and by 15 he was performing for pay in local clubs and bars. He got a chance to briefly back Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). Ike Turner, who was also a talent scout for Sun Records introduce Little Milton to Sam Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Ike Turner and band band backing him, Milton cut various Sun sides. 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 and DJ Bob Lyons set up their own label, Bobbin, which, by Milton's doing, signed Albert King. Little Milton's first Bobbin single, "I'm a Lonely Man," sold 60,000 copies. Although none of his, Albert King's or Fontella Bass' Bobbin singles charted they sold well enough to strike a distribution deal with Chess Records. Milton himself switched over to the Chess subsidiary Checker in 1961 and scored his first hit, "So Mean To Me" (#14 R & B) in 1962. After subsequent singles failed to chart he hit the big time in 1965 when "We're Gonna Make It" hit number one on the R&B charts and even managed #25 on the pop charts. Some say it was aided by the civil rights movement. Milton hit the R & B charts 13 more times for Checker, most notably with "Grits Ain't Groceries" (13 R & B), "Who's Cheating Who" (#4 R & B), "Feel So Bad" (#7 R & B), "Baby I Love You" (#6 R & B) and "If Walls Could Talk" (#10 R & B).
In 1972 Milton Memphis-based soul label Stax ."That's What Love Will Make You Do" returned Milton to the R & B Top 10 (#9) and Milton had several more soul blues hits with the label. Nevertheless, 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. His music was funked up like most artists of the time, but managed a #15 R & B placing for the classic"Friend of Mine" and scored a few other minor charters. TK/Glades folded soon after as well and Milton recorded one album for Evidence, which contained a rough version of his great "The Blues Is Alright" and then cut one LP for MCA.
In 1984 Milton signed with Malaco, perfectly filling the void created at Malaco with the death Z.Z. HIll. Milton's recordings continued the soul blues revival Hill had started in 1980. Over the next two decades Milton cut 14 albums for Malaco- all of generally high quality full of crispy soul blues, down home soul & even standards. Milton passed away in 2006.
"We're Gonna Make It" (Checker 1965)
1 We're Gonna Make It
***** Brilliantly arranged brassy blues album that contained some of Milton's best known songs: "We're Gonna Make It" (#1 R & B), "Blind Man" (#86 R & B), "You're Welcome To The Club" & "Who's Cheating Who" (#4 R & B). Milton truly shows off his amazing voice here- going from controlled earnest pleading to gospel-inflected fervor ("Ain't No Big Deal On You", "Blind Man"). Milton's guitar lines are crisp and tight and the band is superb.
"Sings Big Blues" (Checker 1968)
1. Feel So Bad
**** No Milton originals on this collection just terrific blues soul covers of B.B. King ("Woke Up This Morning", "Sweet Sixteen"), Lowel Fulson ("Reconsider Baby"), Clay Hammond ("Part Time Love"), T-Bone Walker ("Stormy Monday", James Brown ("Please Please Please") & Roy Brown ("Hard Luck Blues").
"Grits Ain't Groceries" (Checker 1969)
1. Let Me Down Easy
*** Smokin' live album featuring fleshed out version of Checker hits like "Let Me Down Easy" & "Blind Man". There's also a ripping version of "That's What Love Will Make You Do".
"If Walls Could Talk" (Checker 1970)
1. If Walls Could Talk
**** Third long-player for Chess reveals not even the slightest drop in quality as this set includes "Let's Get Together" (#13 R & B), "Baby I Love You" (#6 R & B), "If Walls Could Talk" (#10 R & B) & scorching "I Play Dirty" (#37 R & B)
"Greatest Hits" (Chess 1972)
"Waiting For Little Milton" (Stax 1973)
1. It's Amazing
*** Soulful blues LP for Stax includes three Milton originals ("Woman, You Don't Have To Be So Cold", "What It Is" & "Who Can Handle Me Is You". There's also an eleven minute cover of Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love is" with a lengthy monologue by Milton.
"What It Is" (Stax 1973)
**** Second live LP in four years on Stax was recorded at the Montreux Blues & Jazz Festival. An 8 minute version of "That's What Love Will Make You Do" appears here and, in an edited form, was released as a single hitting #9 on R & B charts (#59 Pop). A fine, epic-length (nearly 13 minutes) slow blues, "Tell Me It's Not True", has Milton tearing off many a guitar solo.
"Blues N' Soul" (Stax 1974)
1. Woman Across the River
*** Aptly-titled LP contained the hit "Behind Closed Doors" (#31 R & B). He also swings on "Sweet Woman Of Mine" & gives an inspired version of classic "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do".Albert King Chico Hamilton Little Milton "Montreux Festival" (Stax 1974)
1. In View Chico
"Tin Pan Alley" (Stax 1975)
1. If That Ain't a Reason (For Your Woman to
**** Collection of Stax singles. Tracks include "That's What Love Will Make You Do", "If That Ain't A Reason (For Your Woman To Leave You)" & Tyrone Davis' "Let Me Back In"
"Friend Of Mine" (TK/Glades 1976)
1. Friend of Mine
****1/2 One of his strongest overall albums includes the #15 R & B smash "Friend Of Mine", a funky soul number with a typically captivating vocal from Milton. Other funky soul blues notables include "Baby It Ain't No Way" & "Bring It On Back". There's also a terrific takes on the classic "You're Gonna Make Me Cry".
"Me For You, You For Me" (TK/Glades 1977)
1. Me for You
***1/2 Second funked-up soul blues album on Glades is a small step down from the first. Interestingly the album's highlight, Milton's own "4:59", is a slow blues in a traditional style rather than the funky blues formula of the rest of the album. Still the album provided two moderate R&B hits. "Lovin You (Is The Best Thing To Happen To Me)" hit #47 while "Just One Step" managed a #59 placing. There's also a surprisingly great version from an unlikely source, Sam Cooke, as Milton does "Sugar Dumpling".
"Walkin' The Back Streets" (Stax 1981)
1. Walking the Back Streets and
*** Strong collection of material recorded for but not released by Stax in the period 1969-1975. Fabulous slow blues workout in "Walking The Back Streets & Crying" is the top cut, but the smoky blues funk of "Somebody's Tears" and soul swagger of "Bet You I'll Win" aren't far behind.
Jackie Ross Little Milton "In Perspective" (Golden Ear 1981)
1 I Like Your Loving
"I Need Your Love So Bad" (Golden Ear 1982)
1. Catch the Plane
***Obscure record collects both sides of two 45s Milton recorded for Golden Ear and released in 1980 ("Catch The Plane", "You Ought To Be With Me", "I Need Your Love So Bad", "I Wake Up Crying") and combines them with a duet with Jackie Ross ("Street Girl") and tracks from Chess (including "Man's Temptation", "Believe In Me", "Without My Sweet Baby", "Don't Leave Her"). While half of the tracks appear to be the same versions as found on Chess compilations the five non-chess cuts appear to be found nowhere else, making this essential for collectors.
"The Blues is Alright" (Isabel 1983, Evidence 1993)
1. Blues Is Alright, The
**1/2 Rough, rugged session for Evidence in 1982 is notable for the first version of the classic title cut. Overall the album lacks polish and Milton's voice is slightly hoarse but if you're looking for a raw album from Milton this is the closest you'll get for a studio set.
"Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number" (MCA 1983)
1. Age Ain't Nothin But a Number
*** Mainstream-leaning soul record featuring his last charting single- the title track peaked at #89. "Don't Leave Me" is also a good pop tune. The keyboard-laden production is the closest Milton ever got to straight ahead R & B.
"His Greatest Sides" (Chess 1984)
"Playing For Keeps" (Malaco 1984)
1. You're Gonna Have a Murder on
**** Malaco Records is the new home for Little Milton and he starts off with one of the best of his career. "The Blues is Alright" is here in easily the best version on record- it is juke joint heaven. More upbeat soul blues goodies ("The Only Thing That Saved Me", "Comeback Kind Of Loving"), straight blues ("I'll Catch You On Your Way Back Down"), expertly sung ballads ("Misty Blue" & "Goodnight My Love") and there's even a tasty 70s-ish disco song called "Don't You Know"! This set kept the soul blues momentum started by Z.Z. Hill alive. Hill started a soul blues revival in 1980 with "Down Home Blues" for Malaco but died in 1984- the same year they signed Milton. Interestingly, the song "Fishing In The Right Stream" is nearly identical to Hill's "Shade Tree Mechanic". But Milton's talents far exceed those of Mr. Hill.
"I Will Survive" (Malaco 1985)
1.I Will Survive
*** Second Malaco set features the emotive title cut (no relation to the disco classic of the same name!) and an update of "We're Gonna Make It". Milton also does a superior version of his slow blues "4:59 a.m.". Unfortunately this LP has yet to be released on cd.
"Annie Mae's Cafe" (Malaco 1986)
1. I'm at the End of My Rainbow
***1/2 Milton gives a ferociously strong vocal to the Mosley & Johnson opener "I'm At The End Of The Rainbow" in what could have been one of Milton's best overall LPs for the label had it not been for some throwaway tracks. The deep blues of the title cut is pure Milton- soulful vocals and crisp blues guitar pickin'. "Cheatin' Is A Risky Business" probably got the most airplay and two George Jackson songs provide the soul ("Why Can't We Be Together" & "You're My Strongest Weakness").
"Movin' To The Country" (Malaco 1987)
1. You Just Can't Take My Blues
***1/2 Contains the great "tragic" blues song "His Old Lady And My Old Lady" where Milton and a stranger are talking about their women in a bar and it turns out that Milton's "old lady" and the stranger's "old lady" are the SAME lady! Album also contains one of Milton's best southern soul songs, "Room 244" and thumping soul blues "You Just Can't Take My Blues".
"Back To Back" (Malaco 1988)
1. I Was Tryin' Not to Break Down
**** One of Milton's more soul-slanted releases contains the hit "Caught In The Act (Of Gettin' It On)" and scrumptious horn-fueled soul of "I Had Too Much Heaven Last Night". There's solid straight blues here in "Penitentiary Blues" and a brilliant story blues by George Jackson in "I Don't Believe In Ghosts" where Milton keeps seeing a man in his house despite his woman claiming he's only seeing things. This album focuses on Milton's voice more than anything as he shows his chops on McKinley Mitchell's "The End Of The Rainbow" and the maudlin "The Wind Beneath My Wings". Milton could be a straight lounge singer if he so desired.
"The Sun Masters" (Rounder 1990)
1. Beggin' My Baby
**** Milton's first recordings from 1953-1954 reveal he had not developed his own sound yet as he tries various styles from B.B. King blues, jump-blues, Elmore James-isms. The raw talent is riveting- the wailing vocals and ripping guitar. He even does some Fats Domino impressions on "Beggin' My Baby" yet all the songs are by Milton himself.
"Too Much Pain" (Malaco 1990)
1. Bad Dream
*** Another good Malaco soul blues meal from the great one includes the funny "Bad Dream" & "The Cradle Is Robbin' Me". In the former Milton's woman tells him he's just having a "bad dream" when he catches her in the wrong and on the latter Milton points out that although he's dating a much younger woman she's robbin' him because she's high maintenance!
"Reality" (Malaco 1991)
1. A Right to Sing the Blues
**1/2 More soul, R & B and blues from Milton. Highlights are the peppy "You Left A Goldmine For A Golddigger" and a lengthy slow blues that Milton can always be relied on for ("A Right To Sing The Blues"). The sterile production hasn't aged as well as most of his other Malaco sessions.
Albert King/Little Milton "Chronicle" (Stax 1992)
Fine (but unnecessary) mini-compilation of prime Stax material for each artist is merely an advertisement to get newbies interested in either's rich Stax catalog.
1. Can't You See What You're Doing
"Strugglin' Lady" (Malaco 1992)
1. Strugglin' Lady
*** The title track alone would make this worth this purpose. An outstanding midtempo soul song extolling the virtues of a good woman who's working hard to "feed her hungry babies". Milton's earnest delivery sells the song as well. Some of Milton's best stomping soul blues cuts are here. Most notably is the cute "She Never Gets The Blues". Why? "Because she gives them all to me!". Milton also shows he's a an exquisite interpreter of other's material. He does a convincing version of "Always On My Mind" to the O.V. Wright burner "A Nickel And A Nail".
"Welcome To The Club: Essential Chess Recordings" (MCA/Chess 1994)
DISC 1: ST. LOUIS TO CHI-TOWN:
**** Two disc 48 tracks set dwarfs MCA/Chess other hits collection but is nevertheless imperfect. Though it contains most of the hits, B-sides, key album cuts and even two Coca-Cola radio spots(!) it is missing two hits- inexplicable for a two disc anthology of this phase of his career. Both "I'll Never Turn My Back On You" (#31 R & B) and "Somebody's Changin' My Sweet Baby's Mind" (#22 R & B) are gone. In addition there is an inferior alternate take of the great "Man Loves Two (Man's Temptation)" minus the hit take. These glaring flaws prevent this from being the essential collection of Milton's Chess years.
"Greatest Hits" (Malaco 1995)
1. Blues Is Alright, The
2. Room 244
3. Annie Mae's Cafe
4. Nothin' to Write Home About
5. My Dog and Me
6. Strugglin' Lady
7. I Was Tryin' Not to Break Down
8. Little Bluebird
9. Walking the Back Streets and Crying
10. Catch You on Your Way Down
11. Possum in My Tree, A
12. Murder on Your Hands
13. Comeback Kind of Love
14. Going, Going, Gone
"Live At Westville Prison" (Delmark 1995)
1. I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water
***1/2 This CD is a combination of two concerts recorded separately in a single day in 1983 at the prison. First show for men, second for women. Highlights include an emotional reworking of "Eight Men, Four Women," a 16-minute medley of soul and blues songs, and the deep soul classic "That's How Strong My Love Is." Lucky Peterson plays organ on this date.
"I'm A Gambler" (Malaco 1994)
1. Casino Blues
***1/2 The bluesiest of Milton's Malaco discs. The material is strong and Milton sings and plays like he's in his prime. Highlights include the humorous "Casino Blues," the cocky "Like a Rooster On A Hen," and the bayou swamp rocker "Polk Salad Annie".
"The Complete Stax Singles" (Stax 1995)
1 If That Ain't a
"Cheatin' Habit" (Malaco 1996)
1. Kick My Cheatin' Habits
**** Little Milton is the king of the soul/blues genre. Z.Z. Hill may have lead the soul/blues revival but Little Milton took the baton and has run with it with solid album after solid album for Malaco Records. This CD is proof. Opening with the bouncy-blues swagger of "Cheatin' Habit", the disc never lets up in quality. Particularly noteworthy is Milton's definitive version of Z.Z. Hill's discofied-hit "This Time They Told The Truth". Here Little Milton Campbell restores it to a bluesy soul ballad and unleashes one of best, most impassioned vocals to date! This is as good as the genre gets. So, despite the superfluous "Cheating man/woman" theme, any fan of contemporary blues should add this to your collection now!
"Rockin' The Blues" (MCA Special Products 1996)
budget compilation of Stax cuts
1. Grits Ain't Groceries
"Count The Days" (601 Music 1997)
1. I Will Survive
** Budget-minded sampler of Malaco material- not necessarily his best. It does contain three songs from "I Will Survive" ("I Will Survive", "Jealousy", "4:59") which has yet to appear on CD. So you can get some of the songs here if you don't mind the repeats.
"Greatest Hits: Chess 50th Anniversary Collection" (MCA/Chess 1997)
1. We're Gonna Make
***** Tidy 16-track hits collection is perfect if you are looking for a concise portrait of Milton's most successful period commercially. All the biggies are here from "So Mean To Me" to "We're Gonna Make It" to "Grits Ain't Groceries", "More And More" to "If Walls Could Talk". There are more thorough collections of his Checker material but there's no fault in this disc.
"For Real" (Malaco 1998)
1. Big Boned Woman
*** Milton displays his versatility on this one from straight blues ("Blues For Mr. C"), soul blues ("Big Boned Woman"), southern soul ("He Saw An Opening"), soul slowies ("Rainy Night In Georgia"), sentimental crooning ("To Love Somebody") and juke joint party blues ("Tear These Walls Down Tonight").
"Welcome To Little Milton" (Malaco 1999)
1. When the Blues Come Knockin'-
(with Govt Mule)
** This isn't the place to begin your Little Milton collection. There are far better latter-day CDs to choose from. This was obviously intended as Little Milton's "crossover" album to a blues/rock (white) audience, as evidenced by the heavier blues/rock sound and plethora of white blues/rock guests. (Susan Tedeschi, Delbert McClinton, Government Mule, Peter Wolf, Dave Alvin, etc..). Despite some strong performances (Milton's duet with former J. Geils singer Peter Wolf on "Two Loves", "Never Trust A Woman" with the Blasters' Dave Alvin, "Mother Earth" with Susan Tedeschi), the overall calculated feeling of the disc results in an uneven album. Milton's two "solo" numbers, "Right To Sing The Blues" & "Lump On Your Stump" show that he doesn't need outside guests to get the job done. Thankfully, Milton returned to the horn-drenched soul/blues he has mastered since signing with Malaco in 1984 with his next CD, FEEL IT
"Feel It" (Malaco 2001)
1. Juke Joint in My House, A
**** This is a big step up from Milton's last disc, the duets-heavy "Welcome To Little Milton", which leaned too copiously on the blues-rock side of the fence. This new CD has Milton back in the master's territory- soul & blues. Things kick off right with "Juke Joint In My House", a humorous blues tune about his friends trying to take over his house and turn it into their own party hangout. Milton resists at first, but before the song is over he exhorts a pal "If you can't beat 'em- join 'em/ So while your up-fix Mr. C some Hennessey". "Born Yesterday" is a melodic soul/blues cut where his woman tells him: "I might have been born yesterday...but I stayed up late last night"! The whole disc is Grade-B+ to A material, from the country soul cover of "He's Got You" to the risqué "She Knows How To Wear A Hat"; Milton sings and plays crisp blues guitar like the legend he is.
"The Complete Checker Hit Singles" (Connoisseur Collection 2001)
1. So Mean to Me
***** The best compilation of Milton's Checker period yet released. This set includes hits the others excluded ("I'll Never Turn My Back On You" (#31 R & B) and "Somebody's Changin' My Sweet Baby's Mind" (#22 R & B), plus other songs missing from the previous comps ("Dark End Of The Street", "I Can't Quit You Baby", "When Does Heartache End").
"Guitar Man" (Malaco 2002)
1. Guitar Man
**** The cover features Little Milton sitting in front of a wall of guitars as if to remind people that not only is he a great singer/songwriter but also a great blues guitarist. This CD will remind you of this fact. Milton adds his stinging licks on most of the blue/soul gems here. The first four tracks are all A-List blues cuts, especially "Blues Tune-Up". This track will go down as a Milton classic, and "Take Time Out To Hear Some Blues", "Juke Joint Is Calling Me" & "Still Some Meat On This Bone" should become jukebox favorites. Although this CD is heavy on the blues, fans of his soulful side will be equally pleased. "You Were On The Right Street" has those soulful horns and undeniable chorus tat southern soul fans will be requesting on the radio. "I Could Have Saved Our Love" is a stunner- a slow, deep-soul masterpiece penned by George Jackson that features a terrifically melancholy vocal by Milton. This disc even includes Milton's understated version of "My Way".
"Anthology 1953-1961" (Varese 2002)
1. Somebody Told Me
**** Excellent 27-track compilation of the majority of Milton's pre-Checker (Chess) material for Sun & Bobbin Records. The first 12 cuts are from Sun revealing a major talent with an ability to sound like everybody from B.B. King to Fats Domino. The remainder of the disc focuses on Bobbin material. Two of the cuts, "That Will Never Do" & "I'm A Lonely Man" were near hits and have been covered countless times by other artists since. Although not yet his prime this is an essential purchase to complete your Little Milton discography.
Little Milton, Mighty Sam McClain, Reverend Raven & His Chain-Smoking Altar Boys "Blues is Alright: Live At Kalamazoo" (Varese 2004)
DISC 1: (Little Milton)
*** This two-disc set includes live tracks by Little Milton, Mighty Sam McClain, and Reverend Raven & His Chain-Smoking Altar Boys recorded at the Kalamazoo Blues Fest in Kalamazoo, MI, in 2001 & 2003. The first disc features Little Milton and his country and gospel-infused brand of guitar blues, highlighted by the nearly 20-minute "Slow Blues Medley." The second disc collects six-song sets from both McClain and Reverend Raven. A good listen but not groundbreaking or career-defining by any means.
Little Milton "Think Of Me" (Telarc 2005)
1. Gonna Find Me Somebody to Love
**** Well, Little Milton Campbell's Malaco Records years have ended after a great run of 14 soul blues albums for the label in nearly two decades. My first reaction was dismay as Milton's thick soul vocals and crackling guitar sounded divine in front of Malaco's horn-backed production ethic. His first for Telarc, is a slight departure from his usual style. Produced and co-written mostly with Jon Tiven (who also produced discs by Wilson Pickett & Sir Mack Rice), "Think Of Me", discards the strings, horns, and lavish production for a Southern swamp groove- with a full band feel. Jon Tiven and Peter Shoulder share guitar solos with Milton. Bruce Katz plays some soulful organ. Ellis Hooks and Scat Springs deliver solid background vocals to several of the tracks. The romping opener "Gonna Find Somebody To Love", and the slow blues "Blues Is My Companion" sound like the Milton we've come to love but then we are surprised by the country backbeat driven "Gone With The Wind" that grows on you on repeated listens. "Reconsider Me" (not the Lowell Fulson track) is reminiscent of 1970s Milton and "Next To You" is a swampy blues rocker. It took me a few listens and overcoming my wish for horns to realize this is one of the finest blues releases of 2005.
Little Milton & Clayton Love "The Bobbin Masters Part 1" (Collectables 2006)
1. Cross My Heart
Little Milton & Clayton Love "The Bobbin Masters Part 2" (Collectables 2006)
1. I'm Trying
"Runnin Wild Blues" (Charly 2006)
1. Feed My Body To The Fishes (Ft Willie Love)
"Live At The North Atlantic Blues Festival His Last Concert" (Camil Prod. 2006)
Also a DVD
1- Still Some MeatLeft on
This Bone 3.58
***Nobody knew it would be his very last concert but fortunately it was recorded for posterity. I'll be upfront Little Milton Campbell is one of my all time faves and though I'm hoping there's some studio cuts still in the vaults I'm glad this live recording has been made available. One thing that's unique about this project is that it's spearheaded by Little Milton's wife, Pat Campbell, who even writes some touching liner notes. The set was recorded July 9th, 2005 at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, Maine with Milton in fine form. Affable, humorous and full of power, our man plows through a selection of his classics and then current hits in his classic style of gospel-inflected guitar Blues. "Still Some Meat Left On This Bone" is a great show starter and somewhat ironic in light of his unexpected passing because had plenty "meat" left in him- his voice still had the power and his axework is as sharp as ever. Few people could play slow Blues like Milton and the nearly 21-minute "Medley" is proof positive, incorporating "Catch You On The Way Down", "Annie Mae's Cafe", 'Walking The Backstreets Crying" and "A Possum In My Tree" into one string-bending jam. Milton interacts with the audience throughout the proceedings with humor and graciousness but he'll sting ya with a guitar lick. But Milton the singer is what most pay to hear. One of the highlights is the soulful "Just One Moment" which combines his penchant for tender phrasing followed by a burst of passion coming from the gut. We miss you Mr. C. This concert will also be available as a DVD. Get it while you can.
"Stax Profiles" (Stax 2006)
1. Let Me Down Easy
"The Very Best Of" (Stax 2007)
1. If That Ain't a Reason (For
Your Woman to Leave You)
"Little Milton Sings Big Soul" (Kent 2014)
1 Misty Blue