Friday, June 19, 2009
Forgotten Giants: Rudy Toombs and Amos Milburn
The creativity of rhythm and blues tunesmith Rudy Toombs during the decade of the fifties is far reaching. Toombs effectively launched Ruth Brown's career by penning her upbeat number one hit "Teardrops from my Eyes" in 1950 and a year later her 1951 smash "5-10-15 Hours, " performed live here in 1983. Toombs also had a significant influence on the career of the rhythm and blues group The Clovers, writing their number one hit from 1951 "One Mint Julip." In fact, Toombs composed several "drinking songs," a theme which reflected the widespread popularity of consuming hard liquor during the post war period that continued throughout the fifties.
Houston born Amos Milburn also cashed in on the prolific song writing skills that Toombs shared with so many. By 1946 Milburn was establishing himself as a solid boogie woogie pianist in Houston and had already assembled a big band in the mold of Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan when he was invited to Los Angeles by the Jump Blues label Aladdin to record. In Los Angeles Amos quickly melds into the rich Central Avenue Blues and Jazz scene, associating with other great R&B artists like Johnny Otis, Big Jay McNeely, good friend Charles Brown and Shifty Henry, many of whom also recorded for Aladdin. From the late 1940s up through the mid fifties Milburn charts consistently on Billboard and has several number one hits. His first success is a cover of the boogie woogie composition by Don Raye, the multi covered classic "Down the Road a Piece," in which he showcase his considerable skills on piano.
Unlike so many musicians of the period, Milburn apparently did not have an alcohol problem. Nonetheless, many of his best known singles foreground the drinking theme. Perhaps his most recognizable of these is his cover of the Toombs classic "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer," recorded with his small ensemble the Aladdin Chickenshckers . Great sound. In the same vein is Milburn's big band arrangement of another Toombs classic "Thinking and Drinking." Very nice piano solo here by Amos. Milburn's warning about the dangers of excess are heard in "Bad Whiskey," which charted in 1952. In full band Jump Blues mode, Milburn's classic "Chicken Shack Boogie," from 1949 allows his Chickenshackers to really cut loose.
Milburn's success is significant in that in many ways his work represents the transition from Jump Blues big band arrangements to a trend toward smaller piano centered combos. His influence on Fats Domino and Ray Charles is well documented and his upbeat, boogie sound constitute a crucial link in the transitional process that culminates in the "rock n roll" sound that had matured by the mid fifties. Twenty years later, Danny Gatton and his Fat Boys commemorate the impact of Milburn's legacy on Gatton's first album from 1975, entitled "American Music." Interestingly, Aladdin Records was revived for this recording which includes the song "Tribute to Amos Milburn."