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Amos Milburn

Milburn was one of the great R&B pioneers and a tremendous influence on many who followed. He was a fine singer and even better pianist - he could bang out a mean boogie or tinkle the ivories in a light and jazzy style as the situation demanded. Largely forgotten outside the committed world of R&B aficionados, from 1948 until 1954, Milburn's sides ruled the R&B charts, and he helped set the stage for the joyous, soulful music of the later R&B and rock and roll eras.

Boogie piano master Amos Milburn was born in Houston, and he died there a short 52 years later. In between, he created some of the best boogie of the postwar era, usually recording in Los Angeles for Aladdin Records. Quite a lot of the releases proved to be massive sellers in the pre rock and roll era, some of which demonstrated Milburn's oft-forgotten abilities with the mellower side of R&B.

After serving in the Navy and seeing overseas battle action in World War II, Milburn formed his own blues and R&B band in Houston - after playing locally and in the surrounding areas he finally secured a deal with Aladdin in 1946. His first date included the great “Down the Road Apiece,” and between 1946 and 1954 had fantastic run of 19 consecutive top ten hits on the R&B charts. Included among them were four number ones ('Chicken Shack Boogie', 'A&M Blues', 'Bad, Bad Whiskey' and 'Roomin' House Boogie'). But Milburn was capable of crooning a fine mellow blues ballad as well, recording in a Charles Brown-influenced style (the two would later become close friends, playing together frequently) - 'Bewildered' was a great example of the cool after-hours side of Milburn.

He left Aladdin in 1956, never achieving anything like the same success again. Indeed, given the high number of drinking references in Milburn's repertoire, it was ironic that after leaving Aladdin alcoholism later brought the pianist down hard and led to his later generally poor health.

Berry Gordy gave Milburn a comeback forum in 1962, issuing an album on Motown which although predominated by remakes of his old hits doesn't deserve the neglect it receives today. Nothing could jump-start the pianist's fading career by then though and throughout the 60s he resorted to playing local clubs in the Cincinnati and Cleveland area. His health deteriorated further and in 1970 he suffered the first of a series of strokes. By 1972 he had retired from the business and returned to his home town of Houston where he died eight years later - after his alcoholism had first induced epilepsy and a leg had to be amputated in April 1979, a sad end to a life that produced so much joyous and good time music.

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