Off Topic Messages

Sun/ Stax Bluesman "Little Milton" Dead at 70

Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:35 pm

I was crushed to learn this minutes ago. I met Little Milton, one of my faves a few years ago and consider it a privilege.

Bluesman 'Little' Milton Campbell dies
Thu Aug 4, 2005 11:29 AM ET

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist "Little" Milton Campbell, whose gritty vocals and songwriting recalled B.B. King's rough-edged style, died on Thursday from a stroke, his record company said.

The 71-year-old Grammy-nominated guitarist and singer known for writing and recording the blues anthem "The Blues Is Alright" never awoke from a coma following a stroke he suffered on July 27 in Memphis, said Valarie Kashimura of The Malaco Music Group.

"We've lost a great soldier," Kashimura said.


Born to sharecropping farmers near the Mississippi Delta town of Inverness -- his father, "Big" Milton Campbell, was a local blues musician -- "Little" Milton picked up a guitar at age 12 and recorded his first hit for Sam Phillips' Sun Records at age 18. It was the same year the Memphis label recorded Elvis Presley for the first time.

Discovered by blues-rock pioneer Ike Turner, Campbell went on to score dozens of rhythm and blues hits and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988.

Though acclaimed in blues circles, Campbell never achieved the fame of King and some other American bluesmen. Nevertheless, his nearly constant touring took him all over the world.

After signing with Bobbin Records in East St. Louis, Illinois, Campbell recorded "I'm a Lonely Man" and "That Will Never Do." A long association with Chicago's Chess Records produced the 1965 hit "We're Gonna Make It," which coincided with the civil rights movement. Other hits included "Baby I Love You," "If Walls Could Talk," "Feel So Bad," "Who's Cheating Who?" and "Grits Ain't Groceries."

"Annie Mae's Cafe" and "Little Bluebird" were hits he recorded with Memphis' Stax Records, which he joined in 1971 before the label's demise. Most recently, he recorded for The Malaco Music Group in Jackson, Mississippi, for whom he produced albums entitled "Your Wife is Cheating on Us" and "A Nickel and a Nail."
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Sun Aug 07, 2005 6:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:46 pm

What a terrible loss for the music industry. I've got several of his albums and always thought this guy would just live forever. This is a sad day, indeed.


P.S. For those not familiar with him, pick up Welcome to the Club:The Essential Chess Recordings, The Complete Checker Hit Singles, Anthology 1953-1961, and Little Milton-Greatest Hits. Sit back and enjoy! I know I will tonight. RIP Little Milton.

Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:58 pm

R.I.P. Little Milton Campbell.

Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:39 pm

I read that he went into a coma..I imagine the plug was pulled. R.I.P. to a true blues legend. Funny how I was just speaking about him the other day in an old record shop when I was on a family trip. So many greats or going...

Thu Aug 04, 2005 11:11 pm

Yes, Genesim, he was in a coma for a few days after the stroke. They briefly thought he might recover, but it was not to be.

Here's a neat '70s shot of Little Milton and fellow blues legends B.B. King and Albert King (left to right):


As I recall, Milton occasionally struck a sour chord about the attention given to Elvis, Jerry Lee, Charlie, Carl, etc. vs. other artists at Sun who were black. I think he had mixed feelings regarding Sam Phillips sometimes.

But for the most part, we was always very classy and careful not to degenerate into bitterness as he did onto to soul and blues stardom, albeit never crossing over to white audience like many of his fellow bluesmen. He sang more soul-style stuff eventually, namely "for the ladies." But he could let it rip , too.

Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:00 am

Tom in North Carolina wrote:What a terrible loss for the music industry. I've got several of his albums and always thought this guy would just live forever. This is a sad day, indeed.


P.S. For those not familiar with him, pick up Welcome to the Club:The Essential Chess Recordings, The Complete Checker Hit Singles, Anthology 1953-1961, and Little Milton-Greatest Hits. Sit back and enjoy! I know I will tonight. RIP Little Milton.

Great recent 2-CD set of his Sun and Bobbin sides

A terrific set for Chess, mid '60s

"Walking the Back Streets" for Stax!

A chock full of latter-day soul-blues classics

This was his last album, from May 2005, his first for Telarc

Anyway, great sets, Tom! I'm a partisan of the old LP "Big Blues From Little Milton" on Chess.
Unfortunately, it's super-rare on CD and most of it was over-looked on the otherwise stellar "Welcome to the Club" set.

I also recommend his '90s "Greatest Hits" set from Malaco, which focused on his '80s and '90s work, but also smartly sampled his biggest Stax hits of the early '70s. He did some great albums in the '00s for Malaco, too.

Here is ROLLING STONE's obit:

Little Milton Dies at 70
Influential bluesman recorded for Sun, Chess and Stax

Blues Hall of Famer Little Milton, who combined the tough electric blues sound of the early 1950s with the punchy, showtime arrangements of R&B, soul and funk, died in Memphis yesterday (August 4) of complications from two recent strokes. He was seventy.
James Milton Campbell Jr. was born September 7, 1934, in Inverness, Mississippi. As a child he was enthralled with the local guitarists who played at his stepfather's house parties. "I'd be tucked in bed," he once recalled, "but the minute that the guy would hit the guitar, they'd look around and I'd be standing there, little long drawers on." By the age of fifteen, he was performing in a juke joint said to have been owned by B.B. King's mother-in-law.

Still in his teens, "Little" Milton signed with Sam Phillips' Sun Records in 1953, on the advice of Ike Turner. One of the last blues musicians to record for Sun before the arrival of Elvis, young Milton dabbled in several styles, emulating Fats Domino, T-Bone Walker and B.B. King, among others. "Back then I didn't know who Little Milton was," Milton said. "I was just doing whoever came out with a hit record."

Moving from Sun through a succession of iconic labels, including Chess and Stax, Milton grew into a formidable figure in his own right. He scored his first hit, "I'm a Lonely Man," for St. Louis-based Bobbin Records in 1958. His biggest success, the brassy, soulful "We're Gonna Make It" -- a song that became associated with the civil rights movement -- was a Number One hit on the R&B chart in 1965, reaching Number Twenty-five on the pop chart. Milton's emotive take on Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" is said to have inspired Led Zeppelin's own version. His other notable songs of that period, when he was a fixture of the R&B charts, include "If Walls Could Talk," "Who's Cheating Who?" and "Grits Ain't Groceries."

An appearance in the 1973 concert film Wattstax -- his song "Walking the Back Streets and Crying" was included on the soundtrack album -- helped introduce Milton to a new generation of listeners. Less productive was a subsequent signing with Miami's TK/Glades, home of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Beginning in the 1980s, Milton began a long relationship with Malaco Records, a collaboration which restored his reputation as a blues torchbearer. In 1988 he was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame and named W.C. Handy Blues Entertainer of the Year. A dozen years later, he earned his sole Grammy nomination for Welcome to Little Milton, an album that featured duets with Lucinda Williams, Susan Tedeschi, Keb' Mo' and Peter Wolf. Little Milton's last record, his first for the Telarc label, was warmly received when it came out in May 2005. It is called Think of Me.

Here's a better, fuller obit:

from the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Bluesman Little Milton dead at 70

By Kathy Hanrahan
The Associated Press
August 4, 2005

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Little Milton Campbell, who sang the blues and
performed with some of the country's top performers, died Thursday of
complications of a stroke.

Campbell, 70, died Thursday at about 8:50 a.m. at Delta Medical
Center in Memphis, Tenn. A statement from the family said the
musician died from a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of a stroke
Campbell suffered on July 27.

Funeral services were pending. Campbell is survived by his wife,
Patricia, and three children.

Greg Preston, a close friend and producer of Campbell's
Grammy-nominated album 2000's "Welcome to Little Milton," visited the
singer in the hospital over the weekend.

Preston said he played some of the bluesman's music in an attempt to
bring him out of his comatose state.

"I hope he heard me," Preston said.

The Inverness native had been scheduled to perform Aug. 11 at
Clarksdale's Ground Zero Blues Club for the blues documentary "Native
Sons," but that performance was canceled.

Campbell's last appearance in Jackson was at The Allman Brothers Band
concert in May.

Preston described the bond between Campbell and The Allman Brothers
Band, especially Wayne Haynes as "beautiful."

"They (Campbell and Haynes) had this love for each other. When they
played together it was beautiful because they knew ... what the other
was gonna do," Preston said. "There was a kindred spirit there."

Milton played more than a dozen times with Haynes' band Gov't Mule
throughout the years. Gov't Mule played two songs on Campbell's
Grammy nominated album.

"He was very humble and generous and didn't take on a competitive
nature when he was on stage. It was all about making the music the
best it could be and making the audience comfortable," Haynes told
The Associated Press.

Campbell is best remembered for his booming voices, one that Preston
said resonated with audiences nationwide.

"Every time I was in the studio with him his voice was bigger than
the whole building," he said.

His detail to every note played on his Gibson Hollowbody 355 guitar
made him a truly unique artist, he said.

"Most guitar players they think the more notes the better. Milton,
B.B. and Albert King - their style was you make every note count.
Because one note can touch an amazing amount of people.

"It's not how many you play or how fast you play. It's how you play
that one note. That was his style."

Campbell's hit record "We're Gonna Make It" and his 1978 vintage
black jacket were on display in Clarksdale last year as part of a
"Sweet Home Chicago" exhibit at the Delta Blues Museum.

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Campbell said
the exhibit would raise the awareness of blues music and performers.

"The people are the stars, not me," Campbell said after attending the
exhibit's opening last July. "I am just one that is fortunate to have
a little talent. When you do it right, they remember you and that is
important to me.

"To realize that they are trying to immortalize in a sense your
contribution to your profession, certainly none of us are going to
live forever, basically in a sense it sort of makes you immortal to
know that once you are gone, people are going to walk by and some
will say 'you were great.' Some will say 'maybe you weren't so
great,'" he said.

Campbell's music was described as having a gritty feel, with pleading
vocals and frequently lyrics of dashed love.

Campbell was born on a Delta farm near Inverness on Sept. 7, 1934. He
was named after his father, Big Milton, who was a locally known blues

In 1953, Campbell was introduced to Sam Phillips of Sun Records by
artist/talent scout Ike Turner. Some of his first recordings were on
the Sun label backed by the Ike Turner Band.

In a 2003 tribute to the late Phillips, Campbell said Phillips cared
little about critics who were unhappy with "what they called at that
time, black music."

"He would always say, 'Well, I don't worry about what nobody else
say. I'm going to do what I want to do,'" Campbell said.

Campbell went on to record "I'm a Lonely Man" and "That Will Never
Do" for Bobbin Records. He switched to Checker Records in 1960 and in
1965, he had a hit entitled "We're Gonna Make It."

Campbell joined Stax Records in 1971 and recorded "Annie Mae's Cafe"
and "Little Bluebird," two of his most memorable songs.

Campbell was presented with the W.C. Handy 1988 Blues Entertainer of
the Year. He was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame that year.

The Delta native also enjoyed a career with Malaco Records in
Jackson, which began in 1984. At the label he wrote "The Blues Is
Alright" and recorded the album "Welcome To Little Milton," which was
nominated in 2000 for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

At his death, Campbell was signed with the label Telarc International
based in Cleveland, Ohio. His last album "Think of Me" was released
in May 2005.

In a statement, Pat Campbell and the label expressed thanks for the
"outpouring of support from well-wishers throughout the blues community."

Telarc spokeswoman Amanda Sweet said condolences can be directed to
the Campbell family through the record label and monetary donations
can be made through a fund established at the St. Jude Children's
Research Hospital in Memphis.

Sat Aug 06, 2005 1:16 am

Rest in peace Little Milton.....

Sat Aug 06, 2005 4:06 am

That man was fabulous. Sorry to have heard about his death.

Sun Aug 07, 2005 1:29 am

Thanks for the obit Greg this is a truly a loss. The "His Best" collection is still available on Chess and the sound is really a knockout.

Elvis fans should note that Milton had a minor R&B hit for Stax with a remake of "If You Talk in Your Sleep".

This is actually the second major music death in a week as last week Eugene Record lead singer of the Chi-Lites died from cancer. Record was one of the architects of Chicago soul and the composer, producer and lead voice on early '70s conceptual soul classics like "Have You Seen Her", "Oh Girl", "(For God's Sakes) Give More Power to the People" and "The Coldest Days of My Life". His music is relentlessly remade and sampled. Most recently Beyonce had a huge recent with "Crazy in Love" which samples the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman (Tell me So)". He also wrote and produced for his wife Barbara Acklin and for Jackie Wilson.

Don't mean to hijack your thread Greg but rather than start a new thread I would tie this in as this news is more than a week old but should be marked as we continue to lose the 20th Century's pop greats.

Sun Aug 07, 2005 6:52 am

Not a problem, LiketheBike. I had missed the news about Eugene Record of the Chi-lites. I think someone from the Temps died recently too. It's true that we can really feel the separation from the 20th century now. Fans of that century's music (by definition anyone on this board, really) can't be thrilled with what's replacing it so far.

There are a lot of big talents and unoccasionally unknown talents still out there in the R&B , soul or blues world (fans of Little Milton might want to check out Mighty Sam McClain while you still can), but there's no denying that there's a changing of the guard. I really didn't expect Milton's fellow legends B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland to out-live him. Catch either if you have not. Both were his only true rivals or "big brothers" in terms of stature and inspiration to him in the soul end of the blues world.

By the way, I agree from what I've seen that Little Milton's "His Best" is an effective one-disc sampler of his Chess years.. I've heard the sound is terrific. As complete as "Welcome To the Club" is, it's also too much to digest, down to including ancient Coca-Cola commericials he did in the '60s but not some of his key album tracks. Typical.

His version of James Brown's "Please, Please, Please" is phenomenal. I heard it again today as I revisited "...Sings Big Blues" as well as his Chess debut, " We're Going to Make It." Both sets have a lot of "lost" tracks that are vinyl orphans at this point, as are a few odd singles from Chess that I also have. There's even an acclaimed live Chess album "Live at the Burning Spear" (in Chicago at a black club in the '60s) that oddly still has never been re-issued on CD and is super-rare, period.

Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying Little Milton's obligatory cover of "My Way" tonight, the closer of his acclaimed 2002 "Guitar Man" album on Malaco. (It's not the Jerry Reed song.)

As for Little Milton's cover of "If You Talk in Your Sleep" (Stax 0238), I happened to hear it for the first time a few weeks ago when I finally picked up the "Tin Pan Alley" collection of Stax singles. I have to say he nailed it in a way that Elvis did not . On a similar note, T-Bone Walker (a fellow blues legend and a big influence on Milton) also covered the song in one of his last sessions in '75, as well as (and don't laugh): "Three Corn Patches." He actually makes both work.

When you're a big fan of an artist, it takes at least a few days to let it sink in that the artist is truly gone for good. Little Milton is one of them for me.

I recalled today that I actually met him twice (the other time being in 2001) as he did a radio station I.D. for me back in 1995 at the Pocono Blues Fest in Pennsylvania that I latered worked with an engineer to mate with his classic "Walkin' The Back Streets and Crying." I'm sure that thing has been broadcast regularly for ten years now on the blues shows on the New York station for which it was created. I hope and frankly know his records are getting an extra spin "all around the world" this weekend.

Sun Aug 07, 2005 9:24 am

That was a very moving post Greg.

I have to laugh in a dark way at your comment about Bobby Bland and BB outliving Little Walter because the other day I was thinking who in their right mind would have thought that Jerry Lee Lewis would be the last surviving Sun rockabilly star? Elvis, Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, even Conway Twitty (who recorded for the label under his real name Harold Jenkins) are all gone and except for Cash have all been gone for a long time. Yet the man who redefined hard-living and an egdy nasty temperament survives. Not that I'm not extremely glad he's still around but it's so gosh darn unlikely. Fate works in mysterious ways. Jerry Lee was so combusitible nobody probably thought he'd even make 30.

Seeing Bobby Blue is one of my goals but I can't ever find a tour schedule on the internet. I would love to see him even if his voice is not the same instrument it was 40 years ago.

Elvis' "Talk in Your Sleep" is IMO professional but not a lot more although he has some fun with it. He's not helped by the period bound accompaniment. Unlike many of his songs, he left a lot of ground for a talented artist like Milton to take it out from under him.

I know what you mean about not getting used to an artist being gone. Ray Charles has been gone a year and I still haven't fully accepted it. It took many Elvis fans a decade. Even though with Elvis, it's different in that there are so many albums, so many photos and stories, and so many videos it was easy to soldier as if nothing had happened. It's really been driven home to me though because the people around Elvis like Sam Phillips have started to pass on and their ubiquity in the '80s, 90s and beyond really helped keep Elvis an active presence by providing a direct link rather an indirect link like a record.

Wed Aug 10, 2005 11:10 pm

I, too, still marvel that the "Killer" (Jerry Lee Lewis) still walks the earth!

I'm aware that Bobby "Blue" Bland plays dates each year in places like Boston, New York (usually on a double-bill with B.B. King at the Apollo in Harlem!) and also Washington, D.C. Otherwise, the dates are much pretty much on the "chitlin' circuit." He's slowed down but still can totally do a masterful show, despite some raggedness. I saw him in 2003 and he was better than he was ten years earlier (had lost weight, better showmanship) when I saw him in Atlanta. In fact, I was blown away.

I don't want to sound too hard on Elvis' "Talk In Your Sleep": i wish he had "found the funk" more often in such sessions, at Stax, no less!

Yes, Ray Charles is another guy who I almost thought we'd have forever. Until his recent death, John Lee Hooker was another guy I was beginning to think was just immortal. And B.B. King is 80 this year, but also is still with us.

I'll be really sad when all of my favorite "20th Century acts" are dead.