(Written by Amos Milburn and Clarence Paul)
Finally, back on track with an actual Motown record. Praise be, Amos Milburn; it’s great to be back, even if this record isn’t all that good. And it isn’t all that good.
Motown were going through an extended cupboard-clearing exercise in the early months of 1963, finally releasing whole bundles of records they’d been sitting on for a long time, and Amos was a beneficiary of this policy. If Motown had been moving away from the grittier, gutsier blues side of their repertoire during 1962, and towards a more accessible pop/R&B sound, this single represented something of a throwback.
A genuine star of the Forties and Fifties, Texan pianist and vocalist Amos Milburn had been a stalwart of the postwar blues scene. He’d found a massively-successful commercial niche in the early Fifties with a series of smooth, raffish blues numbers, often centred around booze (though they’re usually moral tales and not, as is often thought, celebrations of the demon drink: see One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer, for instance, or Bad Bad Whiskey.) But times changed; from racking up a run of chart-topping early-Fifties hits on Aladdin, Amos had then struggled to adapt commercially to the rock and roll era (though there wasn’t much wrong with the records themselves – have a listen to his rollicking 1956 rerecording of his own Chicken Shack Boogie, for instance), and he’d gradually faded from the pop culture radar. When Berry Gordy became aware Milburn might be available and came calling in 1962 to sign him to Motown, Amos had had just one record to his name – a novelty Christmas single – in five years.
Still, as a legendary black artiste and bona fide one-time star, Milburn represented something of a coup for Motown, providing a link to the past and helping Gordy reassert his company’s credentials as part of the fabric and history of African-American entertainment history. It’s likely, from Gordy’s past endeavours, that he probably thought he could wring some hits from a rejuvenated Milburn too; to that end, Amos was teamed with writer/producer Clarence Paul, at the time best known for his work with Little Stevie Wonder.
It’s an inspired pairing, on paper at least, but the results weren’t spectacular; Amos’ voice was a shadow of its former self, and Paul wasn’t yet the great songwriter he’d become, and so the resulting LP – Return of the Blues Boss – ended up as a somewhat unsatisfactory patchwork of attempts to recapture his 1953 form, and attempts to modernise his sound for the Sixties.
The first result – definitely in the former category – of Amos’ Motown sessions on the comeback trail was this slow, piano-pounding blues piece, which almost comes across as a pastiche of Milburn’s work from a decade earlier. The voice is noticeably rougher, the hooks are less instant, but there’s still something of the original star quality in there that makes this a moderately interesting listen.
Only moderately, though. The horns and drums are good, and the piercing, ringing guitar – courtesy of recently-arrived Funk Brother Robert White – is excellent, but the song doesn’t do a lot, and the audibly ageing Milburn is only engaging for the first couple of minutes, quickly losing the listener’s interest with his tale of gratefulness to his ex-girlfriend for taking him back.
Still, it’s entertaining enough on its merits – and it’s not a jazz or comedy record, which after the week we’ve had on Motown Junkies makes it instantly worth something. If Milburn had little future at Motown on account of the intentional ditching of blues artists, this still makes for an interesting little curio, fun enough while it’s playing even if it’s not something you’d necessarily go back to very often.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
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“I’ll Make It Up To You Somehow”