Amos Milburn - Christmas (Comes But Once A Year) (KING 5405)
Christmas (Comes But Once A Year)
In 1942 15 year old Amos Milburn lied about his age to join the Navy. He spent the next three years fighting the enemy in places like Guadalcanal and The Phillipines. When the war ended in August of 1945, the party was on!
Amos returned home to Houston and began playing in local clubs. When he landed a gig in San Antonio fronting the Slam Stewart Trio, he was "discovered" by west coast talent scout Lola Cullum. She shopped a homemade demo around to a few record companies back in L.A., but it was Eddie and Leo Mesner of the newly formed PHILO Records who offered him a contract. Lola boarded a train to Los Angeles with Amos in 1946, and he cut some of the first sides for the (now renamed) Aladdin Label. One of these records, the rollickin' "Down The Road Apiece", hit pretty big and set the stage for what was to come.
After returning to Houston, he introduced a young guitar player named Sam Hopkins to Lola (now Amos' manager), and she brought him along on their next trip to the coast. Aladdin signed him as well, and legend has it that it was Mrs. Cullum that gave him the nickname "Lightnin'"...
Anyway, Amos decided to move out west permanently and concentrate on recording. In late 1947 Aladdin released what was to become his signature tune, "Chicken Shack Boogie". The record was a huge successs, selling over 100,000 copies, a truly incredible number for an independent label at that time. This was to be the first in an amazing string of 19 top ten R&B hits for Milburn. Aladdin sold to the "race market", and sales were based primarily on jukeboxes that spun their 78s in roadhouses and juke joints across America... holes in the wall just like the fabled "Chicken Shack".
By mid-1948, "Amos Milburn & his Chickenshackers" were a major draw on the R&B circuit, playing to sold out houses wherever they went. He was named Downbeat's "Best Blues and Jazz Star" in 1949, and Billboard christened him "Top R&B Artist" in both 1949 and 1950.
The #1 smash "Bad Bad Whiskey" in late 1950 further solidified him as a barroom jukebox favorite, and songs like "Just One More Drink", "Let Me Go Home Whiskey", and the classic "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" kept him in the R&B top ten.
By 1954, however, things started to change as the new "rock & roll" market was geared more to teenagers (both black and white), and the booze angle just didn't cut it. Amos tried to fit in, working the "package shows" pounding the piano just like those he had influenced (i.e. Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis), but the kids weren't buying it.
Aladdin went so far as to send Amos to New Orleans to cut an absolutely SMOKIN' remake of Chicken Shack Boogie at Cosimo's studio in 1956 (when just about everything that came out of there was a #1 hit), but it was no use. In 1957, he left Aladdin for good.
He and good friend Charles Brown then did some work for Johnny Vincent's Ace label, resulting in a 1959 duet single "I Want To Go Home" (although it didn't sell, it was to become the blueprint for Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" three years later).
Amos and Charles then signed with KING records, and gave us some of the greatest Christmas music ever made! Today's B side was actually released as the flip of Charles Brown's classic "Please Come Home For Christmas" in 1960. Talk about yer double-sider, huh? It just rocks! Dig that like 'ska' guitar, the bass, da drums - even the silly orchestral bells... not to mention Amos' smooth vocals and rockin' piano! (His talent as a songwriter is often overlooked as well, I mean how cool are these lyrics?) I just love it, man.
Amos Milburn actually released an album on Motown in 1962, with a young Stevie Wonder on harmonica, but it didn't do much. He continued working small clubs throughout the sixties until the first of a series of strokes hit in 1970. Johnny Otis brought him out of retirement to sing on a Blue Spectrum LP in the mid-seventies, but his health steadily declined until his death in 1980.
Amos Milburn was a giant of the post-war R&B era and, quite simply, one of the premier architects of Rock & Roll.
He doesn't get enough credit.
"I'm gonna finger pop till New Years Day,
and I don't care what I have to pay,
let the good times roll,
Christmas comes but once a year!"
Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at the B side ranch!