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Stax Profiles: Little Milton

Little Milton

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Album Review

Although Little Milton (Milton Campbell) is chiefly remembered for his fine Chess Records sides from the '60s, his stay at Stax Records in the early '70s saw him expand his palette with horns and strings in a more soul-oriented direction, and in many ways it was his most creative period. He never strayed too far from the blues, particularly as a guitarist, but his Stax sides increasingly showcased his amazingly expressive singing, and his intense vocals on the best of these tracks is nothing short of redemptive. This generous single-disc overview of Milton's Stax years (it comes in at a little over 70 minutes in length) has a little bit of everything, from live tracks featuring his precision guitar skills to fully arranged sessions with horns and strings that spotlight his voice. The opener, a live take of "Let Me Down Easy" from the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival featuring the odd, driving drum skills of Calep Emphrey, is an emotional tour de force and is easily one of the most powerful tracks here, with Milton singing like a desperate, displaced angel. Another live cut, a version of Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" recorded at the Summit Club in Los Angeles in 1972, showcases Milton's lead guitar work, which is reminiscent of B.B. King but with a larger and more raw tone. Highlighting the studio tracks are the impressive "Walkin' the Back Streets and Crying" from 1972 and the loose, garage-feel of 1971's delightful "I'm Living off the Love You Give," which edges into Motown territory with its romping rhythm, backing chorus, and efficient use of both horns and a string section. Another clear highpoint here is Milton's 1973 take on Roy Hawkins' (by way of B.B. King) "The Thrill Is Gone," which is simply an ominous, desperate gem with an eerie string chart played by the Memphis Symphony. Little Milton's Chess years still contain his most clearly defined work, but as he stretched out a bit with Stax, Milton revealed that his guitar and vocal skills weren't just restricted to blues pieces. That he didn't have more commercial success with Stax is a bit of a mystery.

Biography

Born: 07 September 1934 in Inverness, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

He may not be a household name, but die-hard blues fans know Little Milton as a superb all-around electric bluesman — a soulful singer, an evocative guitarist, an accomplished songwriter, and a skillful bandleader. He's often compared to the legendary B.B. King — as well as Bobby "Blue" Bland — for the way his signature style combines soul, blues, and R&B, a mixture that helped make him one of the biggest-selling bluesmen of the '60s (even if he's not as well-remembered as King)....
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Stax Profiles: Little Milton, Little Milton
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