Rockin'the Blues

We're Gonna Rock We're Gonna Roll

Logo Rockin'the Blues Informed by Blues, Boogie Woogie, Jazz, R&B, Hillbilly and Country music, Rock 'n' Roll, Rockabilly became the first music to aim directly at a teenage audience, and it hit. Rock 'n' Roll extended an unparalleled influence around the world.

Update Rhythm and Blues ( 24.01.2023 )

T-Bone Walker
Ann Cole
Amos Milburn
Andre Williams
T-Bone Walker / Rhythm and Blues

T-Bone Walker

Born Aaron Thibeaux Walker, 28 May 1910, Linden, Texas
Died 16 March 1975, Los Angeles, California

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist.

Arguably the first musician to employ an electric guitar, T-Bone Walker laid the foundation for modern urban blues. Walker’s sophisticated playing in the 1930s and 1940s bridged the gap between jazz and blues and created a style which has influenced every electric guitarist since. Especially B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Eric Clapton have acknowledged Walker as a major influence.

Walker, whose T-Bone acronym is a corruption of his middle name, was raised in Dallas in a family of musicians. He took up the guitar at age 10, but played various other stringed instruments as well. His earliest influences were Lonnie Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell, Leroy Carr and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In his early years, Walker worked as “lead boy” for Jefferson, leading the blind guitarist around the city to play for crowds and pass the hat. By the time he was 16, Walker was making enough money on his own in Dallas to become a professional, performing in touring carnivals and medicine shows.

In 1929 he recorded a single for Columbia Records, “Trinity River Blues”, coupled with “Wichita Fall Blues”, as Oak Cliff T-Bone. It would be a full decade before he recorded again. Until 1934 T-Bone played with a 16-piece group formed during his school days, the Lawton-Brooks band. Then he moved to Los Angeles, turning his job over to another guitarist who went on to become almost as important and influential, Charlie Christian.

In California Walker led a number of small groups in the L.A. area, before joining Les Hite’s band, with whom he recorded “T-Bone Blues” for Varsity in 1940. His amplified guitar, still a novelty, brought a distinctive touch to the ensemble’s overall sound. Walker also began to draw attention as a strong vocalist, an excellent showman (his act included playing the guitar behind his head while doing the splits) and a good songwriter. From 1942 until 1944 he was a member of the band of pianist Freddie Slack, who recorded for the fledgling Capitol label. T-Bone secured his own Capitol contract as a singer. In 1942 he recorded his first version of “Mean Old World”, which, coupled with “I Got A Break Baby” (Capitol 15033), has been described as the "first important blues record on the electric guitar”.

Good as the Capitol recordings were, Walker didn’t start having hits until he signed with the L.A.-based Black & White label in 1946. His first chart entry and biggest hit was “Bobby Sox Blues” (# 3 R&B) in 1947, followed by his most famous recording, “Call It Stormy Monday” (# 5, one of the most frequently covered blues songs) in 1948, and six other hits in 1948-49 (three on Comet, a subsidiary of B&W). These seminal Black & White recordings were acquired by Capitol Records, which continued to keep them in print during most of the 1950s. Walker’s last chart entry was “Go Back To the One You Love” on Capitol (1950).

Between April 1950 and June 1954 recorded 52 tracks for Imperial (mostly in Los Angeles, some in New Orleans and Detroit), usually under the supervision of Dave Bartholomew. The Imperial recordings - in a harder, funkier style of blues - feature some of Walker’s best work, but it seemed that his days as a hitmaker were over. Highlights include “Glamour Girl”, “The Hustle Is On”, “Travelin’ Blues”, “Blues Is A Woman” and “I Miss You Baby”.

Walker maintained a gruelling schedule of cross-country touring with his own band for some seven years, until the outbreak of stomach ulcer caused him to break up the band in 1955. A session for Atlantic in Chicago in April 1955 (with studio musicians) resulted in two singles, but the harvest of two later Atlantic sessions, in December 1956 and December 1957, was not released until 1959, on the LP “T-Bone Blues” (Atlantic LP 8020), which also included the 1955 recordings. This classic album signalled his discovery by the jazz community.

Touring was resumed with an appearance at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962. Walker recorded infrequently after 1960 and seldom to the standard of his 1940s and ‘50s work, though he won a Grammy for the album “Good Feelin’” in 1971. He visited Europe on several occasions and performed successfully at many large-scale jazz and blues festivals. His talent was undiminished, but by 1972 ill health forced him to leave the guitar playing to others, while he sat and played at the piano, as he found it difficult to stand for any length of time. His last album (a double LP), “Very Rare”, was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1973.

In 1974 he suffered a severe stroke from which he never made a recovery. On March 16, 1975, T-Bone Walker died of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 64, his reputation as a giant of blues music assured. In 1980 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1987 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as an "early influence”).

Amos Milburn / Rhythm and Blues

Amos Milburn

Born Joseph Milburn, 1 April 1927, Houston, Texas
Died 3 January 1980, Houston, Texas

Nick Tosches has called Amos Milburn "the first great rock n roll piano man". It is true that Milburn was a crucial figure in the trans- formation of jump blues into R&B and rock 'n' roll. Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis have all cited Amos as a seminal influence on their work. Ironically, Milburn would be swept aside by the very idiom that he had helped create. Milburn picked up his style from a rich variety of sources : the boogie woogie piano of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, the blasting big bands of Lionel Hampton and Buddy Johnson, and as a contrast, the silky smooth after-hours cocktail blues of Charles Brown, Nat "King" Cole and Ivory Joe Hunter. But the result was pure Amos Milburn.

Born into a family of thirteen children, he taught himself to play piano at age five. While only fifteen, he joined the Navy in November 1942 (lying about his age) and served three years in the Pacific, mainly as a cook. Upon his discharge he returned to Houston where he formed a six-man band with old school friends. He secured bookings as far afield as San Antonio where he was discovered by Lola Ann Cullum, the wife of a Houston dentist, who became his manager. Together they wrote "After Midnite" and "Chicken Shack Boogie" and headed to Los Angeles with the demos, in search of a recording contract. They were turned down by Jules Bihari of Modern Records, but got lucky at Aladdin Records. Legend has it that Aladdin boss Eddie Mesner was hospitalized at the time, but that did not deter Lola Ann Cullum from playing the demos at his hospital bedside. Amos was signed up swiftly and had his first recording session on September 12, 1946. "After Midnite" became the first single, soon followed by "My Baby's Boogying", "Down the Road Apiece" and the instrumental "Amos' Boogie", all from that first session. Strangely, he did not record "Chicken Shack Boogie" until November 1947. By that time his arranger was saxopohonist Maxwell Davis, with whom Amos developed a strong bond. "Being young, I didn't have any experience in arranging for a band, but I could tell him how I wanted it and Maxwell put it on paper".

"Chicken Shack Boogie" was finally released in October 1948 and not only did this boogie woogie-styled song become his first hit - it would be the biggest hit of his career, spending five weeks at # 1. (All chart positions here are R&B, Milburn never had a pop hit.) As a result of this success, Amos was now billed as "The Chicken Shack Boogie Man", while his group became known as "The Aladdin Chickenshackers". It was the start of an extremely successful period for Milburn, with nineteen Top 10 hits between 1948 and 1954. In 1949 and 1950 he was voted Top R&B artist by Billboard.

The follow-up to "Chicken Shack Boogie" was "Bewildered", another number one, but a total contrast, being a slow blues ballad in Charles Brown's style. Later # 1 hits were "Roomin' House Boogie" (1949) and "Bad Bad Whiskey" (late 1950). The latter song initiated a series of booze-related songs, including "Thinking And Drinking" (# 8), "Let Me Go Home Whiskey" (# 3, written by John 'Shifty' Henry, a bassist saluted by Leiber and Stoller in "Jailhouse Rock"), "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" (# 2) and his last hit, "Good Good Whiskey" (# 5). Milburn practiced what he preached : he was a heavy drinker. And he started drinking even more after his records stopped selling. Rock n roll was emerging and suddenly his music was deemed old-fashioned by the fickle record buying public. In 1954 Amos was forced to disband his road band of seven years. He tried hard to adjust to the new sounds. Aladdin sent him to New Orleans in 1956-57 in an attempt to reach Fats Domino's young white fans. A torrid remake of "Chicken Shack Boogie", recorded in September 1956, must rank as one of the greatest black rock n roll records ever, but it failed to sell. Later attempts fared no better and in 1957 Aladdin did not renew his contract, after having released more than 50 singles by Milburn over an 11-year period.

In 1959 he recorded one single for Ace Records with his good friend Charles Brown, who also accompanied him to the King label in 1960- 1961. A contract with Motown in 1962 resulted in an LP ("Return Of the Blues Boss") and two singles, but no sales. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and continued to perform until 1969, when he had his first stroke. A second stroke in 1970 turned him into an invalid. He quit drinking and returned to Houston. In 1976 he made one last album, re-recording some of his biggest hits for Johnny Otis's Blues Spectrum label. As the left half of his body was paralyzed, he could only play piano with his right hand ; Johnny Otis played the left hand.

In 1979, his declining health necessitated the amputation of a leg. Less than six months later, Amos Milburn passed away, aged only 52. He was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame in 2010.

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