Little Milton

As the blues was electrified in the 1950s, developed a backbeat becoming R&B in the '60s and wound down into slow, stripped-bare soul in the '70s, Little Milton was an important pioneering figure at the forefront of the changes. As a result he had a thriving career that spanned five decades and produced 30 albums. Born in rural Mississippi, his father was a farmer who played the blues in local juke joints, and by his teenage years James 'Little Milton' Campbell Jr. was singing with bar band the Rhythm Aces where he was spotted by Ike Turner. Turner took him to make his first recordings at the legendary Sun Studios with Sam Phillips in 1953, where the teenage Milton supposedly looked around the place and declared: "Damn, there's some strange looking white boys in here". It turned out he was talking about a young Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. As they went on to become rock and roll icons, Milton grafted away on the blues scene and set up his own label Bobbin Records, which helped kick-start the careers of Albert King and Fontella Bass. It also produced his first big local single 'I'm a Lonely Man' in 1958 and his first national hit 'So Mean to Me' in 1962, before he moved on to Chess Records' subsidiary Checker Records in the mid-1960s, recording the civil rights anthem 'We're Gonna Make It' and popular albums 'Sings Big Blues' and 'Grits Aint Groceries'. He really hit his peak, though, when he joined the Stax label in the 1970s and grew into a raw, howling, romantic soul crooner with Memphis Horns and string sections, growing his sound on the acclaimed albums 'Tin Pan Alley' and 'Waiting For'. His passionate mix of soul and blues led him to tour across Europe including France where he was well-loved, and although his experiments with funk and disco fell flat, he returned to Mississippi where he made 13 albums in 20 years for independent R&B label Malaco Records. He was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, received a WC Handy Award and collaborated with Lucinda Williams, Keb Mo and Dave Alvin on 1999's Grammy-nominated 'Welcome to Little Milton', before releasing his final studio album 'Think of Me' in 2005. Milton died that year aged 70, after suffering from a stroke.

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