"Hello Cat, I just got back and I'm looking for that place they call the Chicken Shack" -Amos Milburn
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One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer"
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Named by Billboard magazine as top artist in 1950 and 1951, Amos Milburn was one of the hottest chitlin circuit and jukebox artists in the country. Back when Nash Ramblers were cute, every Carolina juke joint jukebox including, Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Ocean Drive and Carolina Beach, was top-loaded with his great dance tunes and raucous lyrics, like... Down the Road a Piece, Trouble in Mind, Rooming House Boogie, Hold Me Baby, Lets Make Christmas Merry and Chicken Shack Boogie.
Born one of 13 children in Houston Texas, he learned music as a 4-year-old on a rented piano and danced at Depression-era talent contests for groceries and beer. Milburn somehow dug out of his poverty to create a magical blend of cocktail blues, jump blues and boogie woogie. That magical blend would later be called R&B.
He lied about his age, joined the Navy at 15, served admirably earning battle stars while honing his boogie woogie style entertaining officers in the Pacific war zone. After the war he returned to Houston and played at speakeasies and house parties. Later formed his own band and hit the bigger clubs.
Soon after landing a gig at Don Albert’s Club, he caught the eye of Ann Cullum, a dentist’s wife and music lover who sent him a note she wanted to talk with him. She later became his manager. She arranged a session with Aladdin records and down the road a piece he went. Milburn stayed with the Aladdin label for 9 years.
After Midnight, his first release in 1947 sold so so. But the next year, inspired by all the chicken-shack joints in his Houston neighborhood, he penned a rollicking number which bubbled to the top of the Billboard chart for 5 weeks. That tune which became the classic Chicken Shack Boogie, is still a fast dance favorite for West Coast swingers and East Coast shaggers. Nicky Sotteriou from Myrtle Beach won the 1953 South Carolina jitterbug championship dancing to that song.
Milburn was definitely a rocker but he could wail as well. Bewildered, a melancholy blues tune went to #1 R&B. But his forte was juke joint dance music. From 1946 to 1957 helped by the party-down lyrics of the great songwriter Rudy Toombs, Milburn cut an endless string of hits for Aladdin. His songs sang of good livin, good lovin and booze. Bad Bad Whiskey, Good Good Whiskey, Vicious Vicious Vodka, Thinkin and Drinkin, Juice Juice & Let Me Go Home Whiskey. As Milburn said, “Then I did a song called Milk and Water. That was my withdrawal from whiskey songs.”
Amos Milburn whose name now lit up every Rock-Ola, Seeburg & Wurlitzer enjoyed another 1953 hit penned by Rudy Toombs, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer. On tour Amos would always have 3 jiggers propped on his piano when he sang that song. That he didn’t flourish during the rock n roll years wasn’t surprising. “I really didn’t dig that rock music,” he explained to Living Blues Magazine. “It was too extravagant. A whole lotta electronics instead of actual playing.”
In later years he formed a close performing friendship with Charles Brown, touring together. They even co-wrote a song, entitled I Want To Go Home which heavily influenced Sam Cooke. Charles Brown, known to be a fast and loose gambler was the house player at the gangster-owned Copa Club in Kentucky. Sam Cooke, a fan of Brown would hit the Copa whenever he was in town. He became a big fan of Brown and Milburn’s song. He rewrote the lyrics, changed the title to Bring It On Home To Me and asked Brown to accompany him on the piano and backup. Brown turned him down and Lou Rawls took his place. The song became a legendary hit.
Milburn and Brown later landed at King Records where each recorded memorable christmas songs. Christmas Comes But Once a Year by Amos Milburn & Please Come Home For Christmas by Charles Brown.
In 1962 he popped up on a Motown tribute titled, The Return of Amos Milburn. Little Stevie Wonder played the harmonica track. On one of the songs he and Marvin Gaye harmonized. His final album was produced by friend Johnny Otis in 1972. Otis played the left piano parts for Milburn who had suffered a stroke. He found religion, gave up music, drinking and the fast life and died 1980 in his hometown of Houston.
A few of us locals were lucky enough to catch his rocking act at one of the premiere chitlin circuit clubs in the Southeast, Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach. Said by some not to be a great drinker, Amos Milburn certainly gave us a jukebox stocked with classic drinking and life of the party songs. The great boogie piano player and singer died at 52 in 1980. “Call Me a Cab, I’m Goin Home” should of been his last song. His red hot piano, great backup bands, classy stage presence, raucous lyrics and pioneering R&B stylings certainly belong in the Beach Music Hall of Fame.
2011 Artist Inductees
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