Little Milton playing in Jackson, Mississippi in 2002.
|Birth name||James Milton Campbell Jr.|
September 7, 1934 |
Inverness, Mississippi, United States
August 4, 2005 (aged 70) |
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
|Genres||Electric blues, R&B, soul, funk|
James Milton Campbell Jr. (September 7, 1934 – August 4, 2005), better known as Little Milton, was an American blues  singer and guitarist, best known for his hit records "Grits Ain't Groceries," "Walking the Back Streets and Crying," and "We're Gonna Make It."
Milton was born James Milton Campbell Jr., in the Mississippi Delta town of Inverness and raised in Greenville by a farmer and local blues musician. By age twelve he was a street musician, chiefly influenced by T-Bone Walker and his blues and rock and roll contemporaries. He joined the Rhythm Aces in the early part of the 1950s, a three piece band who played throughout the Mississippi Delta area. One of the group was Eddie Cusic who taught Milton to play the guitar. In 1952, while still a teenager playing in local bars, he caught the attention of Ike Turner, who was at that time a talent scout for Sam Phillips' Sun Records. He signed a contract with the label and recorded a number of singles. None of them broke through onto radio or sold well at record stores, however, and Milton left the Sun label by 1955.
After trying several labels without notable success, including Trumpet Records, Milton set up the St. Louis based Bobbin Records label, which ultimately scored a distribution deal with Leonard Chess' Chess Records. As a record producer, Milton helped bring artists such as Albert King and Fontella Bass to fame, while experiencing his own success for the first time. After a number of small format and regional hits, his 1962 single, "So Mean to Me," broke onto the Billboard R&B chart, eventually peaking at #14.
Following a short break to tour, managing other acts, and spending time recording new material, he returned to music in 1965 with a more polished sound, similar to that of B.B. King. After the ill-received "Blind Man" (R&B: #86), he released back-to-back hit singles. The first, "We're Gonna Make It," a blues-infused soul song, topped the R&B chart and broke through onto Top 40 radio, a format then dominated largely by white artists. He followed the song with #4 R&B hit "Who's Cheating Who?" All three songs were featured on his album, We're Gonna Make It, released that summer.
Throughout the late 1960s Milton released a number of moderately successful singles, but did not issue a further album until 1969, with Grits Ain't Groceries featuring his hit of the same name, as well as "Just a Little Bit" and "Baby, I Love You". With the death of Leonard Chess the same year, Milton's distributor, Checker Records fell into disarray, and Milton joined the Stax label two years later. Adding complex orchestration to his works, Milton scored hits with "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and "What It Is" from his live album, What It Is: Live at Montreux. He appeared in the documentary film, Wattstax, which was released in 1973. Stax, however, had been losing money since late in the previous decade and was forced into bankruptcy in 1975.
After leaving Stax, Milton struggled to maintain a career, moving first to Evidence, then the MCA imprint Mobile Fidelity Records, before finding a home at the independent record label, Malaco Records, where he remained for much of the remainder of his career. His last hit single, "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number," was released in 1983 from the album of the same name. In 1988, Little Milton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and won a W.C. Handy Award. His final album, Think of Me, was released in May 2005 on the Telarc imprint, and included writing and guitar on three songs by Peter Shoulder of the UK-based blues-rock trio Winterville.
Milton’s song "Let Me Down Easy" was recorded by the Spencer Davis Group on The Second Album (1965), but his authorship was not acknowledged on the record. He released a single of it himself in 1968 on Checker. It was also chosen by Etta James as the final track in her final album The Dreamer in 2011.
- We're Gonna Make It (1965, Checker) (R&B #3 U.S. #101)
- Sings Big Blues (1966, Checker)
- Grits Ain't Groceries (1969, Chess) (R&B #41 U.S. #159)
- If Walls Could Talk (1970, MCA/Chess) (R&B #23 U.S. #197)
- Waiting for Little Milton (1973, Stax) (R&B #39)
- What It Is: Live at Montreux (1973, Stax)
- Blues 'n' Soul (1974, Stax) (R&B #45)
- Tin Pan Alley (1975, Stax)
- Friend of Mine (1976, Glades) (R&B #50)
- Me For You, You For Me (1977, Glades)
- Walkin' the Back Streets (1981, Stax)
- The Blues Is Alright (1982, Evidence)
- Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number (1983, Mobile Fidelity) (R&B #53)
- Playing for Keeps (1984, Malaco) (R&B #55)
- I Will Survive (1985, Malaco)
- Annie Mae's Cafe (1986, Malaco)
- Movin' to the Country (1987, Malaco)
- Back to Back (1988, Malaco) (R&B #73)
- Too Much Pain (1990, Malaco) (R&B #40)
- Reality (1991, Malaco) (R&B #57)
- I Need Your Love So Bad (1991, Golden Ear)
- Strugglin' Lady (1992, Malaco) (R&B #63)
- I'm a Gambler (1994, Malaco)
- Live at Westville Prison (1995, Delmark)
- Cheatin' Habit (1996, Malaco) (Blues #14)
- Count the Days (1997, Malaco)
- For Real (1998, Malaco) (Blues #13)
- Welcome to Little Milton (1999, Malaco) (Blues #10)
- Feel It (2001, Malaco)
- Guitar Man (2002, Malaco) (Blues #8)
- The Blues Is Alright: Live at Kalamazoo (2004, Varèse Sarabande)
- Think of Me (2005, Telarc) (Blues #14)
- Live at the North Atlantic Blues Festival: His Last Concert (2006 Camil)
- "So Mean to Me" (1962) (R&B #14)
- "Blind Man" (1965) (U.S. #86)
- "We're Gonna Make It" (1965) (R&B #1 U.S. #25)
- "Who's Cheating Who?" (1965) (R&B #4 U.S. #43)
- "Man Loves Two" (1966) (R&B #45)
- "We Got the Winning Hand" (1966) (U.S. #100)
- "Feel So Bad" (1967) (R&B #7, U.S. #91)
- "I'll Never Turn My Back on You" (1967) (R&B #31)
- "Let Me Down Easy" (1968) (R&B #27)
- "More and More" (1968) (R&B #45)
- "Grits Ain't Groceries" (1969) (R&B #13, U.S. #73)
- "Just a Little Bit" (1969) (R&B #13, U.S. #97)
- "Baby, I Love You" (1970) (R&B #6, U.S. #82)
- "If Walls Could Talk" (1970) (R&B #10, U.S. #71)
- "Somebody's Changin' My Sweet Baby's Mind" (1970) (R&B #22)
- "I Play Dirty" (1971) (R&B #37)
- "If That Ain't a Reason" (1971) (R&B #41)
- "That's What Love Will Make You Do" (1972) (R&B #9, U.S. #59)
- "What It Is" (1973) (R&B #51)
- "Behind Closed Doors" (1974) (R&B #31)
- "Tin Pan Alley" (1974) (R&B #51)
- "Let Me Back In" (1974) (R&B #38)
- "If You Talk In Your Sleep" (1975) (R&B #34)
- "Friend of Mine" (1976) (R&B #15)
- "Baby, It Ain't No Way" (1977) (R&B #94)
- "Loving You" (1977) (R&B #47)
- "Just One Step" (1977) (R&B #59)
- "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number" (1983) (R&B #89)
- Greatest Hits (1972, MCA/Chess)
- Sun Masters (1990, Rounder)
- Welcome to the Club: The Essential Chess Recordings (1994, MCA/Chess)
- The Complete Stax Singles (1994, Fantasy)
- Stand By Me: The Blues Collection [#48] (1995, Orbis)
- Greatest Hits (1995, Malaco)
- Rockin' the Blues (1996, MCA Special)
- Greatest Hits (The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection) (1997, MCA/Chess)
- Chess Blues Guitar: Two Decades of Killer Fretwork (1998 MCA/Chess)
- Count the Days (1997, 601 Records)
- The Complete Checker Hit Singles (2001, Connoisseur Collection)
- Anthology 1953-1961 (2002, Varèse Sarabande)
- Running Wild Blues (2006, Charly)
- Stax Profiles (2006, Stax)
- The Very Best of Little Milton (2007, Stax)
Appearances on other albums
- Jackie Ross: Take the Weight Off Me (Grapevine) – Five duets with Ross
- Albert King, Chico Hamilton, Little Milton: Montreux Festival (Stax 1974)
- Various artists: Vanthology: Tribute to Van Morrison (Evidence 2004) – Milton covered Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey"
- Jean Jacques Milteau: Memphis (Sunnyside) – Milton sang Sting's "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"
- E.C. Scott: The Other Side of Me (Black Bud) – Milton sang two duets with Scott
- Gov't Mule:
- Willie Dixon: The Chess Box set – Milton performed "I Can't Quit You Baby"
"Any category they want to put me in is fine with me as long as they accept what I do." — Little Milton
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Huey, Steve. "Biography: Little Milton". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
- "Eddie Cusic: Mississippi Folklife and Folk Artist Directory". Arts.state.ms.us. 1926-01-04. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
- "Highway 61 Blues". Highway 61 Blues. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
- "Trumpet Records Diamonds on Farish Street". Retrieved November 6, 2006.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 241. CN 5585.
- "Let Me Down Easy - Little Milton". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
- Russell, Tony (6 August 2005). "Obituary: Little Milton". Theguardian.com. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. pp. 138–139. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.