Roy Milton - The Real Solid Sender
Milton spent the years of his youth on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma before making his home in Tulsa. He got a job as a singer with a territory band fronted by Ernie Fields. He got the opportunity to play the drums when the band's regular drummer didn't show. Milton moved west to Los Angeles and formed a trio that played clubs in the greater L.A. area in the early nineteen forties.In the year1945 Milton signed a recording contract with a new area independent label called Juke Box Records (soon to be renamed Specialty). The band also filmed three soundies with singer June Richmond. Milton and the band made their first record on his own Roy Milton label (#503) of "Milton's Boogie", and it was followed by a record of a tune called innocently enough, "R.M. Blues" first on the Roy Milton label, then on Juke Box #504 (soon Specialty #504). It was such a huge seller in the summer of 1946 that it established Specialty records as a major producer of the new Rhythm & Blues music on the west coast. Rupe realized the great appeal of Milton and his band and they were a major force in the first few years of the R & B explosion charting twenty times on the charts and becoming one of the biggest acts to tour the United States. Further enhancing the band as a top flight draw was the presence of Camille Howard on piano and vocals and later, Lil Greenwood and Mickey Champion also on vocals.
Milton expanded his original trio in 1945 to a seven piece unit that became known world wide as The Solid Senders. After the huge success of "R.M. Blues" Milton quickly recorded a series of jump and blues numbers for the Juke Box label. "True Blues" and "Camille's Boogie" featuring pianist Howard was #510. "It Should Have Been This Way" and the hit "Red Light" followed on #511. The year 1947 found Specialty Records with a slew of Milton releases - #513 : "Sunny Side Of The Street" / "I'll Always Be In Love With You", #514 : "Blues In My Heart" / "Grooving With Joe", #515 : "Mr. Fine" / "Rainy Day Confessin' Blues", #516 : "Little Boy Blue" and a fine selling version of "Them There Eyes", #517 : "Pack Your Sack Jack" and a hit vocal for Camille Howard on "When I Grow Too Old To Dream", #518 : "Big Fat Mama" and Camille Howard's huge hit recording of "Thrill Me", and #519 : "Roy Rides" / "What's The Use". In mid 1948 Milton records the last two Juke Box originals - #522 - "My Blue Heaven" / "Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket" and #524 - "Train Blues" / "I've had My Moments".
By now in 1948, Camille Howard is recording under her own name and is a a successful recording artist in her own right even as she is part of the Milton unit. #314 - "Everything I Do Is Wrong" and "Hop Skip, And Jump" keep the hits coming for the Milton band. "New Year's Resolution" and "Porter's Love Song" are Specialty # 317. In early 1949 Milton tries his hand on the hit tune "The Hucklebuck" on #328, which is seemingly owned in the R & B field by Paul Williams. Milton follows with another jump hit in "Junior Jumps" and the flip side is "There Is Something Missing". "I'm Wakin' Up Baby" and "Taint Me" on #341 misses, but not so "Information Blues" on #349 which is released late in 1949 and goes over big on the West coast.
Soon after New Year's of 1950, Milton is involved in a serious automobile accident while on a swing to the Pacific Northwest. The accident occurs near Grant's Pass, Oregon and Milton is hospitalized for the better part of a week. At this time Camille Howard lets it be known that she will venture forth on her own as a solo performer leaving the Milton unit after close to five years as an integral part of the band. In February as Milton prepares to resume recording and personal appearances, he announces that Lil Greenwood would replace Howard in the Solid Senders. "Information Blues" continues to be a good seller on the West coast. Milton and the band play at a big bash for KOWL disc jockey Roy Adams. Soon after, Specialty releases "Junior Jives" and "Where There Is No Love" on #358. In June the Gotham Record Company of Philadelphia buys a number of masters from Miltone Records of L.A.including the releases on Roy Milton Records (later Miltone), among them "RM Blues". A big Welcome Home party is given for Milton after the conclusion of the first part of his big coast to coast tour for the year 1950.
In mid 1950 the new line up for the Solid Senders is - Roy Milton-leader and drummer; Eddie Taylor-tenor sax; Jackie Kelso-alto sax; Charles Gillum-trumpet; Jimmy Rogers-guitar; Lawrence Cato-bass; Miss Perry Lee Blackwell-piano; Lil Greenwood-vocals. The record of "Junior Jives" continues to sell big in the South. The Milton crew appears at the big Cavalcade of Jazz at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. They also appear at the benefit concert for the Musicians Relief Fund held at the Barrel House in Watts. "Playboy Boogie" and "Crying And Singing The Blues" are released on Specialty #366 followed by "Bartender's Boogie" and "Sad Feeling" on #372. In November Roy Milton and his band record a cover version of Louis Prima's "Oh Babe" using long distance phone lines from Detroit to L.A. It will be coupled with "Christmas Time Blues" on #381. While in Detroit at the end of the year, Camille Howard decides to rejoin the Solid Senders. Milton also announces a new male vocalist will be part of the unit-he is Freddy Clark from Norfolk, Virginia. The Milton unit closes out the year with one of the most successful tours in R & B history. They end 1950 by engaging in a battle of the bands with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and his crew in a raucous send off to a most historic year.
The first Milton release on 45 rpm on Specialty comes out very early in 1951 - "Bye Bye Baby Blues" and "That's The One For Me" on #386. The Milton band does some shows at the last Word club on Central Avenue in Watts. Roy Milton takes part in the very first all Black radio program for the Mutual Broadcasting System in Los Angeles along with Camille Howard, Jimmy Witherspoon, and m.c. Leonard Reed. In May Milton records "The Numbers Blues" and "It's later Than You Think" on #403. In July, an interesting sounding jump tune is done by Milton and the Solid Senders called the "T-Town Jump" for Specialty #407. The flip side is "I've Got News For You". In October Lil Greenwood records some sides for Specialty as a solo singer with Milton and his band playing backup. "Best Wishes" and "Sweet, Short, and Snappy" is released on #414. The title of Milton's recording on #407 is changed to "T-Town Twist".
In January of 1952, Milton and his band appear with Roy Brown on stage at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. After that engagement, Milton will appear for a week at New York's Apollo, and then on to the Royal Peacock in Atlanta. In April Specialty releases #429 - "So Tired" / "Thelma Lou". In mid-summer #438 pairs "Night And Day" and "Am I Wasting My Time". In October Roy Milton and his Solid Senders become the first big name Rhythm & Blues performer to do an extensive tour of Europe. Milton will do shows in Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and end up playing in Paris, France. At the end of the year Specialty #446 is out - "Believe Me Baby" and "Blue Turning Gray".
Beginning in early 1953, Milton takes some time off, until march when #455 is released - "Don't You Remember" and "Someday", and is followed in June with #464 - "Let Me Give You All My Love" and "Early In The Morning". Milton is part of the big Fourth Annual Rhythm And Blues jamboree presented by Gene Norman in Los Angeles. He shares the stage with Johnny Ace, The Robins, Willie Mae Thornton, Linda Hopkins, Marvin Phillips, and old friend and former band mate Camille Howard who is again on her own as a solo performer and now recording for Federal Records. In October Milton and the band take part in the big World Series of the Blues in Oakland, California.
Specialty #480 is released early in 1954 as Milton continues to be a prolific recording artist as well as an in person performer. "I Stood By" and "Baby Don't You Know" is his latest. In April #489 contains "Make Me Know It" and the rollicking "A Bird In The Hand". In May the Milton band plays the Royal Room in L.A. with new female vocalist Mickey Champion. A tour of Texas and Louisiana is set up for the month of May. At this time #526 - "It's Too Late" and "Gonna Leave You Baby" is released and the record sells well especially "Gonna Leave You" on the West coast. Getting ready for a summer foray on the West coast from San Diego to Seattle, the Milton aggregation once again teams up with Camille Howard for a big send off at L.A.'s Savoy Ballroom. Also on the tour is Richard Lewis and The Flairs. After the end of this tour the band rests up for about two weeks before another string of one nighters is about to commence. This tour will take in Texas, Oklahoma, and other stops in the Southwest. The Solid Senders with Camille Howard and Mickey Champion will be joined by The Penguins, The Flairs, and Shirley Gunter & The Queens for a well rounded West Coast R & B show. In December Specialty #538 is released - "How Can I Live Without You" and "Tell It Like It Is".
In March of 1955 Roy Milton records "Baby Don't Do That To Me" and "What Can I Do". This is the last record for the label that Milton will do ending an eleven year career where he was the one who began the entire history of the R & B independent giant. In April Milton signs with another Southern California indie, Dootone Records. Label president Dootsie Williams hopes to revive the recording fortunes of Milton which have flagged for the last year and a half. Milton's new version of the Solid Senders features the return of sax player Jackie Kelso famous for his instrumental "Rat-A-Tat". The new band makes its debut at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles. Dootone releases the first outing by Milton on #363 - "I Can't Go On" and "Fools Are Getting Scarcer". As with the last few records on Specialty, sales are less than adequate but the band is still a good draw on the road as proven out by the reception and business done at The palm in Miami Beach, Florida in May. In June Roy Milton celebrates twenty years in show business with a big party at the 5-4 Ballroom with Camille Howard and Johnny Otis. In July Dootone releases #369 - "You Got Me Reelin' And Rockin'" / "Nothing Left". As the Milton unit continues to do well as an in person draw, the records disappear almost as fast as they are released. Dootone #377 is out at year's end. It pairs "I Want To Go Home" and "I Never Would Have Made It".
In February of 1956 Milton shows the band's continued popularity by pulling in business at Kansas City's Orchid Room. Mickey Champion is signed to Dootone Records as a featured singer with the Milton band. The first Dootone release under his own name is #378 - "Bam-A-Lam " and "I'm A Woman". In June Dootone issues #398 - "Baby I'm Gone" and "Cry Some Baby". In September Milton and his band appear at their favorite home base, L.A.'s 5-4 Ballroom. The attempt to revitalize the recording career of Milton by Dootsie Williams fails and Milton is let go but finds another label when he signs with King Records in Cincinnati in October. At the end of the year King #4993 features Mickey Champion on vocal on "You're Gonna Suffer, Baby" and the flip side "One Zippety Zam".
By early 1957 it is apparent that Roy Milton's appeal as a rock and roller was not to be. The new appeal of the music was to a teenaged audience, and his style of music was out of date. Now and then his presence would become apparent in little ways-his King recording of the instrumental "Succotash" and a remake of "R.M. Blues" in the late 50s were two examples. In the early 60s remakes of "Red Light" and "Milton's Boogie" also let the world know that he was still around and playing classic R & B. In the early 70s his tour with Johnny Otis and Orchestra as a last go around for the historic R & B caravans of the past (captured on record at Monterey) and the Barrel House Reunion (also with Otis) gave everyone a taste of what was his ground breaking presentation of the sound of modern Rhythm & Blues. Roy Milton was one of the true pioneers of the music and one of its very first nationally famous practitioners. Without him and his talented direction and his band, we would be in a far different place than we are today.
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