Soul City: Boogie-Woogie Godfather Amos Milburn
Black History Month is always a great time to recall some of Houston's greatest musical innovators and leaders. Rocks Off will highlight some of them during the remainder of February.
Born in Third Ward on April 1, 1927, self-taught pianist Amos Milburn was one of the true godfathers of rock and roll. His songs "Let's Rock A While" (1951) and "Rock, Rock, Rock" (1952) were hugely influential on two of rock and roll's greatest pianists, Little Richard and Fats Domino. Milburn is considered one of the inventors of boogie-woogie.
Milburn was playing around Houston in the early 1940s, but his career really took off after he returned from World War II. Local woman Lola Cullum took notice of Milburn and helped him record "After Midnight" in early 1946, then took Milburn and the record to Los Angeles and secured Milburn a deal with Aladdin Records, one of the leading black R&B labels.
Milburn worked with Aladdin for 12 years and cut approximately 125 songs. He was frequently in the Billboard Top 10 with sides like "Chicken Shack Boogie," "In the Middle of the Night," "Hold Me Baby," "Bad Bad Whiskey," "Good Good Whiskey," "Vicious Vicious Vodka," "Let's Have a Party," "House Party (Tonight)," "Let Me Go Home, Whiskey," and "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer."
Milburn split with Aladdin in 1958 and thereafter toured with such greats as Johnny Otis and Charles Brown. He also continued to record sporadically with labels like Ace and even Motown. In 1965, the Rolling Stones covered Milburn's classic "Down the Road A Piece."
Milburn had serious problems with alcoholism and was frequently ill. He died on Jan. 3, 1980, in Houston, and is buried in Houston National Cemetery.
He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame last year.