Drummer, vocalist, and bandleader Roy Milton was born of Chickasaw Native and African-American parents on a reservation near Wynnewood, OK, in 1907. He grew up in Tulsa, got involved in the music scene there, migrated to California, and put together his first working band, the Solid Senders, in 1938. This first volume in the Classics Roy Milton chronology presents all of his earliest recordings, which predate his debut on Specialty Records in 1947. Right from the first few notes of pianist Camille Howard's introduction to "I'll Always Be in Love with You," it is clear why Lionel Hampton hastened to give Milton his first break by letting him cut four sides for the Hamp-Tone record label in September of 1945. This little band, with a gutsy front line of trumpeters Jimmy Nottingham and Hosea Sapp alongside growling tenor saxophonist Lorenzo "Buddy" Floyd, was firmly supported by Dave Robinson's walking string bass. The producers of this compilation were able to splice together the two parts of "Burma Road Blues," originally bifurcated for issue on both sides of a 78-rpm platter. The resulting seamless six-minute performance is a sobering testimonial describing a soldier's plight in the Pacific during World War II. Singing lyrics apparently written by Lionel Hampton, Milton describes leaving San Francisco when "everything was in bloom," landing in Australia, preparing for armed conflict in the Philippines, and ending up in Burma where the sky appeared to be on fire. Camille Howard proves herself a formidable boogie-woogie pianist capable of turning in the occasional tidy vocal. When Milton's band reassembled to wax four sides for the Juke Box label in December 1945, he had added alto saxophonist Earl Simms and cut down to one trumpeter, Hosea Sapp, an accomplished expressive manipulator of the mute. "Rhythm Cocktail" sounds like it came right out of the John Kirby Sextet band book. Both "Milton's Boogie" and "R.M. Blues" made it onto the Billboard R&B chart during the year 1946, Milton's first year as a record company owner and producer. Heard here in numerical sequence, 17 tracks document the very beginnings of Milton's record label, with ex-Basie alto saxophonist Caughey Roberts replacing Earl Simms. This allows listeners to enjoy a fairly unprecedented quantity of meaty alto sax solos from Roberts, who only made it onto eight studio recordings with Basie before being replaced by Earle Warren in early 1937. There are a few remakes of earlier recordings and a whole lot of pleasant surprises in this mixed bag of danceable blues, ballads, and swing. The closing track, a swell version of "My Blue Heaven" (with the mischievously altered lyric "...and the baby makes eight") issued on Special Records in 1946, appears to have been recorded live with additional doo wop backing by an unidentified squad of cool vocalists.
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