Saturday, February 18, 2012

Little Milton: Grits Ain't Groceries (All Around The World)

Because James Milton Campbell, Jr. was named for his father, he was given the moniker of “Little” Milton and the name stuck throughout his life until his untimely death in 2005. Little Milton had the honor of recording for three great independent labels during his career – Sun, Chess – both on the main label and through its Checker imprint, and Stax.

His first record deal can be credited to Ike Turner who was working as a talent scout for Sam Phillips and although the sides he recorded for Sun never charted, it was a start to a long and semi successful rhythm and blues career. Having not heard his music as a youngster, I became aware of Little Milton and other blues and rhythm and blues artists in the 1970s when Chess Records was purchased by GRT and began repacking its music into compilations and featuring more recent recordings in its “London Sessions” series of recordings that included Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. For some reason, I don’t have the Muddy Waters recordings, but I do have the others.

While Little Milton, who was now a Stax Records artist, was not afforded the opportunity of being part of the London Session series, his recordings were part of a new compilation series when Chess was sold to the All Platinum Record Group in 1976. This new repackaging of old material was called the “Masters of Blues” series and included double album sets that featured the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lowell, Fulson, Little Milton, and others. Characteristic of this series was the interesting paintings of the artists for the covers. Howlin’ Wolf’s cover had him climbing into a World War II vintage fighter cockpit.

Little Milton’s album depicted him in a motel room wearing a smoking jacket. While he was not like the others in this series as he was a rhythm and blues artist and not a blues artist, it served as a good introduction to this great R&B performer. Unfortunately, I cannot find any photos of the album covers from this series and my albums are in disarray following a recent move –so I cannot provide that here.

While “Grits Ain’t Groceries” wasn’t Milton’s biggest hit, it was one that did get a bit of airplay. This 1969 release on Checker charted at #13 on the R&B chart and at #73 on the Hot 100 – making it a fine inclusion for our Bubbling Under category.

Little Willie John’s Version from 1955

When seeing the writing credits of T. Turner on “Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around the World),” one might be tempted as thinking this was a song penned by Tina Turner because of Milton’s early connection to Ike Turner. That couldn’t be further from the truth. R&B artist Titus Turner wrote the song “All Around the World” which was a minor R&B hit for Little Willie John in 1955. It was Little Milton that rechristened the song as “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”

What a great lyric, “If I don’t love you baby, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.” Little Milton did right by renaming the song after the hook. Although the original title of “All Around the World” is in the lyrics, it isn’t as memorable as “Grits Ain’t Groceries.” Little Willie John’s recording on King peaked at #5 on the R&B charts but never made it to the Hot 100.

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