Little Milton at KUNV, Las Vegas
Photography by Gig Brown
Transcribed by R.J. Bianchino

Little Milton - The Real Deal
Real people don't meet strangers

PART I - THE EARLY YEARS

Little Milton Campbell took time out from his busy schedule to stop by the Las Vegas KUNV radio studio on December 27, 2003. Sitting in with Brian "Blues Dr." Spencer for the second half of Nothing But The Blues, Milton comfortably spun tales of his early blues days. Always a man coming straight from the heart, when Spencer expressed his excitement about having him on the show Little Milton replied "Real people don't meet strangers." That's just the sort of man Milton is - the real deal. A gentleman and a great bluesman to boot.

ABOUT THE BLUES

"With me it's about recording sensible, clean, respectable music with dignity in it."

"The music, it should be - as people describe it (those of us that write the lyrics) - about everyday life. And everyday life is lived by all ages, all creeds, and all races."

THE GRAND OLE OPRY

"I'm from the Mississippi delta originally. I was born in a little place called Inverness, MS. My mom moved up between Leland and Greenville when I was just a little tot. The only radio I can remember listening to on Saturday nights was The Grand Ole Opry. Back in the George Morgan days (Candy Kisses). And one of my favorites was Eddy Arnold of course. He just had that smooth, soulful voice. I was never into the Bluegrass, Bill Monroe and stuff like that."

[Brian Spencer mentions that from this era he recalls Little Jimmy Dickens, to which Little Milton replies with a laugh] - "He's still around too. He's one of the few guys that they call little that really is little."

"But I use to catch that [Grand Ole Opry] on Saturday nights. And I'd be glued to the radio. Had one of those old radios with the battery. You [Blues Dr.] don't know anything about that."

BLUES VS COUNTRY

"You know. Back then there was no such thing as a black musician doing strictly country and being successful. I learned to do the country and western stuff because through the week, once I got into the music thing, I could play the - we called them the white honky tonk joints... As you know it was all segregated man. You couldn't get out there and dance with anybody [laughs] on the dance floor... They treat you OK but you just couldn't mix.

We could play them through the week, and then the weekend we could play the black joints. I learned to be very versatile and learned to love it. So it stays with me even up to now.

Most times we would make more money in the tip boxes - they called it - than we were getting paid. They'd have a box of some sort nailed to the banister on the bandstand. They [the audience] would come up and request tunes and they would just put money on in there. Sometimes greenbacks, sometimes change. But at the end of the night man - back then you talk about the late forties and early fifties - you probably would make $35 for three people as pay which was pretty good then. And then you'd make about $40 in tips. You know. We were riding high. High on the hog."

THE EARLY YEARS

Time Perspective: James Milton Campbell was born September 7, 1934

"At that particular time [late 40's/early 50's] I had my own little thing going. There were just three of us. Sometimes two. The late Joe Willie Wilkins - great blues guitarist. Was a great guitarist period. He was associated with Robert Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). So I was just a kid. I lies about my age and took a little soot and put it under my lip; made me a mustache. They knew I was lying. But I was always tall. I was skinny then. I was tall for my age. And I've been about six feet tall since I was about, oh I guess, 11, 12 years old.

So at that time I must have been about 14 or 15. And they gave me a job. I could sing. Couldn't play worth a damn. But I could sing. I could sing. I was very much interested in learning. And I met Joe Willie Wilkins. He introduced me to Sonny Boy 'cause he was playing with Sonny Boy - the Rice Miller Sonny Boy. And of course Willy Love and Elmore James. So I got a chance to meet a whole bunch of those old real, real rough but gentle men. They lived hard, but they lived good - in one sense, you know. But you had a lot of fun. Didn't make much money, but you had a lot of fun.

REAL STARS

And I learned so much. I did learn that it was the greatest thing in the world to respect yourself. Respect other people. I also learned that you are not the star. The people that supported you are the stars. And I live with that today. And I tell my audience, you know, give the real stars a round of applause. Because without them I'm nobody. So I learned so much from people like that.