Mr. MILTON CAMPBELL (Singer): People, you know what? My baby's left me and she hadn't come back and I'm going to get on this old train and see can I find her.

(Soundbite of music)


Little Milton died this week at the age of 70. He learned to play guitar and sing the blues from his father, Big Milton Campbell, a musician in the Mississippi Delta. At 18, Little Milton made his first recording with Sun Records, had launched a career that would thrive for half a century.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) Well, I rode the train all day. I'm going to ride all night tonight. Yes, I rode the train all day. I'm going to ride all night tonight.

LUDDEN: Little Milton went on to record hits like "The Blues Is All Right," "We're Going To Make It" and "Little Blue Bird." He was still touring this year and made his last performance just three weeks ago at the North Atlantic Blues Festival.

Joining me now by phone is Peter Guralnick. He's one of the leading experts on American blues and rock 'n' roll.


Mr. PETER GURALNICK (Author, "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke"): Thanks.

LUDDEN: How do you see Little Milton's role in the history of the blues?

Mr. GURALNICK: I think he's part of a continuum of great music, music in which it's not so much originality that's prized as conviction, as sincerity, as feeling. The one thing that you always knew when you went to see a Little Milton performance was that whether there were five people there or there were 500 or 5,000, Little Milton was always going to give his best.

LUDDEN: And yet he's not as well-known as some contemporaries, I mean, B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Why?

Mr. GURALNICK: I think Little Milton is just someone who has never really gotten his due. He was never a politician, which is not to take away from anybody who has achieved a greater degree of fame. He wasn't about the PR. He wasn't about fads or fashion. He's somebody who was just entirely about the music. And one of the extraordinary things that he achieved over a 50-year career was his ability to adapt to a changing marketplace without ever sacrificing his own integrity, so that while he started out as a straight blues singer, he also covered traditional rhythm and blues and evolved into a kind of soul singer and a mix between all three without ever sacrificing the individual qualities of his voice.

(Soundbite from "We're Going To Make It")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) We may not have a cent to pay the rent but we're going to make it. I know we will. We may have to eat beans every day, but we're going to make it. I know we will. And if a job is hard to find and we have to stand in the welfare line, I've got your love and you know you've got mine, so we're going to make it. I know we will.

LUDDEN: Can you tell me about one of his songs, "We're Going To Make It"?

Mr. GURALNICK: "We're Going To Make It" was kind of a--was his huge crossover hit. Like so many songs of the soul era, it blends a lot of different elements. For one thing, it's far more melodic than a lot of Little Milton's earlier records, I mean, based on soul music change and classical changes and introducing the melodic sense you don't find in just the straightforward blues. But more than anything else, like so many of the soul classics, it introduces a note of hope and it's a note of hope that can operate on many different planes. Obviously it's a love song and yet it could also be taken for the civil rights generation, for a generation that's so caught up in the movement and everything that's going on. And what Little Milton invests in it through the contrast between his sweet voice, between his understated voice, the understated voice which just states the premise, and then his rougher blues voice that comes in, what he's able to achieve is just a sense, I think, of generational solidarity which goes far beyond the lyrics of the song.

(Soundbite from "We're Going To Make It")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) And if I have to carry around a sign saying, `(Unintelligible) the dumb and the blind,' I've got your love and you know you've got mine, so we're going to make it. I know we will.

LUDDEN: Author Peter Guralnick. His latest book is due out this fall. It's called "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke."

Thank you so much.

Mr. GURALNICK: Well, thank you.

LUDDEN: Little Milton Campbell died Thursday from a stroke. He was 70 years old. Just two months ago, he released a new album. It's called "Think of Me."

(Soundbite of "Think of Me")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) When you're feeling low-down, so far away from home and the night is yours and yours all alone, now you may not be with me but your presence fills the room. Oh, just think of me, baby, 'cause I'll be thinking of you. Life ain't always easy and love can take its time, but I have no doubts that we...

LUDDEN: There's an extended NPR interview with Little Milton from 2000, the year he was nominated for a Grammy at our Web site,

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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