There’s a select band of R&B artists who started out in the music business young, made recordings and appeared live for many years, retired for a few decades to raise a family but then later returned to personal appearances and recordings. One of these is Mickey Champion, whose career started in Los Angeles in the late 40s and who is still singing today. In “Bam-A-Lam” we take a look at the recordings from the first part of her career – a selection of tough R&B and blues recorded mainly in the 50s for West Coast-based labels including Aladdin, Dootone, Modern & RPM.
Hooking up with Roy Milton’s Band was an opportunity in more than one way – as well as recordings coming her way, Roy also became Mickey’s husband. Recorded live at Gene Norman’s Blues & Rhythm Show at the Shrine Auditorium in mid-1950, she belted out ‘He’s A Mean Man’ and ‘Lovin’ Jim’ to an estimated audience of 9000 jazz and R&B fans. On the same bill were Dinah Washington (Mickey’s idol) and Jimmy Witherspoon, with whom she recorded ‘There Ain’t Nothing Better’ later that year billed as His Gal Friday. Also in 1950 Mickey fronted the Nic Nacs (a renamed Robins group) and waxed ‘Found Me A Sugar Daddy’ and the seasonal ‘Gonna Have A Merry Xmas’, very much in the Little Esther & The Robins mould, for the Biharis’ RPM label. In the same period, the ballad ‘Everybody Knew It But Me’ and the Dinah Washington-inspired ‘I’ve Got It Bad’ appeared on the Modern label. As well as releasing four singles under her own name, the Biharis auditioned her for quite a few others. Four previously unreleased tracks are included from that period.
A contract with Aladdin Records came in late 1951, her sessions arranged & conducted by the West Coast maestro Maxwell Davis. EMI managed to come up with the original tapes so we have this 4-tune session in fine quality. At this stage, Mickey had a fear of flying so promotion was difficult despite the sides receiving good reviews, as she was effectively confined to the West Coast. The next stop for recording for both Mickey and the Roy Milton Band was Dootsie Williams’ Dootone Records. They were signed shortly after a big party to celebrate Roy’s 20th anniversary in the business had been held at the 5-4 Ballroom in L.A.
Sleeve note writer and long-time fan Opal Nations regards the coupling that Mickey released on Dootone as her finest moments on wax - the raunchy ‘I’m A Woman’ with the all-out rocker ‘Bam-A-Lam’ as its flip. After Dootone Mickey and Roy Milton signed to the Cincinnati-based King Records. Here she recorded duets with Roy on ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’ and Roy’s signature tune ‘RM Blues’.
Here are the gems from the Mickey’s early and mid recording career with some previously unissued tracks as a bonus. As well as in Opal’s detailed notes, there’s also more biographical and discographical information on her career to be found in an article by Dan Kochakian in the June 2008 issue of Blues & Rhythm magazine.
By Peter Gibbon