I was thinking today about how a person’s tastes in music can change — the person in this case being myself, but I think it’s true of most of us. I can think of a lot of examples from my own meandering course through musical waters but one that comes readily to mind is how much I now enjoy Western Swing, that oddly-matched fusion of country blues and big band music that I didn’t even know was a genre for most of my life.
Which brings us to Milton Brown, who has been called the ‘Father of Western Swing’ even though he might not be as well-remembered as guys like Bob Wills and Spade Cooley. Brown’s popularity in the 1930s helped pave the way for them and others but his death in 1936 drastically shortened his own career.
After a few years kicking around in other jobs, the Texas-born Brown began to show up on the Ft. Worth music scene around 1930, even working for a while with Wills, who was also in the early years of his career. Brown mostly performed as a vocalist while his brother Derwood joined in on guitar, both gaining valuable experience in live shows and on regional radio. They soon became regulars on a radio show sponsored by a flour company, performing in a musical group that called itself the Light Crust Doughboys.
Although the group was very popular on radio and had even started to make records, disagreements about bookings and finances led to the Browns striking out on their own. The newly-formed Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies included a number of talented musicians and almost immediately became a hit with fans. That popularity also translated to record sales, and when steel guitar whiz Bob Dunn was later added — becoming the first electric guitarist in a country band — the group’s popularity shot up even higher.
Unfortunately, Milton was involved in an auto accident in the Spring of 1936 and died a few days later, just 32 years old. The band would continue for a while under Derwood’s leadership, and would issue a number of records that had been made before Milton’s death, but within a couple of years only the legacy remained.