A Pilgrim in the Valley of Kings

I discovered Western Swing in an unusual manner – growing up in rural Alabama, I fell under the sway of the Outlaw Movement in Country Music in the 1970s because it spoke to something in me, both musically and culturally, in that it celebrated the music of my people – poor white Southerners, yet the movement allowed us rednecks to cross over into Coolsville, where we could keep our gun racks and pickups, but smoke that wacky weed and wear our hair long and turn our amps up to 11.

I found that most of this new Country Music that I liked was emanating from Texas, and every music magazine that I could get my hands on (not many) was featuring songwriters and artists and renegade pickers and outrageous characters from the Lone Star State, which sounded to my young ears like a magical, enchanted place. From there, it was a direct line to the great Granddaddy of Texas Music – Bob Wills. I wound up buying a dozen or so albums and tapes of Bob and the Playboys during those years and have remained a devoted fan of those guys, Western Swing music, and my 2nd home in Texas, ever since. I’ve come upon the music of Milton Brown only in the last ten years or so, and damned if he and the Brownies didn’t have the same effect on me as Milton’s old friend, Bob did. Jesus, did these guys play hot. And Milton seemed to be even “blacker” than Bob, for lack of a better term. One only need listen to the Brownies recordings to know that these boys were having a helluva good time. Brown himself, while obviously talented and possessed of great vocal and stylistic range with an incredible memory for lyrics, was an ordinary looking and sounding fellow, an Everyman, which gives a palooka like me some encouragement.

And so, after playing dates and recording with Mark MacKenzie all over the South for the last several years, and with the two of us jamming along with jazzman Bill Vinett for all that time, we decided to gather at Swing Central one evening last June and invite Ben Blankenship, an old bandmate and accomplished songwriter/lead guitarist who had told me he was “getting into some jazz”, to join us. It was such a good night that we resolved to do it again soon, and by the time we did, we’d invited Norm Stannard, former proprietor of one of Nashville’s most beloved venues and consumate musician to come play bass, and Mark pulled in this “great fiddle player and great guy” that he’d just met – who turned out to be Ward Stout, and Mark was right on both counts. That night was more fun than a free week in Vegas, and we found that we sounded pretty good on tunes like the Brownies’ “Fan It,” “4 or 5 Times”, and the Texas Playboys’ “Sooner or Later,” and “Sugar Moon”. Most of all, the music made us all smile. One can’t help but feel good when encountering this joyous art.

It is music for the People, and the conduit of the Dance. Our Wednesday night rehearsals are grand affairs — we gather at our secret location under the tall trees in the great room with the picture window, set up and play hard until we can no longer resist the sweet aroma of the gourmet meal that awaits us. After dining together, we return to the music, and play late into the night. We holler and cut up on the tunes and have a laruppin’ good time, and in some way, it feels like we’re in touch with Bob and Milton and all the Boys…and Louis Armstrong and Django and Bix and Jelly Roll and all the cats, and Hemingway’s Paris and New Orleans Golden Leaf and big liquor in a clear glass.

And they’re all smiling on us and snapping their fingers and giving us the wink and the nod. It’s like therapy for me. I’m a songwriter. That’s my calling, and my calling card. But I’ve wanted to sing these songs for a long time, like my idol, Thomas Elmer Duncan, and my dad, who they say was a pretty good crooner himself. I expect the guys to throw me out any time now, exposing me for the charlatan I fear that I am, but so far… so good. So that’s how I came to The Miltons. They are a fine bunch of fellows and musicians as well, and that’s not always the case in our business. We hope you’ll come dance with us the first chance you get, and shake our hand, along with your tailfeathers.

Davis Raines

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2 Responses

  1. Slim says:

    Amen, my friend!

  2. Van says:

    I sure hope the next time I’m in Nashville I get to see the Miltons!

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