The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996 Page: 132
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132 Southwestern Historical Quarterly July
In short, historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction should be grateful for
this new volume in The Papers of Andrew Johnson. The next, which will deal with
the onset of Congressional Reconstruction, should be equally valuable.
University of North Texas RANDOLPH B. CAMPBELL
Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. By Cary Ginell. (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1994. Pp. xxxii+33o. Acknowledgments, intro-
duction, notes, index. ISBN 0-25202-041-3. $29.95.)
Western swing music emerged in the Southwest in the early 1930os, when
country string bands embraced urban jazz, blues, and popular music. In the pop-
ular mind Bob Wills, whose career spanned four decades, is this music's undis-
puted king. In this context, music historian Cary Ginell's long-awaited biography
of Wills's contemporary Milton Brown stakes Brown's early claim as the creator
of western swing. That Ginell is able to give Brown his due without diminishing
the Bob Wills legend is one of the many strengths of this volume, the latest in
the Music in American Life series that gave us Charles Townsend's groundbreak-
ing biography of Wills in 1976.
Ginell offers compelling evidence that, in the long evolution of western swing,
Milton Brown was the early creator, while Bob Wills and others continued to
develop and transform the genre over the years. Between 1932 and 1935 Milton
and his Musical Brownies made crucial innovations that became the hallmarks of
western swing, integrating the piano, bass, and amplified steel guitar into the
string-band format and cultivating a zest for improvisation, or "stretching out,"
that led them away from country music toward the swing-band style. They were
poised to ride a wave of successes to new heights when Brown died in a car
wreck in 1936. Without his leadership, the Brownies broke up within a year.
Ginell fills a void in Brown's near-forgotten legacy with a wealth of informa-
tion culled from discographies and from interviews with the Brown family,
friends, and surviving band members. Though the chapters on Brown's early
years are strong on family history, they are sketchy on musical influences; the
book hits its stride when it reaches the 1930s. Every new stage in Milton Brown's
development; every new instrument, player, and stylistic influence; and every
success and setback are explored in depth, often from various personal perspec-
tives. We even learn that Brown's fatal car accident may have been caused by
narcolepsy. (Incidentally, the name of the contemporary western swing band
Asleep at the Wheel has nothing to do with Milton Brown.)
The footnotes and appendices greatly enrich this work. The discography is
authoritative and complete. The detailed analysis of more than a hundred songs
in the Brown repertoire provides key insights into his musical evolution. And
more than fifty photographs complement the narrative with both personal and
musicological details. The final image of Milton Brown-uneasy in a Stetson
hat-shows that he was no cowboy.
Ginell's wish that Brown might be enshrined in the Country Music Hall of
Fame (an honor that eluded Wills for many years) will likely never come true.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996, periodical, 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/m1/160/?rotate=90: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.