Hylo Brown

By: Brian Berger
April 20, 2011

One of the great vocalists of bluegrass, FRANK “HYLO” BROWN (1922-2003) was as much enigma as entertainer. Hailing from Johnson County, Kentucky, Brown performed on country radio while still a teen. In Middleton, Ohio, legendary WPFB emcee Smoky Ward gave Brown his nickname — pronounced “Hi-Lo” — in honor of his vocal range. In truth, bluegrass doesn’t cover it. Brown could handle nearly all country styles, from old-time ballads to rockabilly; his 1957 Capitol recording of “John Henry” remains an apex of trick-voiced folk aggression. Alas, Brown saw only minor chart action; he earned his living with Flatt & Scruggs, both as band member and leader of their shadow group, the Timberliners, who’d do TV shows (see below) when the bosses were booked elsewhere. While Brown’s performance at the inaugural 1959 Newport Folk Festival was notable, it didn’t reach the urban hipster and in 1961, Brown signed with the down-home Starday label; Bluegrass Goes To College was superb but how many 41-year-old undergrads are there? Then things got strange. In 1967-1968, Rural Rhythm issued seven new Hylo Brown albums with twenty brief songs each. No wonder that, in September 1967, Billboard reported that “after 13 years of recording bluegrass, [Brown] now is doing more sophisticated country for K-Ark.” Sophisticated? The A-side to his third single for the label was titled “Riding In A Dump Truck”; the flip to Brown’s sixth, and final K-Ark waxing: “Three Time Loser.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Alvin Weinberg.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).

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Country, HiLo Heroes, Music

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