The following excerpt from WESTERN SWING FIDDLE is reprinted by permission ©Stacy Phillips. Please visit www.stacyphillips.com
Stacy Phillips: How did you first hook up with Milton Brown and Cecil Brower?
Cliff Bruner: Cecil wasn't with the Brownies when I joined. He went with Ted Fio Rito (leader of a sweet society dance band). He wanted to go into a big band. He found out that the big money was back with Milton. (laughs) So Milton hired him back.
How did you get the job?
They had heard about me. We were always starting little bands. It was hard times then. It was better than picking cotton you know. You'd go hungry to do it, but we'd stay with it. You could buy a lunch for fifteen cents, but you couldn't find fifteen cents. Through the hardships we learned. Milton Brown came through Austin and some of the boys in the band stopped over where I was playing and they told Milton about me.
At that time he was number one. You must have been excited.
You know I started not to go. I hated to break up the band. (laughs) We were about to starve to death. One of the boys told me, Cliff, this is one job you're not going to turn down! I never had heard too much about Milton. I was eighteen years old and I was too busy playing my fiddle. After Milton died I was the first to leave the band. I wasn't twenty yet.
Did you consider having horns and drums in your own band?
Well I did have them in later bands. I used either seven or eight men, and we worked a circuit. I turned down a Hollywood job, pictures and all that, because we were making a tremendous amount of money, more than the President of the United States. I had a big sleeper bus and a driver. We'd play a place and we'd drive hours to where a certain band was playing. We'd get there in the wee hours, they'd finish and we' jam the rest of the night. That went with it. It was part of our lives. Sometimes we'd work a job a hundred miles away and we'd play in the bus all the way back. And sometimes we'd stay on the bus and play till daylight.
Who was the first person you heard play electric?
It could be me. I amplified the fiddle by taking a Victrola needle and sticking it into my bridge.
You had a wire coming out of it?
Right. It was terribly hard to make yourself heard at dances.
Did you have to rehair your bow often?
Oh yes indeed! I carried two or three. (laughs) Yes, indeed!