About The Artist
Johnson County, Kentucky native Frank Brown had a country singing voice suited to bluegrass and hard country. He made some impact on the music world from the middle-1950's for about a decade.
His career continued into the early 1990's with less success and he eventually drifted into an undeserved obscurity. Nonetheless, in his heyday Brown was a country hero, especially to his fan base in Appalachia and in Appalachian migrant enclaves in the Midwest.
Brown was born and grew up in the same area a few years before Loretta Lynn put that part of the Kentucky mountains on the music map. He was influenced by local musicians he heard growing up and traditionalists on recordings such as the Monroe Brothers, Bradley Kincaid, and the Blue Sky Boys.
He first sang on radio at sixteen on WCMI in Ashland, Kentucky and had his first program-15 minutes weekly-at WLOG in Logan, West Virginia. During the war he moved to Springfield, Ohio and worked in a defense plant. In 1944, one of his heroes, Bradley Kincaid, relocated from Nashville to Springfield where he bought a radio station, but still continued singing on the airwaves.
After the war, Brown worked in a factory and sang part-time on radio where he got the nickname Hylo from his extensive voice range. He often worked with Kincaid, even helping him on a Capitol record session in 1950, but gave little thought to making music an occupation until 1954.
That year Brown wrote the song "Lost to a Stranger," which he hoped someone would record on a major label. When he took it to Nashville, Ken Nelson of Capitol suggested that he do it himself. The next day, November 7, Hylo found himself in a studio cutting four numbers. He continued with Capitol through 1960, recording a mixture of bluegrass and traditional country.
With his contract in hand, Hylo went into music with a will forming a band, the Buckskin Boys. He joined the WWVA Jamboree which took him to venues as far away as New England and the Maritimes in Canada.
Later, he became a featured vocalist traveling with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on a TV circuit for Martha White Flour.
As Flatt and Scruggs made Martha Flour ever more popular, they added a second band led by Hylo called the Timberliners and gave him a circuit as well. Jim and Jesse also became a third band. Hylo's band included such pickers as Red Rector and Tater Tate and they cut one of the first truly classic bluegrass long-play albums in 1958.
Unfortunately, when videotape came along, the Flatt and Scruggs show was played on all the stations. After a few months, Brown gave up his band and went back to his prior featured spot with the Foggy Mountain Boys.
After a final Capitol session in October 1960 (which remained unreleased until 1992), he signed with Starday Records.
Hylo continued with Starday until 1964 during which time he turned out four long play albums and a number of singles, all of good quality although not quite up to the standard of his best Capitol sides.
Although still with the Flatt and Scruggs organization when his first Starday album came out, he soon went back on his own. Probably his most notable offerings for that label were "Picture in the Wallet" a Jimmie Skinner Composition; "Cabin on the Hill," an inspirational classic written in 1943 by blind piano tuner Boliver Lee Shook; and the traditional ballad "Roane County Prisoner."
Webmaster Note: About 50 years ago while my family was visiting my aunt and uncle, I was just
learning an 8-string Fender Hawaiian Steel Guitar. They had an old dobro and I just tuned the string
to the way I was learning. I started plucking away and soon calls were made to neighbors to come on by.
An informal picking session began. The family penny-a-point rummy game got postponed that night.
But my uncle asked me if a knew a certain tune that I had never been able to find until
Mr. Tribe wrote this item about Hylo. He asked me if I knew "I Saw Your Picture In Another Man's Wallet."
Then in Hylo's discography, I noticed a tune on Starday record number 578, "Picture in the Wallet." It took
me several attempts to download the MP3 file and when I finally got to hear it, I knew that
was the song my uncle wanted to hear. I tried to write the lyrics to the first two verses and chorus,
but could not quite get them right. I mentioned it to Mr. Tribe and during his Sunday, January 17, 2021
broadcast over WOUB.ORG, he said he sent them to me based on what he remembered. That song resonated
with my uncle and Ivan remembered the lyrics 50 years later. It's a story song, so here are the
lyrics to the first two verses and the chorus.
Picture In The Wallet
Although Brown's stature was slowly diminishing, he continued recording extensively for the smaller bluegrass-oriented Rural Rhythm label, turning out six albums over the next five years of roughly twenty songs each, some of which were atypically short. He seldom carried a full band in that era, and used local bands for backup. Roy Ross and his Blue Ridge Mountain Boys from Pike County, Ohio was one of them.
By the 1970s, Hylo usually worked primarily in clubs and played a few bluegrass festivals. He also experienced some voice problems, finding it more difficult to sing in natural highs although he could still do his trademark falsetto on "The Prisoner's Song." Singing in low keys became increasingly common and had lesser appeal for a bluegrass audience that was his natural fan base.
He did some later recording for labels like Jessup and Attieram, but they failed to revive his career and Hylo eventually retired. In post retirement, Copper Creek Records released a compact disc of material taped from a live show at New River Ranch which captured the old Hylo at his best.
In 1996, the State of Kentucky added Hylo Brown's name as well as Crystal Gayle and Loretta Lynn to a road sign on Highway 23 that was designated "Country Music Highway." Back then there was an Exxon Station along the road near Paintsville that had many items that belonged to Hylo haning on the wall. Other stars honored on the road in Eastern Kentucky are Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless and Gary Stewart.
He died a few years later.
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