“I owned a recording studio over a dentist office at the Loop with Travis Turk, Nick Panayiotou and John Edd Thompson. The name was Product Sound Studio. We did most of our recordings at night so we wouldn’t disturb the dentist below. A good looking woman, Margie Washichek, came in to make an appointment for her fiance. He was a student at Mississippi Southern. I remember when Jimmy Buffett walked into the studio. He had the Buffett smile that lit up the room. We hit it off and signed an agency contract. We recorded a couple of his songs. I tried to get his songs played around here, but no radio station would take them. Jimmy’s not country, but he’s not pop. He didn’t fit their stations. That was before he was the Caribbean cowboy. He had charisma even while playing covers in a corner bar at the Admiral Semmes Hotel. We knew he would be an entertainer.
I was living in Mobile and trying to be a songwriter. Mobile didn’t have the musicians or studios they had in Nashville. Travis moved to Nashville to help Buzz Cason build a studio. He also engineered at a little studio, called Spar Studios. I didn’t have any money, so I went into Spar late at night to record demos of the songs I wrote. Studio time was cheaper then because nobody wanted to record in the middle of the night.
Lloyd Green was a steel guitar player from Mobile. He started playing in honky-tonks when he was too young to be allowed in. Lloyd became the number one steel guitar and dobro player in Nashville. He was a dear friend and got the best players in Nashville to play sessions with me from nine p.m. until midnight. For three hours, I had pickers at demo scale and the studio for cheap. We did ten songs in three hours. The demos didn’t have to be perfect, they were just so producers could hear the songs. Today producers want the demo to be a finished product.
I had a session scheduled but I only had seven songs. I invited Jimmy, to come up and record three of his songs. The pickers loved him and his songs sounded great. He had to get back to Mobile the next day for his Admiral Semmes gig. He asked me to take his songs around and see if I could get him a record deal.
I went to April-Blackwood, the publishing company of CBS. Jack Grady was the head of the publishing company. He liked Jimmy and offered him a deal with weekly pay, an album and a single in the first year. He just needed to run it by his boss, who was in Europe at the time. Jimmy and I were thrilled. The next morning, Jack kept me waiting for over an hour. That is never a good sign. He said they could offer half the money with the same deal. Jimmy couldn’t move to Nashville and live off that. I called Travis to tell him the deal fell through. By the time I got back to my motel room, there was a note to call Buzz Cason. He was interested in signing Jimmy. I met Buzz for lunch and he offered the deal that CBS reneged on.
Jimmy and Margie moved to Nashville. The first song he released was The Christian? with a question mark, that he and I wrote. It got great reviews, but his career took off later. I was a tiny part of Jimmy’s career. He did all of the work and the heavy lifting.
We proved that musicians and songwriters from Mobile can do this. It’s just harder.”
Milton Brown has received multiple Grammy nominations, BMI Number 1 awards, a Country Music Association award and a People’s Choice finalist award. He is also the winner of a National Association of Theater Owners American Movie Award and was elected to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He is currently working on songs for a movie and writing a book about his life.
(Photos by Dunn Chandler)