Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Heartbreak on the Country Music Highway

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Lost to a Stranger
ARTIST: Hylo Brown
SONGWRITER: Frank Brown Jr.
ALBUM: Hylo Brown
YEAR/LABEL: 1954, Capitol

We wanted to try new things and yet keep it with a bluegrass flavor.
(Hylo Brown)

In eastern Kentucky Route 23 is named the "Country Music Highway." The federal road runs through or near the hometowns of many giants in country music: Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, Keith Whitley, and Patty Loveless are among those honored with signs as the road meanders into the county in which they were born.

Probably the least-known name on the Country Music Highway is Frank "Hylo" Brown. Unlike the other stars, Brown had only minor national success in country before his recordings took a decided bluegrass turn in the early 1960s. Brown is still revered in bluegrass circles today with the likes of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver performing his songs.

One of Brown's most enduring songs is a song he originally wrote and submitted for Kitty Wells to record. Instead, he ended up with a record deal and recorded the song himself. The song is "Lost to a Stranger."

Ricky Skaggs had a major hit with his rendition of the song, and numerous other acts have recorded it. Nothing, however, compares to the original.

The legend is that Brown got his nickname, "Hylo," because of his vocal range. Without question, he had a great voice, and that clear mountain tenor helped enhance the beauty of "Lost to a Stranger." The song begins with a mournful fiddle played by Red Taylor, setting the tone for a sorrowful tale of a girl ditching her beau at a bar. They start innocently enough, entering the tavern, when the girl is asked by a stranger to dance to the waltz the house band plays. The meeting was chance, but Brown laments his girl is "lost to a stranger I never had seen, the waltz they were playing had ended my dreams."

Hylo Brown died in 2003 after a long career, mostly in bluegrass music. He has mostly been forgotten in country circles, although the bluegrass world remembers him fondly. Kentucky remembers him, too, on the Country Music Highway, and everyone should remember him for this great song.

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