Cliff Bruner (né Clifton Lafayette Bruner; 25 April 1915 – 25 August 2000) was a fiddler and bandleader of the Western Swing era of the 1930s. Bruner's music combined elements of traditional string band music, improvisation, blues, folk, and popular melodies of the times.
Born in Houston, in 1915, a child of a poor, south Texas family, Bruner learned to play fiddle at the age of 4, later boasting: ‘I could play fiddle before I could talk’. While still at school, he played at local dances. He had become an itinerant musician in his teens, carrying his fiddle in a flour sack, picking cotton by day and playing for cotton-pickers by night. Bruner was performing professionally and wandering around Texas in search of gigs by the late 1920s. The medicine show provided him with early employment, as it did for many other early country stars; he had signed on with Dr. Scott's Medicine Show, a travelling caravan hawking a cure-all called Liquidine Tonic.
In 1934, Bruner joined the path breaking Western swing band Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, an act which billed itself as "The Greatest String Band on Earth." He cut close to 50 songs with the group before Brown was killed in an auto accident in April 1936; the twin fiddles often heard in the Brownies' music (setting a pattern that lasted for decades in country music) are those of Bruner and the classically trained violinist Cecil Brower.
After Brown's death, Bruner returned to Houston and formed a group called the Texas Wanderers (sometimes called Cliff Bruner & His Boys). The band settled into a slot on Beaumont radio station KDFM, whose listenership crossed the state line into heavily Cajun South-western Louisiana. As did other Western swing bands, this one fused traditional fiddle-led country music with elements of 1920s and '30s pop and jazz. But Bruner, from the start, favoured a strikingly contemporary sound. He brought the wildly experimental electric steel guitarist Bob Dunn on board from the Brownies and featured an electric mandolinist, Leo Raley, and an energetic barrelhouse pianist, Moon Mullican. the Texas Wanderers' recordings on the Decca label crowded jukeboxes along the oil-rich, heavily industrialized Texas Gulf Coast.
Cliff Bruner is an unsung star of the little-noted Country music charts that appeared in Billboard prior to 1944. His hit It Makes No Difference Now spent 20 weeks atop the chart. Other hits in 1939–1942 included "Sorry", "Kelly Swing", "I'll keep on loving you" and "When You're Smiling". Perhaps his most famous hit was "Truck Drivers' Blues", the first truck driving song. Many of these recordings featured Dickie McBride and future singer piano star, Moon Mullican, on vocals.
In the early '40s, Bruner dissolved the Texas Wanderers, but he continued to work with Mullican and with other musicians who were forging modern country music out of the forms of Western swing: he performed with former Texas governor W. Lee O'Daniel and with Louisiana governor-to-be Jimmie Davis. Bruner and Mullican headed a band called the Showboys, and he made some recordings for Mercury and for small Texas labels after World War II.
In 1950, Bruner's wife, Ruth, died from tuberculosis, and, for the sake of his two young daughters, he gave up professional music for the safety of the insurance business. When the Western swing revival flowered in the 1970s, however, he gained proper recognition as an enormously influential figure. He appeared on Johnny Gimble's 1980 LP Texas Swing Pioneers and his trio appeared in the 1984 Sally Field movie Places in the Heart. In the mid 90’s, he was still playing on weekend events with local musicians in Houston and, according to reports, he was still amazing younger musicians with his fiddling skills.
On August 25, 2000, Bruner's long lifetime of making music came to an end when he died due to complications from cancer and heart problems at the age of 85 in Texas. (Info edited mainly from All Music & Wikipedia)
Cliff performs Ted Daffan song "Over The Hill" . Accompanied by Shelly Lee Alley Jr. andThe River Road Boys at Stafford Opra House, Columbus, Texas March 30, 1996