Ruth remembers Milt Buckner

Some days ago I received a very nice email from Ruth Gilson who has – as she says – “been an avid Milt Buckner for years”. Ruth who is now 80 years of age wanted to know if I would like to read about her personal interactions with Milt Buckner when he was booked into her local Holiday Inn Supper Club for a month every year. And of course I wanted to read that! 

And so Ruth send me her little dissertation, which reads like this:

Milt wasn’t much over 5 feet tall and was a jolly, roly-poly little guy who was always happy. He hauled his Hammond organ from place to place in a van with a hydraulic lift. He would load the organ, tie it down for travel, then crawl in to drive. One might see the van in traffic and swear that the driver was a kid barely able to see over the steering wheel.

Milt would book in for a month every Summer at the Holiday Inn Supper Club in Napoleon, Ohio and stay with “his mother” in nearby Defiance, Ohio. Fans came from the Tri-State area of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana whenever Milt was in town and the restaurant was packed on Friday and Saturday nights.

Milt’s feet would fairly race back and forth over the bass pedals during a fast number. He had black lights trained on the pedals and his shoes were painted with fluorescent paint for greatest showmanship and one could hardly miss seeing his flying feet. He always mumbled and grunted along as he played and this can be heard in many of his YouTube videos. During the several breaks he took during the evening, he would “table hop” to chat a bit. He remembered folks names and the songs they usually asked for, year after year.

Ruth Gilson

When I walked through the door, whatever song Milt was playing at the time, became transitioned into “Mood Indigo,” my favorite song. Later in the evening I would go up and say, “Hi,.” and he would say, “Play somethin’ funky, right?” I especially liked “Funky K.C.,” and have attached a copy of the song played by Milt and Jay McShann in case you don’t have it. It’s Milt you hear tinkling those high register keys in the duet. He always seemed to gravitate to the high octave keys sometime during his number and it seems to be one of his unmistakable trademarks.

Milt Buckner and Jay McShann: Funky K.C. (1970)

The Twenty Grand Club in Detroit closed on Saturday night at 1 AM. This gave Milt’s musician friends plenty of time to drive the 75 miles to Napoleon, Ohio, arriving just before the Holiday Inn Supper Club closed at 2:30 AM. The jam session which occurred after closing produced some of the best music one could ever hope to hear. We saw the sun come up on Sunday
mornings whenever Milt was in town.

Floyd “Candy” Johnson was headlining at a Toledo, Ohio Club (45 miles away) and would often join the group. “Candy” played tenor sax like no one else and was famous for his gargling and cackling sax sounds. You will have no trouble deciding which sax solo is his in Mood Indigo :

Milt Buckner, Arnett Cobb, Candy Johnson: Mood Indigo (1973)

Here is an LP Bowling Green State University (Ohio) concert that Candy organized in 1974, featuring Milt and brother Ted and Candy:

Milt Buckner, Dave Wilborn, Candy Johnson and Ted Buckner at
Bowling Green State University (Ohio), 1974. Photo added by Crown Propeller

Milt and I played our annual golf match every year.  I was Ladies Club champion and Milt was “a basket case.” There was always a large gallery following the fun and frivolity, and he always “dressed” for the occasion. He might turn up wearing a huge, bright green, puffy bill cap with green knee sox to match, and bright yellow knickers. Milt would hit the ball a few yards, often along the ground, then chuckle his deep throated laugh, walk up and whack it again. He might hit his ball 5 or 6 times before we got up to my shot. Milt played to the gallery in riotous fashion and they loved every minute of it.

I regret that I never thought to collect Milt’s music back then. It just never occurred to me. He passed away in 1977 and I went through a divorce about that time. I got busy carving my solitary path in the world and it wasn’t until after retirement that I got around to Milt’s music again. I began with the old NAPSTER in 1999, trading selections with many people from overseas. Milt was much better known in Europe than in the States, and most
of his recording was done there. I am still in touch with a friend from the Netherlands who used to go to Paris weekends when Milt was, playing there.

I noted that Lionel Hampton is also documented on your blog. “Hamp” was “IT” when I was in high school. I saved baby sitting money and rode the bus
50 miles from my home in 1948 to The Paramount theater in Toledo, Ohio to see Lionel Hampton preform in an afternoon matinee. Milt used to mention Lionel Hampton,  especially when “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie” was requested. He always said that they wrote the popular song together, but that, “Hamp got the money and I got the kick.” Milt states it in the attached. You will also hear him chuckle like he did every time he hit his golf ball in our matches.

Milt Buckner and Jean-Paul Amouroux: Hamp’s Boogie Woogie (1976)

Perhaps these words help you to better understand the kind of
man Milt was.

Yes, Ruth, they surely do, Thank you very much for your memories!

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4 Responses to “Ruth remembers Milt Buckner”

  1. Ruth is my mom and I loved her narrative! I was a grumpy teenager during the time she mentioned….and I only wish I had wanted to hang out with my parents at that time in my life! What great memories I missed out on! Jan

  2. Carole Hallam Says:

    Hello Armin
    I would love to contact Ruth and thank her for the beautiful things she has said about my father Milt Buckner. I don’t believe I ever met her. although I lived with my father in Defiance the last 5 years of his life . I also attend high school in Defiance in the 1950’s
    Carole Hallam

  3. Bobbi Cole Hersh Says:

    Milt Buckner was a personal friend of a very good friend of mine…Joyce Freudberg Caplan. She phoned me when we lived in Bowling Green that Milt would be in Napoleon. So my husband and I went to see and hear him. We became fast friends. We were already close friends with Candy Johnson. When the two of them were together it was magic. I fondly remember both of them and shall never forget. That was a special time in my life.
    Bobbi Cole Hersh

    • Carole Buckner Hallam Says:

      Bobbi I’m Milt Buckner’s daughter and I live in Southern CA., I was pleased that you knew my father, do you still live in Bowling Green?
      they now have a Jazz Festival in Defiance Ohio each year now in June the first one was last year, if you need any additional info you can contact Virginia Sterling in Defiance her number is 419-782-2337

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