Country's most enduring artists have always balanced a strong sense of self with broad appeal, even – maybe especially – those from Texas. Odessa's own Brian Milson is no exception. In fact, he's modeled his career on many of them. Possessed of a supple baritone somewhere between Toby Keith and Chris Young, driven by a West Texas work ethic and recently aligned with several of Nashville's savviest star makers, Milson is nine years into the well-traveled path of the 10-year overnight success. Most of those miles were accumulated between the south west's beer halls and honky tonks. "I love music," he says. "I love playing guitar and singing into that mic. I love when the music is so loud it hurts my ears. I love watching people sip a drink while they're listening, hopefully nodding along and on their way to singing along the next time I'm in town."
The most significant miles maybe those that have taken him to Music City, where the next stage of his career is now underway. "I'm not one to sit on my thumbs waiting for something to happen," he explains. "As much as I love performing, that's only part of building something that really lasts. Pick any name you want – they all ran it through Nashville at some point. Willie calls it 'the store' for a reason. I knew learning that side of things was going to be vitally important."
Almost as vital as the music itself, a passion instilled early in Brian's life. "I was pretty young, sitting on my dad's shoulders and listening to Huey Lewis & The News play 'Power Of Love' at my first concert. I decided right there I had to get that tape. From that point on, music was a true love. I even became an oldies freak listening to Motown, Sinatra, and other things going back in time. I still love that stuff today." Learning guitar came later and from a slightly different motivation. "A couple buddies were playing a gig and I noticed them getting a lot of attention from the females. I was a pretty shy guy and come from a very short line of musicians – me. I taught myself to play."
Formalized music education came through school. "I needed a seventh-grade elective and wasn't artsy, but I loved music. Even though I chose choir because there wasn't a better option, I really grew to love it. I discovered I really love to sing, even in Italian and German." Brian didn't marry his playing with singing until a show choir audition before his senior year. "My first songs were 'Last Kiss' by Pearl Jam and a mix of stuff from George Strait, Clay Walker, Kenny Chesney and the Goo Goo Dolls. "I liked a wide array of genres and a lot of Country. There was a huge movement in Texas music back then. Pat Green, Cory Morrow, and Kevin Fowler were in the early stages of that, which really motivated me. I started writing those kinds of Texas tunes and it really became a passion. I was going to the shows, learning the melodies, studying the stage presence those guys had – it was quite an education."
His first public gig was in 2003 at Rocky Larues in Lubbock. Strong response to his set as an opener shaped his aspirations. "I began to think if I worked hard enough, this could turn into a career," he says. "That was the turning point. I booked as many gigs as possible and spent all my time playing and writing in and around Lubbock. Anyone who wanted me to jump in and open, I was there. I didn't even ask to be paid, I just wanted to play. Eventually, I got a few traveling gigs and bounced around between Lubbock, Wichita Falls, and Odessa. I put a band together and started taking side gigs and playing VFW halls. We'd do old-school country covers and mix in my tunes." The greatest lesson was the hardest ... and most surprising. "There's not a whole lot of money in it, to be perfectly honest," he says. "After you pay the band, gas, hotel and all the other expenses, you're usually actually out a few bucks. But it's taught me to be better with money. More important, it taught me to give my all every show. You can't slack off, even if there are only two people there. Those two people could buy the shirts and CDs that get you to your next show. They could end up being the kind of superfans that keep your career going for years. You gotta bring it. Every night. Every song. No exceptions."
That fierce spirit may be most reflective of his Texas home, but it is Nashville where he's taking his career to the next level. Recently signing a distribution deal with Sony RED, Milson is managed by rpm management (Tim McGraw). He's also working with the award winning songwriter and producer Anthony Smith (Chris Young's "Tomorrow"). "Anthony's so good in the studio. He knows exactly what he wants to hear," Milson says. "We've written together, too, and he's so impressive."Brian isn't shy about exactly what he wants to hear, either. "Traditional country with an edge," he explains. "I'm not afraid of guitars that twang, fiddles or steel. I love writing ballads. Maybe, I'm still trying to win the ladies' hearts."It's working ... for fans of all types. Certainly in Texas, where he's carved out a reliable touring circuit, but also with gatekeepers in Nashville and at country radio. "The approach is the same whether it's a handful of people seeing me in a bar or someone who runs a big station," Brian Milson sums. "Treat them well, give it all you've got and hope you get to see them again. When you do, be ready and I will be more than ready."