Springfield News Leader
by Ed Peaco
Aug. 22, 2014
Milton Patton came out of nowhere in east-central Arkansas to make a big splash with his America’s Got Talent audition. That was the easy part of his musical journey so far.
The next steps required hard choices along a path that started from rags, detoured around riches, and steepened toward what he hopes will lead to a more rewarding destination.
In recent months, Patton, 23, has been working in Joplin with Sean Harrison, the public relations manager of Downstream Casino who has a background in performing in songwriting. The casino is, in effect, sponsoring Patton as he performs there frequently, collaborates with Harrison on songwriting and on an album at Nick Sibley Music in Springfield.
During this Ozarks music immersion, his family lives in Memphis. His first child, Camille, was born 10 months ago.
“What really set it off was my little girl. She really motivated me to get out and start my career singing country,” he said.
In a sampling of recorded songs, Patton has a gentle, supple voice that maintains a little gentleness even in forceful moments. His favorite artists to cover are George Jones, Charlie Pride, George Strait and Alan Jackson.
Patton grew up in Forrest City, Ark., about 50 miles west of Memphis, hearing Gospel, R&B, hip-hop and a little jazz, and singing R&B.
His father played country music on the radio to please clients at his car-detailing business. That was Patton’s exposure to country until, at age 19, he heard Brad Paisley’s sad song, “Whiskey Lullaby,” which spoke to Patton’s condition after a painful breakup. From then on, he was hooked on country. Last year, he entered America’s Got Talent.
“I signed up for it and caught the Greyhound for Louisiana and tried out,” he said. “Slept outside the night before the audition. I woke up energized and ready, and I passed. Next, they flew me to Texas. There was competition everywhere. Didn’t let it faze me. I just stayed focused.”
After he was eliminated in the “Vegas” round, a friend who was trying to book Patton at Downstream introduced him to Harrison, and they became friends on the basis of shared musical tastes and mutual trust, Harrison said.
Shortly after the TV contest, Patton received a $500,000 record deal from a major label. However, music executives wanted to shape him into a flavor-of-the-month, R&B-hip-hop kind of country artist, Patton said. That scheme was a deal breaker for the singer steeped in classic and contemporary country.
Ready to reject the offer, he called Harrison to discuss what the next steps might be. That call was the beginning of the partnership with Downstream. In addition to the musical support, the casino gave him a job at the casino (pool attendant), and Harrison provided a place to stay. Patton lives in Harrison’s apartment in Joplin, which Harrison also uses during the week, returning on weekends to his home in Fayetteville, Ark.
Patton has faced more life-changing moments in the past year than many people encounter in decades.
America’s Got Talent: “If you want something bad enough, push for it. Focus on it,” he said about the AGT experience, which now applies to career and family.
The record deal: Patton said it was easy to reject it, but he also said it was a huge disappointment.
Downstream: A great opportunity to grow in an environment of trust, but surely tough to part from his family. Patton saw it as part of the music life: “A lot of musicians do that — hit the road. Sometimes you just got to pick up your bags and leave to make a living to support your family.”
Patton sings in acoustic sets on selected dates at Downstream, and he’ll soon perform around the region as part of the Bobby D. Band including members of the popular country/Southern rock band Livewire.
Meanwhile, Patton and Harrison commute regularly to Springfield to work on the album. They’re striving for a commercially viable sound that’s true their Arkansas roots, Harrison said. Recording is a slow process, but he said he’s pleased with the work so far.
“I’m old enough to be his dad, and it might be a kind of surrogate-dad relationship, but we act more like brothers,” Harrison said, recognizing the stakes for the young singer’s career and family:
“It was a big step for him to come up here, and we’ve got to make it work out.”