by Kevin McClintock
Aug. 10, 2014
JOPLIN, Mo. — Milton Patton was driving to work one morning, his emotions still tattered from a breakup with a woman he’d dearly loved, when the mournful lyrics of Brad Paisley’s hit “Whiskey Lullaby” came across the airwaves.
As he listened to the words — “She put him out / like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette / she broke his heart / he spent his whole life tryin’ to forget” — he realized what he wanted to do with his life.
He would write songs. And he would sing those songs. And God willing, he would leave behind his hometown of Forrest City, Arkansas and make a successful foray into the country music scene.
“The song reminded me of what had been going on in my life, and I liked it,” Patton said. “The music just spoke to me. It was just something completely different. From then on, I’ve been into country.”
Every Tuesday night, Patton performs at the Legends Sports Bar stage inside Downstream Casino and Resort. It’s a unique collaboration between Downstream’s public relations manager, Sean Harrison, and the 23-year-old Patton, who formerly worked as a chainsaw operator at Arkansas Electric Cooperatives.
But Patton wouldn’t be at Downstream, or anywhere in Missouri, if it hadn’t been for that lone Brad Paisley song.
And a popular national music show.
“America’s Got Talent”
Last year, Patton was introduced to millions as a country singer from Season 8 of “America’s Got Talent.”
Sporting work boots and a straw cowboy hat, he sang “Whiskey Lullaby,” and all four judges — Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel — voted him to move on to the next round during the San Antonio auditions.
Mel B, a former member of the Spice Girls, remarked, “I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that. You have a very unique voice.”
“I thought you were really good,” said shock jock Howard Stern after his initial performance.
Added comedian Howie Mandel: “You are a diamond in the rough.”
Patton knew he’d knocked the ball out of the park with his once in a lifetime performance.
“I was pretty confident. I just knew I would get past (the round).” Yet he never fully knew what the judges had liked about him.
“Did they like me because I was a black man singing country, or did they truly like my voice? And I still don’t really know the answer to those questions,” he said.
Though he was eliminated during the “Vegas round,” he was soon contacted by music agents in New York City and, according to Patton, offered a $500,000 music deal.
He turned down that contract.
“I had a lot of music industry people coming at me after AGT,” Patton said. “But they had their own ideas of what I should sound like, with a bunch of rap and R&B. They thought because I’m a black man I should just jump on the latest country music trend. But what I really like is the classic country sound — just good solid songs and catchy tunes. I wanted to stay true to me. I’ve got to keep it country.”
Looking for gigs, a friend of Patton’s contacted Harrison. Harrison watched a video of Patton’s performance and immediately recognized both the young man’s talent and his potential stardom.
“It made a strong impression,” Harrison said.
That’s where the singer (Patton) first met the songwriter (Harrison), and a unique partnership was born.
“We’re both from Arkansas,” Harrison said. “When Milton arrived here at Downstream, I set up a live show right up here on the Legends stage, And Milton and I met, had lunch, started talking, and we just liked each other.”
When Harrison asked what Patton needed help with, the 23-year-old said he needed original songs — “real” songs, he emphasized to Harrison.
Luckily for him, Harrison happens to moonlight as a songwriter and had inked quite a catalog of country and R&B songs.
“But I wasn’t born with a voice like his,” Harrison said. “I have written quite a few songs, and some of them are good. People around here know me as the public relations guy, the spokesman for Downstream, but in my younger life, I played music all my life. And I’ve been a closet songwriter. I write them and record them. It’s my artistic outlet.
“But we both felt like something brought us together because it’s also more than music. We think it’s a good collaboration and a good partnership, and it’s been a real interesting experience becoming close friends.”
Patton now lives in Joplin, has a job at Downstream and performs once a week at Legends. It’s an acoustic show made up of roughly 20 or so songs, and he shares the stage with Bobby DeGonia and Cory Shultz of LiveWire fame.
He mostly sings covers from artists he most admires — Charlie Pride, Alan Jackson, Chris Young, George Strait and George Jones.
But soon, perhaps as early as this month, Patton will begin slipping in original songs that were written in collaboration with Harrison. Songs such as “Keep it Country,” “Hard” and “Long Black Leather Coat.”
The phrase “Keep it Country” has become the young artist’s motto. It’s also the first song he has written by himself.
“It’s a song about that record company in New York and how they wanted to turn me uppity,” Patton said, laughing. “I’m down south, so I have to keep it country.”
Soon, with Harrison’s help, Patton hopes to have his first independent CD released, to be filled with his special country blend of blues, rock and a “little old-school Memphis.”
“He’s just a uniquely talented man,” Harrison said of Patton. “That’s what’s so special about him: He’s just a really great young man.”