Cliff Bruner (April 25, 1915 – August 25, 2000) was a fiddler and bandleader of the Western Swing era of the 1930’s and 1940’s…..whose music combined elements of traditional string band music, improvisation, blues, folk and popular melodies of the times.
Bruner was born in Texas City, Texas….who learned to play fiddle….and traveled with medicine shows to begin his musical career. Milton Brown’s Musical Brownies drafted Bruner in 1935….as he played with the ensemble’s classically trained fiddler Cecil Brower….and they created the memorable double fiddle sound of Milton Brown’s group. Bruner recorded with Brown’s group on the Decca music label until Brown was killed in an automobile accident in 1936…..which ended Bruner’s involvement in the group.
That same year (1936), Bruner moved to Houston and formed The Texas Wanderers which was a band that included Lee Bell on electric guitar, Bob Dunn on electric steel guitar, Leo Raley on mandolin, J. R. Chatwell on fiddle, Dickie McBride on guitar and vocals and Moon Mullican on vocals and piano….as The Wanderers recorded on the Decca and Mercury Records labels. His songs had a special southern characteristic….including songs about truck driving, lost love, the draft and ill repute.
Cliff Bruner is an unsung star of the little-noted Country music charts that appeared in Billboard prior to 1944…..as his hit “It Makes No Difference Now” spent twenty weeks atop the chart. Other hits in 1939–1942 included “Sorry,” “Kelly Swing”, “I’ll Keep On Loving You”, “When You’re Smiling” and “Jesse Polka”….as played in this video herewith by Johnny Gimble and The Texas Swing Pioneers on Austin City Limits in 1978.
Perhaps his most famous hit was “Truck Drivers’ Blues”….which was the first truck driving song. Many of these recordings featured future singer piano star, Moon Mullican, on vocals. Bruner’s big band disbanded in the 1950’s….however, he continued to play music….and his trio appeared in the 1984 Sally Field movie Places in the Heart.