A LIFE OF MUSIC
Dottie Brown sits at her piano, a piano covered in photographs and other mementos, and stretches her hands and fingers over the keys.
"This is the song I played for my recital when I was 9," she says as rapid-fire notes fill her shaded and dim X Avenue home on a hot July day. Dottie never uses printed music; she plays by ear, learning new pieces by listening to them, phrase by phrase, using a cassette player perched on the piano.
The music continues, segueing into a piano and violin duet as Helen Rost joins in, just the way they do when the whole group Dottie Brown & Co. gets together to play music at senior dances, weddings, reunions Â— and once, even, for a funeral.
Dottie laughs when she's back in her own chair, her little white poodle Â— her third Â— tucked against her side.
No, she says, she doesn't believe she has 3,000 memorized songs in her brain. "I used to know about 1,000," she confesses.
Dottie will be 87 in January, but sees no reason to slow down; in fact, the group's schedule just seems to be getting busier. Oh, and don't call Dottie the leader or the boss. "We're all the bosses," she says.
Dottie's life is all about music.
She began piano lessons barely out of toddler-hood, at age 4, and by the time she was 16 she was studying classical music.
Then she met Jimmie Brown, a young man with the Civilian Conservation Corps from Louisville, Ky.
He asked her to a dance the day he met her, in 1935.
"But my folks were pretty strict," Dottie says. "I didn't make it to that dance (at the Echo Community Club)."
Their next meeting was an accident. Dottie heard him playing his guitar when she took the family car in for it's standard every-other-week check.
The two went for a walk.
As they prepared to part, Jimmie asked Dottie if he could kiss her. Even though she didn't really think she knew him, she agreed.
She still remembers his words after that kiss.
"Oh, God. I'll never leave you."
Fourteen months later Dottie was completing her senior year of high school and marrying Jimmie Brown, on Dec. 2, 1936.
Jimmie picked up music easily, Dottie says, and the two of them joined with others from the Stanfield CCC camp to play at grange halls. They passed the hat each night, hoping to make gas money to get home.
"We'd make maybe $2," Dottie remembers. "One night we made $3.50, and thought we could make a living doing this."
For the next 28 1/2 years, Jimmie and Dottie played steadily, centering their style on what was known as hillbilly music, and roaming dances from Eastern Oregon to Portland.
Jimmie went to work as a railroad brakeman in 1942, but the music continued, time permitting.
Over the years, the Browns have played with the Tumbleweed Troubadours, Two Hits and a Miss, the Monday Night Jamboree and Barn Dance Â— the last the name of their Idaho all-request weekly radio show.
But then, "my husband said we should quit," Dottie says. "I never thought he'd say that. We quit, then he retired, and we moved to Idaho for his bad heart."
It didn't last. After three months of retirement, the Browns were back to music, often playing five days a week.
Nine years after his retirement and move to Idaho, Jimmie Brown died. Their music-playing friends got Dottie to play with them the day after Jimmie's funeral.
Dottie's kids "started screaming that I move back home," Dottie explains. She did, in time to be in La Grande on Jan. 9, 1993, when her son, also a railroader, was killed, crushed between two rail cars.
"For 13 years, I didn't touch the piano," she says. Her 11 grandkids, 25 great-grandchildren and several great-great grandkids gave her enough to do.
Then, Dottie met Jack Cogburn, and was taken to a musical jam session by him at Deloris Fielding's home
Before long, Dottie was talked into playing piano with Denny Langford, who convinced her to join the Blue Mountain Old-Time Fiddlers Â— another son had even paid her membership in the early 1990s.
In September of 2001, Dottie Brown & Co. officially began.
Even as arthritis and brittle bones slow Dottie down, she focuses on the music Â— "I don't hurt when I sit," she laughs.
The group Â— all in their 70s and 80s Â— ends each performance with a gospel song.
As Dottie arranges with Rost to meet for another performance, she moves back to her piano bench and reaches for the cassette player.
"I'm trying to pick up Â‘Wind Beneath My Wings,'" she explains, punching the play button.
Dottie Brown & Co.
While the musicians occasionally change, Dottie Brown & Co. recorded "Just Some More Good Ole Stuff" with:
Â• Helen Rost
Â• Jack Cogburn
(now of Calif.)
Â• Dottie Brown
Â• Merle Feik
Â• Pat Blang
Â• Denny Langford