Duffy Morton planned to be a high school band teacher. Instead, he took over the family farm after his father died unexpectedly. But he never stopped making music.
Morton is the leader of The Velvet Brass, a popular swing dance band. He also plays brass in Doc's All Stars, a 15-piece big band that plays ballrooms around Minnesota. The west-central Minnesota farmer sings and plays trumpet, trombone, tuba, baritone and piccolo trumpet.
Morton formed The Velvet Brass in 1980. The quartet performs mainly swing music, but the band is versatile, playing every-thing from old time to rock and roll. “We can play just about anything people request,” Morton says. The band members have played together so long they seldom need to rehearse anymore.
Morton plays private parties, dances, weddings and anniversaries. “We play mostly for middle-aged audiences,” says Morton, 62. His band is especially popular for golden anniversaries. “People like to hear all the songs that were popular when they were first married,” he says. They get a lot of requests for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Morton first started playing brass instruments in high school, and went on to study music at the University of Minnesota, intending to pursue a music career. After college, he and his brother played with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Band in Kissimmee, FL. “That was a blast,” he says.
After Morton's father died in 1970, he took over the family's diversified crop and livestock operation near Glenwood, MN. He milked cows, raised hogs and grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa on sandy, irrigated soil. The Morton family also had one of the oldest tree farms in Minnesota, begun by his father in 1952. Today, Morton oversees more than 1,200 acres of cultivated trees in western and northern Minnesota. This year, he plans to harvest his hybrid poplars in Pope County and return the land to corn and soybean production.
In his spare time, Morton plays about 50 gigs a year. That makes the music more than a hobby. Still, “It's what I do for fun,” he says. “This is my paid entertainment.”