February 12, 2013
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Jim Ed Brown has had three separate and distinct recording careers within country music. The first career ran from 1952 to ’54 and found him paired initially with sister Maxine and later with sisters Maxine and Bonnie (1955-67). After the Browns disbanded (Bonnie and Maxine left to raise families), he had a successful career as a solo artist for the next eight years (1967-74). Then, after his solo career as a hit-maker ground to a halt, he took on a third wind with a series of successful duet recordings with Helen Cornelius.
Born in 1934, in Sparkman, Arkansas, Jim Ed Brown was one of five children (two boys and three girls) of a struggling lumberman and his wife. Like many rural families his family would gather on Saturday nights to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery powered radio. Brown and his older sister, Maxine, were especially interested in what they heard on the radio and soon began singing together. Within a few years they were performing on local radio shows.
By Brown’s second year of college, he and Maxine were regulars on the Barnyard Frolic on KRLA in Little Rock. In 1954, they wrote their first hit song “Looking Back To See” which charted at #8 for the duo. A cover version by Justin Tubb and Goldie Hill also charted, reaching # 4.
Released on the Faber label in 1954, “Looking Back To See” provided the duo with momentum, leading to membership on the Louisiana Hayride. From there they joined Red Foley as featured regulars on the Ozark Jubilee in 1955. Toward the end of 1955, younger sister Bonnie joined the act and they scored their second top ten record with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” With encouragement from their former Faber label mate Jim Reeves, RCA signed the group in 1956, and two Cashbox #1s followed with “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebird Sing” (both fell just short of #1 on Billboard). In 1957, Jim Ed was invited to join Uncle Sam for a two year stretch in the US Army. By the time he returned in 1959, RCA had become immersed in the ‘Nashville Sound’ and the label pointed the group toward the pop charts, succeeding in a big way with “The Three Bells” which was #1 for ten weeks and spent four weeks at #1 on the pop charts and sold millions of copies. This was followed by “Scarlet Ribbons” (#7 country/#13 pop) and “The Old Lamplighter” (#20 country / #5 pop). In 1962, the trio joined the Grand Ole Opry.
Unfortunately, the focus on the pop charts cost the group their core country audience, and they would have no further top 10 country hits. Meanwhile the pop audiences moved elsewhere as the ‘British Invasion’ changed the pop landscape. Read more of this post