My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Maxine Brown

In Memoriam: Country legends we’ve lost already in 2019

As our friend Razor X pointed out to me, January has been a cruel month for fans of historical country music. Before we flip the page into February, I wanted to note the legends who are, sadly, no longer amongst us. I’ve chosen to eulogize them in descending order.

Maxine Brown Russell (1931-2019)

Russell passed away January 21 at age 87 following complications from heart and kidney disease. Along with her siblings Bonnie Brown Ring and Jim Ed Brown, she was a member of the trio The Browns, who were active from 1954-1968. The trio scored their biggest hit “The Three Bells” 60 years ago, spending 10 consecutive weeks at #1 from August 7-November 2, 1959. The trio was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015. Jim Ed, who went on to have a successful solo career with hits such as “Pop a Top” and “I Don’t Want to Have To Marry You” with Helen Cornelius, died in 2015 following a battle with lung cancer. The disease claimed their sister Bonnie in 2016.

Reggie Young (1936-2019)

Young passed away January 17 from heart failure at age 82. A guitarist, Young’s signature sound graced hundreds of rock, pop, and country records. He most famously worked with Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings.

Carol Channing (1921-2019)

Perhaps the most recognizable name in this group, Channing was a Broadway legend who made her mark playing Dolly Gallagher Levi in the musical Hello Dolly, which premiered in 1964. While not known for impacting country music in any significant way, she had a duet with Webb Pierce in 1976, entitled “Got You On My Mind.” Channing passed on January 15 of natural causes at age 97.

Bonnie Guitar (1923-2019)

Guitar, a country singer, guitarist, and business-woman, died January 12 at age 95. Please read our friend Paul W. Dennis’ Country Heritage Redux piece on her to learn more about her remarkable career. One of her biggest hits was “Dark Moon,” which was a #14 country single and peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart:

Country Heritage: Jim Ed Brown

jim ed brownJim 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.

Career #1

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

Country Heritage Redux: Bonnie Guitar

Born with the last name Buckingham, Seattle native Bonnie “Guitar” was a true renaissance woman who moved from role to role during the course of her long career. You name it, this 88 year old has done it: singer, songwriter, session musician, producer, executive and record label owner.

Bonnie Guitar learned several musical instruments during her adolescent years–becoming especially proficient on guitar–and before graduating high school she had already written several songs. During the early 1950s she recorded for Fabor Robison’s Fabor label, which also featured such artists as Ned Miller, Jim Reeves and Jim Ed & Maxine Brown. By the middle of the decade she had moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a session guitarist, playing on records for a number of big name (or future big name) artists, including Ferlin Husky.

In 1957 Bonnie signed with Dot Records, a label she would be associated with, off and on, for many years. Her big break occurred shortly thereafter when she recorded the Ned Miller-penned “Dark Moon.” Her version soared to #6 on the Billboard pop charts, selling nearly a million copies along the way. Unfortunately, her label also issued a pop version of the song by noted television actress Gale Storm, who appeared on such shows as My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. Storm’s very similar version, no doubt aided by her greater fame, reached #5 on the Billboard Pop charts, also selling nearly a million copies (and outselling Ms. Guitar’s version by a few thousand copies). Bonnie made many television appearances in the wake of her success with “Dark Moon.”

In 1958 Bonnie formed her own record label, Dolphin Records (soon to be renamed Dolton Records), where she produced a number of acts, the most successful of which, the Fleetwoods, had a million seller with “Mr. Blue.”

Wishing to focus on her own career, Bonnie sold Dolton Records and went back to recording her own music for Dot (later ABC-Paramount), and eventually became an A&R director for the label on the west coast. After several years of focusing on A&R work, Bonnie got serious about her recording career again, and in 1966 scored several hits including “I’m Living In Two Worlds,” “A Woman In Love” and “I Believe in Love,” which all made it into the top 10. After 1967 the hits fell off – she had no further top 30 chart entries.

Perhaps this was to be expected, as by 1967 Bonnie was already 44 years old – rather long in the tooth, even in those days.

At the first annual Academy of Country Music Awards in 1967, Bonnie Guitar was named Top Female Vocalist, but this was essentially an award for past services and accomplishments. She would continue to perform until 1996, and still makes occasional appearances. According to one source, she is gearing up for a few appearances even as this article is being printed.

Discography
CD

As far as I know, there are only two Bonnie Guitar CDs currently available, both issued by Bear Family (Germany).

Dark Moon features her recordings from 1956 to 1958, so it catches her two biggest pop hits (“Dark Moon” and “Mister Fire Eyes”) but misses her country hits for Dot.

By The Fireside – The Velvet Lounge, released in April 2011, features recordings made in three 1959 sessions at RCA’s Hollywood CA studio as produced by noted performer and songwriter Don Robertson. The album features Bonnie performing country standards, accompanied only by a solo guitar. The recordings on this 15 song CD were billed as previously unreleased; however, eight of the titles match up with the song titles on a 1969 RCA Camden album titled Night Train To Memphis.

VINYL

Other than the above CDs, you’ll need to do some vinyl hunting. While Bonnie Guitar had one of the prettiest voices ever to sing country music, her 60s output has some rather syrupy backing–the full “Nashville Sound” treatment–which sounds more easy listening than country at times (although most of it is vastly superior to today’s pop country). Despite the musical arrangements, Bonnie Guitar is an outstanding singer whose voice shines through–always. Bonnie released fifteen albums on Dot Records from 1957-1969. After 1969 there are some scattered albums on a variety of smaller and reissue labels.

Listen to some of her music at http://www.myspace.com/bonnieguitar