Jim Ed Brown Interview

Country Stars Central is honored to speak with the iconic Jim Ed Brown for an in-person interview in Nashville during Country Radio Seminar week!

 

Grand Ole Opry legend Jim Ed Brown has come a long way from his simple upbringing in a close-knit family of five children. Jim Ed was born on April 1st 1934 in Sparkman, Arkansas. As a young boy, every Saturday night Jim Ed and his family would gather around the living room and listen to the Grand Ole Opry on their little battery operated radio. Fascinated by listening to the Grand Ole Opry, Jim Ed and his sister Maxine began singing together occasionally playing on local radio shows.

 

During Jim Ed’s second year of college he and Maxine became regular members of the “Barnyard Frolic” on KRLA in Little Rock, Arkansas. Released on a small label, their first hit “Looking Back To See” (written by Maxine and Jim Ed) gained them national exposure. In 1955 they joined Red Foley as featured regulars on the Ozark Jubilee. Jim Ed’s younger sister Bonnie decided to join the duo making them a trio known as “The Browns.” They immediately scored a top ten hit with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” They were signed to RCA Victor in 1956 and recorded two #1 hits, “I Take the Chance,” and “I Heard the Bluebird Sing.”

 

Experiencing great success took a toll on the group when Jim Ed took a stint from recording and performing to enlist in the service. Two years later Jim Ed was discharged from the service and returned to performing with “The Browns” once again. The reunion was a joyous occasion and the result produced one of the biggest hits of musical history, their heartfelt tune “The Three Bells.” Their #1 hit “The Three Bells,” released in 1959 was one of the very first songs to cross over into the pop and rhythm & blues charts selling over a million copies! Several other hits followed such as “The Old Lamplighter,” and “Scarlet Ribbons.” This wonderful phenomenon gave “The Browns” the honor of being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry on August 12th, 1963.

 

Due to rigorous touring and growing families Maxine and Bonnie opted to permanently retire from the music business in 1967 leaving Jim Ed as a solo act. Jim Ed once again rose to the top, this time on his own. In 1966 he scored his first hit “Pop-A-Top” as a solo artist. Through the 60’s and 70’s Jim Ed continued to evolve as a solo artist recording hits such as “Southern Lovin’,” “Sometime Sunshine,” and “Morning.” Jim Ed has also co-hosted and hosted many successful television shows like “You Can Be A Star,” and “Nashville On The Road.”

 

In 1976 Jim Ed joined forces with Helen Cornelius forming one of the most successful recording duos of all time. Their duets “I Don’t Wanna Have To Marry You”, “Don’t Bother To Knock”, “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye”, and “Lyin’ in Love With You” were immediate hits becoming fan favorites. Jim Ed currently enjoys maintaining a busy touring schedule and making frequent appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Just like fine wine, as he ages his voice becomes even better. A living legend, Grand Ole Opry member, and singer extraordinaire, Jim Ed has done it all!


(Biography courtesy of Country Stars Central)

 

 

(CSC) 1. It is so wonderful to be able to visit with you. What have you been up to these days?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Back in November I knew I had to have a hip replacement, so I didn’t accept any dates for about three or four months. Now that I am over that, I’m now starting to work again. I just played the Florida State Fair, I’m going to Indiana for a date, into Iowa and then New Mexico, but I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry mostly right now.

 

 

(CSC) 2. Growing up in a large family, what special memories do you treasure from those nights you all sat around your battery powered radio listening to the Grand Ole Opry?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Maxine and my little brother Raymond, before he was killed, used to save our money and order song books of Roy Acuff, Red Foley and Bill Monroe. They were a quarter a piece, so we’d send in the money and they would send us the books. In the summertime we would be outside playing so we didn’t listen to them as much in the warmer months. The family would sit around the fireplace in the wintertime because it was cold, and every time they sang a song we would all sing along with them. Back then they would sometimes tell you what page the song was on, and we would turn to that page and sing along with them. Sometimes if it were thundering and lightning outside we couldn’t pick up the broadcast.   

 

 

(CSC) 3. You and your sister Maxine were both greatly fascinated by country music and soon after started singing together. What was it like for you being able to perform with your sister and share that joy with her?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

It was a lot of fun, we really enjoyed it! I never planned on being in the music business, whether she did or not I don’t know… but it was just something that we did. Back then we didn’t have a lot of entertainment and there wasn’t a lot to do. So I learned how to play the guitar. I’d play a song and we would sing it, and she played the piano.

 

 

(CSC) 4. You took a break from the business to serve our country for two years. After being discharged from the service you returned to singing. What did you learn from being in the service and did you ever find the chance to perform for your fellow friends in the service?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Yes, when I was in the service I took some USO tours. The army was kind enough to let me out, because I was in the chemical core, and they were a little more lax than the army or some of the other branches. I took my training to the eighth army. Then I transferred out of the eighth army and into the chemical core; that was a little better I thought. I took two tours, one for 6 weeks in Germany and Europe, and I did a March of Dimes tour here in the United States. There was a whole bunch of pop and country artists on it. We went to Boston, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis; we went all over the country. We would go to all these big cities and we would put on a show. There was a whole bunch of people on that train. If I had not already started a career in singing, I might have stayed in the army. It wasn’t as hard as working in the saw mill.

 

 

(CSC) 5. You went solo with your career in 1967 and scored a big hit with “Pop-A-Top.” What is it like to see other artists such as Alan Jackson take your song and make it their own giving it NEW life?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

At the time it was written, the soft drink and beer companies had started using the can, that had the top on it, and that is what the song was written about. I don’t drink, but I’ll drink a Coke or Dr. Pepper, and I‘d pop those tops. Alan Jackson did a great job on that song. I sold a few more copies because of his recording of it. The way he did it was very good, and I was happy that he liked the song well enough to put it in an album. 

 

 

(CSC) 6. You have been a part of many successful television shows in your career. Was it challenging for you being a television host?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Quite a bit, but I always loved television. When we left the Louisiana Hayride, we went to the Ozark Jubilee rather than come to Nashville to the Grand Ole Opry. Jim Reeves tried to get us to come on up here at that time but we decided against it, and went to the Ozark Jubilee. I always thought television was a thing of the future and actually it was and still is. We enjoyed the Ozark Jubilee, but I didn’t get to do a lot of it until I went into the service. When we moved to Nashville Jane Dowden and Bill Graham asked me if I would like to do a television show and I agreed to do it. The Country Place was my first show that came along which I did for a couple of years. At the end of that show I started doing “Nashville On The Road” with Jerry Clower which I did for 6 years. Along came “You Can Be A Star,” on the Nashville Network (TNN) which I also did for 6 years, and I thought it should go on forever. There were so many great artists that needed a place where they can go and get a little help. TNN thought they would make more money with fishing and car racing so they sold out to a whole different network. Comcast here is starting to carry the Ralph Emery show on RFD-TV.

 


(CSC) 7. You and Helen Cornelius recorded some of the best duets of all time such as "I Don’t Wanna Have To Marry You”, “Don’t Bother To Knock”, and “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye.” What was the chemistry like between the two of you and how did you first become introduced to each other?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

She’s in Hawaii; I can’t talk much about her! (Laughs) We had some great duets and that was a whole other career. (Laughs) Bob Ferguson introduced us, and she had written some songs and brought them to a publisher here in town. He in turn brought them to Bob Ferguson who was producing me at the time on RCA. Bob liked her voice and songs that she had written, and signed her to a contract. Bob liked her voice and some of the songs that she was writing. When we found the song I Don’t Wanna Have To Marry You, he knew that he wanted us to do it as a duet, I didn’t know Helen at the time and he put us together. It was a very magical time because our blend was very good and very infectious. We were both able to do harmonies and the sound was really good. The songs the writers were writing at that time were very good for what we were trying to do.  

 

 

(CSC) 8. What “legendary” male country artists inspired you growing up as a young man?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Growing up I tried to imitate everybody. I used to sing like Bill Monroe and then Ernest Tubb came along and I started trying to sing like him. Then my voice changed so that became an issue. Jim Reeves was a great friend of mine. I always thought Eddie Arnold was such a great singer. I don’t know that I tried to imitate anybody. I sang so much when I was driving a truck or following a mule down the road, or driving a tractor. I loved all those people that were great singers.   

 


(CSC) 9. You and your sister Maxine were a part of the Ozark Jubilee for many years. Did you ever have the chance to work with Porter Wagoner on the show and if so what special stories can you share with us?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Yes I did. A couple of Porter’s band members played instruments on “I Take The Chance.” Porter was always known as the “thin man.” He came down from Springfield to the Barnyard Frolic in Little Rock. We were just getting started and he had not been going long when he recorded “Satisfied Minds.” Porter was a great artist; he was a good friend. I admired Porter as Porter, and I thought his singing and ability to find a song was great. He produced most of the things that he and Dolly recorded, and whenever he was by himself we enjoyed getting together and he was a lot of fun.

 

 

(CSC) 10. Your hit song “The Three Bells” was based off of a folk song which was also a hit for legendary French singer Edith Piaf. What attracted you to that song and how did you incorporate yourself into the lyrics?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Back in the early 1940’s Edith put together a group that was her back-up singing group. That worked a lot of dates with her. She didn’t do a lot of a Capella. She was more of a folk singer and didn’t have a lot of instrumentation. They recorded “The Three Bells” in French, and when we brought it over here we had to change a lot of it, but it was good. The melody and story is what attracted me to the song. I loved what it said and I loved the harmony, and what it sounded like with us singing it. I loved it with the group and I would still love to go back and re-record it one more time. You’ve only heard half of each verse because we couldn’t record all the length of it. Radio stations would not play it if it was over three minutes long. People always ask me if it was written about me and I say no because I’m still alive. (Laughs) We went to Japan and they wouldn’t let us sing the last verse of it, because they would not let us sing about death in a song.  

 

 

(CSC) 11. I read once that you and your sisters toured with Elvis Presley. What was it like touring with Elvis?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Yes, back before he was really doing anything he started touring with us. Bob Neely, who was his manger and booking agent at the time who was a disc jockey in Memphis, disliked him. We were playing several dates in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas and Bob called us and asked us to take him along with us on tour, so we did.

 


(CSC) 12. Out of all the great members of the Grand Ole Opry you’ve had the opportunity to befriend, who have you gotten to know the best?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

All of them; Little Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy C. Newman, Bobby Bare, Jeannie Seely, Jan Howard, I could go down the list and I hope none of them are my enemies. (Laughs)

 

 

(CSC) 13. What do you think of today’s country? Do you have any favorites?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins; There are a bunch of great songs out there today. I also think there are a lot of songs out there that I wish had a little more heart and soul, but they are selling a lot of records so who I am to say. Most of them are doing well, some aren’t but most are. I thought Garth Brooks was fantastic and he had some great songs and he did very well. His wife Trisha Yearwood, I love her. What a talent she is! The Judd’s were great; Wynonna is unbelievable! Wow… what a great voice she has!

 

 

(CSC) 14. What is the most memorable moment of your entire career?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

(Laughs) Christian, there are too many! It’s like a bunch of babies you know. How can you say that this one takes place over that one? The Louisiana Hayride, my first recording session, my first night at the Ozark Jubilee, my first time being introduced on the Opry stage, doing the Ernest Tubb record shop, and earning a gold record for The Three Bells. You just go down through the list of things that have happened through the years.

 

 

(CSC) 15. You have had the chance to work with Mel Tillis on several occasions and most recently in a movie. What was that like working with Mel? He seems to have a great sense of humor!

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

(Laughs) Yes, he has a fishing tournament every year, and I’m going to be fishing in it. There is always something going on that we get invited to. He’s a great person. Good old Mel, I love Mel!

 

 

(CSC) 16. What do you enjoy doing when you are not working or playing the Grand Ole Opry?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Me and Little Jimmy Dickens like to go fishing every once in a while. We’ve been to Alaska a couple of times, and we’ve been down to Mississippi for duck hunting and fishing. I enjoy hunting and I hunt everything from turkey, deer, to duck… you name it. Alaska was great and it was fun! When we were there, they had more brown bears than they had people. I just recently had to turn down a turkey hunting trip because I was booked. I don’t have any pain now. I’m ready to get outside and start doing a bunch of things again! 

 

 

(CSC) 17. What do you want to be remembered for?

 

(Jim Ed Brown)

Let me get a little closer to that time, whenever I’m about ready to leave here. I don’t know, I really haven‘t thought much about that. I’m hoping that I was a good provider for my family, and that I taught my children well with my wife. I’m hoping that they will remember me for being a good man, and being a friend to many people. I’ve had so many close friends and they all mean so much to me.

 

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