Thursday, June 11, 2015

Just a Lonely Bell Was Ringing

Category:  News/Obituary

It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the death of Jim Ed Brown.

One of the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame died today (6/11), eight days after announcing that it had been discovered that cancer had returned in his body.  He had been treated for lung cancer last year and had announced he was declared cancer-free by his oncologists.  

Jim Edward Brown was the only male sibling in a family from Arkansas.  He and older sister Maxine began singing while younger sister Bonnie was still in school.  They signed with Fabor Records and immediately scored a hit with "Lookin' Back to See," a song inspired by baby sister Norma trying to explain something.  Another talent in Fabor Robinson's stable, Jim Reeves, played rhythm guitar on the recording.

Reeves played a significant role in helping the Browns achieve major success.  When he left Robinson's Abbott label for RCA the Browns soon followed suit.

Just as their career was taking off in earnest, thanks to an Ira & Charlie Louvin song called "I Take the Chance," Jim Ed was drafted.  He spent his leave time going to Nashville for recording sessions and making personal appearances with his sisters.  When he couldn't get away from the Army artists such as Bobby Lord, Red Foley, and Billy Walker filled in for Jim Ed.

Once Jim Ed was discharged the trio reformed but found things dramatically different in the music world, thanks in no small part to a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi who was just starting his Army service.  Thinking their days as a music group were numbered they recorded a song in June 1959.  After that, they never worried about a music career again.

The song they recorded was "The Three Bells."

Thanks to Chet Atkins' brilliant production the song was a perfect fit for country and pop.  It hit #1 on both charts and was nominated for a Grammy award.

Jim Ed and Maxine Brown signing autographs at the
Midnite Jamboree's celebration of the 50th anniversary of
the release of "The Three Bells" in 2009.
c. 2015 K.F. Raizor
In 1967 the two sisters retired and Jim Ed began his second career as a solo singer.  His hits included "Pop a Top," "Morning," "Bottle, Bottle," and "Angel's Sunday."  He also had several hit duets with Helen Cornelius, such as "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You" and "Fools."

Brown took to TV as well, hosting Nashville On the Road and the travel show Going Our Way (where he and wife Becky toured the country in an RV).

Jim Ed Brown had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since he joined the Opry with the Browns in 1959.  On March 25 Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown were announced as new inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  When it was discovered that Brown's cancer was too advanced for him to survive until the official induction ceremonies in October Bill Anderson presented him with his medallion in the hospital.

There simply are not words to describe what a loss this is.  If you ever had the privilege of meeting Jim Ed Brown you knew him to be a polite, gracious gentleman who always had time for you, even if it was 2 AM after the Midnite Jamboree (which was the last time I saw him).  He said once on a WSM interview that Jim Reeves once told him that, should anything ever happen to Reeves, RCA would make Jim Ed "the next Jim Reeves" thanks to that smooth baritone similar to Gentleman Jim's.  (Thankfully, RCA didn't tout Brown's solo career that way, because those were the days when each country singer had his/her own individual style and sound.)

That wonderful song that everyone knows painfully and sadly resounds today:

Just a lonely bell was ringing in the little valley town
'Twas farewell that it was singing to our good ol' Jimmy Brown
And the little congregation prayed for guidance from above
Lead us not into temptation, may his soul find the salvation
Of Thy great eternal love.

Jim Ed Brown was 81.

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