Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Dean: The 9513’s Exclusive Interview
Last week’s announcement that Jimmy Dean was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame was a long time coming, but it’s only the latest accolade in his long career. Last October, Dean was one of the inaugural inductees into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, making him the first person to ever achieve the dual honor–and probably the only one who ever will. He’s also a part of both the Texas and Virginia Country Music Halls of Fame.
Those achievements typify Dean’s career as a successful entertainer and a businessman. Almost everything he touched during his career turned to gold. As a singer, he won a Grammy award for his signature song, “Big Bad John,” but he also recorded numerous albums and scored several more chart-topping hits. As a showman, he guest-hosted “The Tonight Show” as well as hosted his own long-running “Jimmy Dean Show,” helping to bring up-and-comers like Patsy Cline, Roy Clark and Roger Miller into the spotlight in the process. As an actor, he had a three-year run on “The Daniel Boone Show” and co-starred in the James Bond flick, Diamonds Are Forever. As an entrepreneur, he started the Jimmy Dean Sausage Co. and brought it to prominence with his off-the-cuff commercials. Though he sold it to what’s now known as Sara Lee in 1984, it remains one of the company’s top-performing businesses.
Dean is now retired from singing and lives with his wife of 20 years, Donna, in Virginia. About a week before news of Dean’s election into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he took some time to talk with The 9513 about his many careers.
SAM GAZDZIAK: In today’s world, it seems strange for someone with a pretty successful music career to go off and start a new business, but that’s exactly what you did. What led you to starting the Jimmy Dean Sausage Co. in the first place?
JIMMY DEAN: I’ve always felt that diversification was the solution to longevity. I’ve been looking for a long time to find something that I could do, and I still haven’t found it!
SG: Your company was a huge success and still it today. What made your company succeed where others haven’t?
JD: Honesty. We put out the best product and told the truth about it. If you do that, it will pretty well sell itself.
SG: Along with your own music career, you helped launch the careers of a number of other artists as well. How did you come to discover Patsy Cline?
JD: I was working in Washington when she was fooling around down there, and she used to come to the joints where I played and would sing. I heard her and always thought she was a great singer, and she was indeed.
SG: So you knew right off the bat that she was destined for something pretty special?
JD: I thought she was, yeah. She was a good-looking girl, well-proportioned and sung her butt off.
SG: How about Roger Miller? How did you first meet him?
JD: Boy, that’s going back a long, long time. I don’t remember the first time I ever met Roger Miller. I know I recorded the first song he ever had recorded, before he ever had a recording contract. Roger and I were just long-time best friends.
I got on “The Tonight Show.” I used to [guest]-host that when Carson was having one of his little fits, so I had Roger on there one night. He was a tremendous success, and it kind of went on from there.
SG: Do you have any idea how many times you’ve sung “Big Bad John”?
JD: Oh God, no. Every time I’ve done my act, it’s in, so that’s a lot of times.
SG: Was it an immediate smash hit? How did it change your career once it got out?
JD: It was an immediate change, it was huge. It was just one of those phenomenal records. I figure it’s sold more than 8 million copies, and it still sells.
SG: I’ve heard a couple different versions of the last line. I’ve heard “At the bottom of this hole lies a big, big man,” and I’ve heard “one helluva man.” What was the original line?
JD: The line “one helluva man” was the way it was written. But somebody said, I don’t think you should say that,” so I went back into the studio and recorded, “big, big man.” Which was a mistake. It’s another one of those brilliant advertising agency geniuses.
SG: One of your other big songs was “I.O.U.,” which was dedicated to moms. How did your own mother inspire you to do everything you’ve done in your career?
JD: My mother was a great, great lady. She had a wonderful outlook on life. She always said, “You can do it. ‘Can’t’ never did anything.”
SG: Do you listen to country music today?
JD: The only time I listen to it is on XM, because the other stuff, I don’t know what they’re doing. If you’re talking about [country music} today, it’s something totally different from when I started. I think country music today is more rock and roll, and two-thirds of the time I don’t even know who’s singing.
SG: Do you still do any performing today?
JD: No. Occasionally, I go out and do a little speaking thing, but that’s about it.
SG: What do you think about one day being in the Country Music Hall of Fame?
JD: Well, I was nominated again this year, but I don’t know if it means anything. I doubt it.
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