Forgotten Artists: Ed Bruce

Paul W. Dennis | May 19th, 2009

For a brief period in the late 1970s to mid 80s, Ed Bruce seemed to be everywhere–hit songs as a songwriter, hit records as a recording artist and regular appearances on the television show Bret Maverick.

Like many other artists, Ed Bruce got his start as a rockabilly singer signed to Sun Records; however, for him the sun would not shine while at Sun. Indeed, it would take twenty years of plugging away for him to become known in the world of country music.

William Edwin Bruce, Jr. was born in Keiser, Arkansas, in 1939; however, the family moved to Memphis when Ed was quite young. Ed started writing songs as a teenager and, as Edwin Bruce, he cut his first sides for Sun in 1956 at the age of 17. With Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other great artists signed to Sun, Ed was lost in the shuffle. A cut on the B-side of Tommy Roe’s million seller “Sheila” provided Ed with the funding necessary for a move to Nashville in 1962. The next year, Charlie Louvin recorded “See The Big Man Cry,” earning Ed his first BMI award, with other cuts to follow including Kenny Price’s recording of “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger.” He also became a member of the Marijohn Wilkins Singers, performing live and as a backing vocalist. His warm, friendly voice made him a natural for voiceovers and he soon achieved success singing advertising jingles; his best-known advertising campaign cast him as a character called the Tennessean.

Recording success came more slowly. In 1966, Ed Bruce signed with RCA, notching his first chart hit with the single “Walker’s Woods.” After that he recorded for Monument Records, releasing the singles “Song For Ginny” and “Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven.” In 1973, a deal with United Artists resulted in the minor chart hit “July, You‘re A Woman.” Ed spent four years hosting an early morning TV show on Nashville’s WSM.

Finally, in 1975, Ed’s composition “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” made it into the Top 20. The song, Ed’s best-known, became a huge hit when covered by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson in 1977. The song was nominated for, and won, a Grammy in 1978. That same year, “Texas When I Die,” as recorded by Tanya Tucker, was nominated for Grammy and CMA Awards.

After a brief tenure at Epic Records between 1977 and 78, Ed Bruce finally achieved real success as a recording artist with MCA in the 1980s. He returned to RCA for a pair of albums in 1984. After his 1986 album Night Things and a 1988 self-titled follow-up, Bruce made the conscious decision to cut back on his music to focus on his acting career, appearing in several made-for-TV films. With a resume that included a role in the CBS mini-series The Chisolms, the NBC movie The Return of Frank and Jesse James and, of course, as co-star of the television show Bret Maverick with James Garner, this seemed the rational thing to do. More film roles followed, as well as a stint as the host of American Sports Cavalcade on The Nashville Network. He also hosted the seven seasons of Truckin’ USA, also on TNN. Ed continued to record music occasionally, as well.

Ed Bruce’s string of hits on MCA

Year Charted Singles Peak
March 1980 Diane #21
June 1980 Last Cowboy Song #12
October 1980 Girls Women And Ladies #14
February 1981 Evil Angel #24
June 1981 (When You Fall In Love) Everything’s A Waltz #14
October 1981 You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had #1
February 1982 Love’s Found You And Me #13
July 1982 Ever Never Lovin’ You #4
November 1982 My First Taste Of Texas #6
April 1983 You’re Not Leaving Here Tonight #21
July 1983 If It Was Easy #19
October 1983 After All #6
July 1984 Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone Crazy #45

Discography

Vinyl
Ed was not the most prolific recording artist. He issued four RCA albums, one on on Monument, one on United Artists and six on MCA. These, of course, are all out of print (but are worth the effort to find used copies). Ed also issued a number of 45 RPM singles on various labels–good luck in tracking those down!

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has six titles by Ed Bruce available for sale. Three of the titles are of unknown origins so I won’t comment on them.

12 Classics (Varese) issued in 2003 consists of re-recorded tracks from Ed’s years with MCA, including his biggest hits. These recordings are not bad, but they do not measure up to the now out-of print Varese set issued in 1995 titled The Best of Ed Bruce, which had 15 original MCA tracks and three RCA hits from his second stint with the label.

This Old Hat is a CD produced and released by Ed in 2002. It consists of 11 new tunes, plus new renditions of “You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had” and “My First Taste of Texas.” Also available on Amazon MP3 and iTunes.

Puzzles, a Bear Family CD issued around 1995, gathers up the music Ed recorded for RCA between 1966 and 1968. “Walker’s Woods” is the biggest hit collected here, but his recording of the Monkee’s hit “Last Train to Clarksville” is also worthwhile.

  1. Sam G
    May 19, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    One of my earliest country music memories is having my mom play “The Last Cowboy Song” for me. I was probably 4 or 5 and didn’t have a clue what the song was about, but I liked it when Willie Nelson joined in for a verse. A couple of his albums were just reissued on one CD too, as noted in the news roundup.

  2. Guy
    May 19, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Ed Bruce is not “forgotten” in my book. Great writer and, as a vocalist — well I was always surprised he didn’t become “huge.” His vocal tone and phrasing is so laid-back but with presence and personality … just great stuff that you knew right off who was singing.

    He made it all seem so easy. And maybe for him it was.

  3. Rick
    May 19, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I started listening to country radio here in LA in 1985 and they never played any of Ed’s songs to my recollection, so he is an unknown item to me as a country singer. On the other hand I did enjoy seeing him as the host of “Truckin USA” on TNN! Oh well…

  4. Leeann Ward
    May 19, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    I recognized his name as a songwriter, but it’s nice to put a voice to the writer.

  5. PaulaW
    May 19, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    If I’m not mistaken he also had a recurring role on “Walker Texas Ranger”.

    I’ve always loved Ed Bruce. As a singer, songwriter and actor.

  6. CMW
    May 19, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Nice article, Paul. I love Ed Bruce. I have 12 Classics and This Old Hat… wish they would make that earlier Varese hits compilation available again.

  7. Leeann Ward
    May 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I noticed This Old Hat on Emusic. Is it worth getting?

  8. Roger
    May 19, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    thanks for the clip of “Last Cowboy Song”….my dad used to give me a ride to jr high school every day back then and we would listen to am country radio on the way and i always loved that song….I couldn’t admit that to my friends of course because they were all listening to Van Halen and Led Zep……country music was the skeleton in my closet!

  9. KathyP
    May 19, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Ed Bruce was also in a Steven Seagal movie, “Fire Down Below” a few years ago.

  10. CMW
    May 20, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Yep, it’s worth getting, Leeann.

    CD Baby also has a couple gospel albums called Changed and Sings About Jesus recorded in the past few years. Haven’t checked those out yet.

  11. J.R. Journey
    May 20, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I had never even heard of Ed Bruce. Thanks for the history lesson, Paul.

  12. Brady Vercher
    May 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Remington showed us how he looked on canvas
    And Louis L’Amour has told us his tale
    And Willie and Waylon and me sing about him
    And wish to God we could have ridden his trail

    I’ve always loved that verse. Thanks for the write-up, Paul.

  13. Chris
    May 20, 2009 at 10:38 am

    “This Old Hat” is worth getting. “The Feel Of Being Gone” and “Growing Up” are worth the price alone. There’s a great clip on YouTube of Ed singing “My First Taste Of Texas”. It’s from the RFD TV programs Bill Anderson hosted last year. Old and new Ed Bruce fans will both enjoy it.

  14. Chris
    May 20, 2009 at 10:39 am

    PS – I LOVE Ed Bruce’s music!

  15. J.W.
    May 28, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Ed Bruce was one of my favorites in the 70’s and 80’s, along with Don Williams. Similar voices and range, but Ed was a more soulful singer. Great speaking voice also–did voice-overs for many commercials.

  16. Dan
    June 5, 2009 at 11:03 am

    There are so many forgotten great artists out there and Ed Bruce is definitely one of them.

    If anyone is interested in checking out some other greats like Ernest Tub, Frank Arnett, and other rare or forgotten American artists, check out Lost Gold Records at http://www.lostgoldmusic.com

  17. numberonecountryfan
    June 17, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Let me list all of Ed Bruce’s major (top 20) hits:
    1. Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys-1976-#15
    2. The Last Cowboy Song-1980-#12
    3. Girls, Women, And Ladies-1981-#14
    4. When You Fall In Love Everything’s A Waltz-1981-#14
    5. You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had-1982-#1
    6. Love’s Found You And Me-1982-#13
    7. Ever, Never Lovin’ You-1982-#4
    8. My First Taste Of Texas-1983-#6
    9. If It Was Easy-1983-#19
    10. After All-1984-#4
    11. You Turn Me On Like A Radio-1985-#3
    12. When Givin’ Up Was Easy-1985-#17
    13. If It Ain’t Love-1985-#20
    14. Nights-1986-#4
    Title 1 is on United Artists Records. Titles 2-10 are on MCA Records. Titles 11-14 are on RCA Records.

  18. David S
    June 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Ed Bruce was probably the 2nd most underappreciated,and underrated country singer in history.2nd to the legendary Vern Gosdin.I love his music,he has close to a perfect country voice.

  19. JL
    August 5, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I love Ed Bruce and all of these so-called “forgotten” artists! I’d rather listen to them than most of today’s country. I don’t understand why Nashville has 3 top 40 country radio stations and not one classic country (FM) station! So many cities around the country play classic country but not the city where most of this music was created! It’s a shame!

  20. michael tucker
    December 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Just wanted to say that Ed Bruce is one of my favorite country music sings of all time Love the song My first taste of Texas.

  21. NORMA LEE
    March 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    ED BRUCE IS THE VERY BEST SINGER . HE HAS THE MOST WONDERFUL VOICE IT SOOTHE THE SOUL

  22. NORMA LEE
    March 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I WOULD LOVE TO FIND ALL HIS MUSIC ON CD

  23. Betty Q
    May 11, 2010 at 4:22 am

    This has brought back so many memories; I love Ed Bruce’s music as much now as I did when I was listening to it on the radio back when country music was “real” country music! You’re still Number 1 in this country lover’s heart.

  24. Pat Jeffers
    August 27, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I love your music..a God given talent….keep writing and singing…you’re number 1 in our house..can’t wait to see you on Larrys country diner and countrys family re-union…..someday soon I’m going to buy a CD player soo we can listen to you ALL day….Tulia, TX.

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