Forgotten Artists: Jim Ed Brown

Paul W. Dennis | June 9th, 2009

Jim 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.

Career #2
After Maxine and Bonnie retired, Jim Ed went solo and scored his first solo hit in 1967 with the Nat Stuckey-penned “Pop-A-Top” (#1 Cashbox/#3 Billboard). While never a consistent hit-maker (most of his singles reached the top 40 but little more), he did have the occasional smash hit. In 1970 “Morning” reached #4 (#1 Cashbox and #47 pop), with “Southern Loving” making it to #6 in 1973. Two 1974 singles reached #10 in “Sometime Sunshine” and “It’s That Time of The Night,” but after that the solo hits tailed off.

Picking up the gap in his recording career, Brown began a six-season run as co-host of the syndicated weekly television series Nashville On The Road in 1975.

Career #3
The third career phase for Jim Ed Brown began in 1976 when he teamed up with Helen Cornelius to form a successful recording duo. “I Don’t Want to Have To Marry You” and “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye” both made it to #1 on either Billboard or Cashbox as did “’Lying in Love With You.” The magic for the pair was short-lived, however, as the 1979 cover of a Johnny Duncan hit, “Fools” (#3), and the 1980 hit “Morning Comes Too Early” (#5) closed out the duo’s top 10 records.

In 1983 Jim Ed started working with The Nashville Network’s You Can Be A Star for six years, and later co-hosted a travel show with his wife Becky in Going Our Way.

Jim Ed Brown still is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and occasionally makes personal appearances. While never a superstar, he has been a solid journeyman performer; one who charted 72 records between his three recording careers (21 with the Browns, 38 as a solo artist and 13 with Helen Cornelius).

Discography

Vinyl
There are approximately fifty vinyl albums released during the three recording careers of Jim Ed Brown. Solo albums for Maxine Brown, Bonnie Brown or for Helen Cornelius as solo performers are few in number. None had any solo success, to speak of, on the country charts.

CD
The Browns are well represented on CD.

Bear Family has issued an eight disc collection, The Three Bells, with 258 songs, everything the group recorded (I think). If that’s too rich for your blood, Collector’s Choice Music has a single disc set titled The Complete Hits with all 22 of their charting hits. The Collectibles label issued I Heard The Bluebirds Sing/Harvest Of Country Songs which couples two of the RCA Camden reissue albums. There may be some other CDs available from various import labels, as well.

Jim Ed Brown is not as well served on CD. The best available disc is the RCA Essential Jim Ed Brown. This disc has five Browns songs plus 13 Jim Ed Brown solo tracks. Brown has a website which sells some CDs but I know nothing of the source material from which they are taken–they may be remakes. He also has a set, The Jim Ed Brown-Helen Cornelius Anthology that I believe to be the original recordings.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop website lists four CDs available for the Jim Ed Brown–Helen Cornelius duo. One of the discs listed is the two CD Double Hits Collection which contains 28 songs. I do not know if these are remakes or original recordings, but the titles include all of the duo’s hits.

I normally don’t recommend books but Looking Back To See by Maxine Brown is a highly entertaining account of the Browns’ days as a group. Maxine’s no-holds-barred look at the music industry is quite enlightening. The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has this book available.

The Browns
Jim Ed Brown
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius

1 Ping

  1. [...] and the defining qualities of their sound, which he calls Nashville Chrome. (Paul W. Dennis wrote about one of The Browns, Jim Ed, last year in his Forgotten Artists [...]
  1. Paula_W
    June 9, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Thanks, as always, Paul for your informative articles. Maybe just because I am such a big fan, I dont feel Jim Ed is a forgotton artist. At least not by me (and my 25 yr old daughter).

  2. Stormy
    June 9, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I just got my dad The Browns Complete Hits for Father’s day.

  3. Rick
    June 9, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Paul, Jim Ed Brown is not forgotten by regular listeners to the Grand Ole Opry as he is one of the regular “Opry Legend” performers. Jim still has a great voice and is a delight to hear as opposed to Little Jimmy Dickens or Bill Anderson (whom I mute). I especially like it when he sings a Jim Reeves song now and then.

    The most interesting thing I remember reading about Jim was how he left his wife for Helen Cornelius and yet Helen didn’t want to pursue a relationship! Now that’s the stuff of a true country music “legend”…(lol)

  4. Hubba
    June 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I have always thought that Mr. Brown was underrated in all three of his careers. Thanks for the article.

  5. Lewis
    June 9, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Jim Ed was still having hits with his solo songs between the latter part of 1974 and 1979. Although they weren’t huge hits, he had some great solo songs like “Barroom Pals and Goodtime Gals”, “When I Touch Her There”, “Another Morning”, “Ain’t It A Fine Time For Me To Get The Blues”, “I’ve Rode With The Best” and “You’re The Part Of Me”.

  6. Razor X
    June 9, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I’ve always liked Jim Ed. Great article as always, Paul.

  7. Michael
    June 11, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    So strange: played “Pop-A-Top” on my regular radio show on KALX in Berkeley just a couple weeks ago and now stumble upon this fine piece. I love using that tune as a contest for ticket giveaways, making listeners count how many beers Big Jim opens

  8. Lucas
    June 25, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Jim Ed Brown – saw him at the Opry once, loved every second of it.

    He does sing “Pop-A-Top” a bit more like Alan than Jim these days. I’ve never seen somebody play with such a smile on their face.

  9. Jerry
    July 9, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I grew up watching Jim Ed and Helen on Nashville on the Road. I was delighted in 2007 to finally see Jim Ed perform live on the Grand Ole Opry. A few months ago, saw Jim Ed and Helen in concert here in Texas. They were great! Wow! What a voice Jim Ed has. In my estimation, he is the best singer that ever came to Nashville. I’m sorry that record companies did not give Jim Ed and Helen a second chance at a radio career when they reunited in 1988. Oh, by the way Rick, Jim Ed and Helen each love the Lord and Jim Ed is very much in love with his wife, Becky. In fact, she and Helen are friends. God’s grace is greater than all our sin! PTL!

  10. John Dersham
    July 17, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Jim Ed Brown has one of the most pure smooth voices with the best tonality I have ever heard on any singer including the great pop vocalists. His pitch has always been as near perfect as you ever hear and it still is after more then 55 years of constant live performing. Jim Ed is a nice guy with a great smile. In the 50’s and 60’s he was the heart throb good looker of Country Music. He and his sisters played a major role in the Nashville sound and were produced by Chet Adkins. Jim Ed should be in the County Music Hall of Fame for his long term contribution to the industry. On top of everything else he had three fairly long running TV shows and now a radio show. He is a great one. I hope one day he will get his long awaited recognition in the industry.

  11. Kyle
    November 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Jim Ed Brown is also currently hosting the “Country Music Greats Radio Show” in syndication nationwide.

  12. George
    August 29, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Yes, Jim Ed Brown is totally underrated. His voice and pitch are just great and his phrasing impeccable. He is certainly comparable to George Jones (who is my favorite singer). His big mistake was not keeping it country, like the Possum. When he was with his sisters, they had a much more country sound.

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