Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jimmy Dean (1928-2010)

Jimmy Ray Dean, a poor boy from Plainview, Texas, who was a well-established country music entertainer throughout the 1950s and 1960s, died Sunday evening of natural causes, at his home in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia. He was 81. Dean first learned to perform music while singing hymns in the parlour of the farmhouse, with his devoted mother, Ruth, on the piano. You can read his obituary here.

Less than four months earlier, Dean was nominated to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

I was in college, and living at home (go figure!) in 1976, when Dean recorded and released “IOU” as a tribute to his mother, and to mothers everywhere. It became a Top Ten country hit, his first in a decade, and peaked at number three on the RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks chart). Dad was so taken by the song, that he bought the record, went to WCKY Radio, had all the disk jockeys sign it, and presented it to Mom on Mother's Day. What a romantic!

All that notwithstanding, Dean's greatest hit was “Big Bad John” in 1961, sung here during a comeback performance in the 1980s. He continued to perform and act in various TV series. Dean is also known for the brand of sausage that bears his name. This wasn't a lark or a publicity gimmick, but a venture started by himself and his brother, with ads that featured him personally. Raised on a hog farm himself, the guy just wanted a decent sausage. (Is that too much to ask?) He eventually sold the company in 1984, to what later became the Sara Lee Corporation.

According to his website: “Since retiring from the entertainment and food businesses, Jimmy enjoy[ed] life at home, fishing in his fresh water ponds and boating on the James River.”

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