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May 27

Why today? Of course, it’s almost tomorrow now. But, better late than never to give a shout-out to my out-of-town friend Laken Bowles, a young woman who is a huge fan of The Browns. She and a buddy are on a hillbilly holiday in Nashville, so on her behalf I thought I’d provide us all a welcome dose of Jim Edward, Maxine and Bonnie in the form of an on-stage version of their biggest hit.

About the record: Studio version, RCA Victor 47-7555, recorded June 1, 1959, at the label’s studio in Nashville. Released the following month, destined to top Billboard‘s country and pop charts. First LP appearance was on Sweet Sounds By The Browns, RCA Victor LSP/LPM-2144, released in September 1960. Version here a clip from National Life Grand Ole Opry, July 16, 1965.

Here’s the story of the career of the Arkansas siblings. But it fails to mention they were about ready to hang it up before “The Three Bells.” I’ve heard Jim Ed say that on the eve of what might have been their last recording session, the Browns heard the song performed in a Nashville club and thought, hey, maybe that’s for us. Coincidentally, Jim Ed said, producer Chet Atkins suggested the song the next day at the session. The record turned out to be all they’d hoped for, thanks to Chet’s actions both in the studio and out. See, he was so enamored of the performance that he told his (no-doubt) stunned RCA bosses in New York that if they didn’t get behind the record and promote it, he’d quit the company. They must have believed him, because it spent 10 weeks atop the country chart and four weeks heading the pop chart.

As for the TV show the Browns appeared on six years later, it was a syndicated program built around Opry stars and sponsored by Opry and WSM parent National Life & Accident Insurance Co. In Nashville, the announcer might have been at least as famous as the country stars he was introducing.

Jud Collins worked at WSM and the Opry in the 1940s and ’50s, and for two decades was the premier news anchor on Music City television. Kyle Cantrell of Sirius/XM Radio, an expert on the history of former employers WSM and the Opry, shared with me a story that Collins liked to tell about one of country music’s linchpin stars:

“He was the original announcer for Martha White, when they started their Opry sponsorship in 1948, and was also the first announcer for the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree,” Cantrell says. “He enjoyed telling the story about the time a fan approached Ernest on a hot summer night following the Jamboree and told him that he believed he could sing better than Ernest. According to Jud, Ernest replied, “Yeah, but you ain’t got the NERVE that I’ve got!”

So, enjoy the Browns, and you Nashville old-timers can also think back on happy memories of the late Jud Collins.