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June 15

Why today? By the time I learned late Sunday night of Mr. Dean’s death, I had time to do no more than write a quick blurb for Monday, linking to the early Tennessean obituary and to my 3 Chords post of “Big Bad John” from last year. So here’s my second-day lead, featuring his first hit from almost 60 years ago and sharing with you an appreciation from a friend of mine who’s a big, big fan.

About the record: 4 Star 45-1613, recorded in the summer of 1952 at Sound Studios in Washington, D.C. Released in September of that year, eventually reaching No. 5 on Billboard‘s country chart. First album appearance was on King LP-686, Favorites of Jimmy Dean, released in February 1960.

Some of you know Ken Johnson, an extremely knowledgable fan of classic country who frequently contributes insightful comments to this blog. I never knew how he felt about Jimmy Dean until he commented on my little quickie post from Sunday night. When I saw it, I asked him if he’d mind my using it in today’s post. He agreed, so here it is. Unless noted, what you’ll read on the jump came from Ken — including a bit about Dean’s connection to a certain community of make-believe characters beloved by my generation.

Dean’s first hit, [his 1952 version of] “Bummin’ Around,” is seldom heard. Even at the dawn of his career, Jimmy projected a laid-back approach with his own unique singing style. Recorded at Sound Studios on Vermont Avenue in Washington … the production was heavy on fiddle and steel guitar and completely vintage country. The 4 Star release earned him his first Top Five hit in April 1953. (Interestingly, his name was spelled “Jimmie Dean” on the record label!)

Ken’s thoughts on the artist: Among my favorite childhood memories is watching The Jimmy Dean Show on ABC-TV. Every Thursday (and later Friday) night, Jimmy delivered his home-spun humor and a dose of country music to our living room. Dean’s New York City-based program brought emerging country stars such as Buck Owens to a nationwide audience. Eddy Arnold’s smash “Make The World Go Away” debuted on Dean’s program. Dean was the first to broadcast a country music awards show as part of his weekly program.

In the early 1960’s, country music was a rarity on network television. Despite battling with the ABC Network suits who wanted to downplay the more “rural” aspects of the show, Dean held his ground.

Dean wisely gave a talented young puppeteer named Jim Henson and his alter-ego, “Rowlf,” a weekly slot on the show, much to the delight of kids like me who watched each week with our entire families.

The timing of Jimmy Dean’s passing could not be more tragic. For years he patiently waited for his overdue induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. For political reasons or perhaps because the younger members of the nominating committee failed to grasp Jimmy Dean’s impact on country music in the 1950’s and ’60’s, his induction was delayed until this year. Privately, Dean indicated doubt that he would EVER be enshrined in the institution. Thank God that he lived to hear of his long overdue honor, but it is so unfortunate that he will not be present for the Medallion Ceremony this fall.

I recommend Thirty Years Of Sausage, Fifty Years Of Ham — Jimmy Dean’s Own Story, written by Jimmy and his wife, Donna Meade Dean. It’s a superb overview of his career and offers a better understanding of the many challenges he faced.

A multi-talented singer, songwriter, entertainer, actor and businessman, we will not see the likes of another Jimmy Dean in our lifetime. God bless you, Jimmy, and thank you for your contributions to country music.

And thank you, Ken, for sharing your memories and knowledge of Mr. Dean with my readers.