Country Singer-Songwriter Ed Bruce Dies at 81

Ed Bruce
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Ed Bruce

Country singer-songwriter Ed Bruce died Friday (Jan. 8) of natural causes in Clarksville, Tenn. He was 81.

Born William Edwin Bruce Jr. on Dec. 29, 1939, Bruce met with Sun Records sound engineer Jack Clement and ended up writing and recording "Rock Boppin' Baby" for Sun Records owner Sam Phillips when he was just 17 (under the name "Edwin Bruce"). He began writing country hits for other stars, while recording his own material that grew popular with other stars' versions. Charlie Louvin recorded Bruce's 1963 pop-oriented song "See the Big Man Cry" two years later, which reached No. 7 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in May 1965.

Bruce tallied 35 total hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in his career. He first debuted on the chart dated Jan. 14, 1967, with "Walker’s Woods," which later peaked at No. 57, and scored his first and only No. 1 single 15 years later with "You’re the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had." The latter also earned him his first of an eventual six top 10s. His classic composition "Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" (which he co-wrote with his then-wife, Patsy) reached No. 15 in January 1976, becoming his highest-charting hit at the time. It was later covered by a number of country legends, including Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, whose duet version spent four weeks atop Hot Country Songs in 1978. Their version also crossed over onto the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 42.

He recorded for RCA and smaller labels such as Wand/Scepter in the 1960s and later signed to multiple labels -- Monument Records in 1969, United Artists Records in 1973 and MCA Records in 1980 -- before eventually returning to RCA in 1984. Aside from music, Bruce recorded voice-overs in television and radio commercials before pursuing a fruitful acting career.

Bruce eventually landed his biggest gig as the second lead role on the NBC television revival of the 1957 Western drama Maverick, titled Bret Maverick, which ran for one year from 1981 to 1982. He played a surly lawman who co-owned a saloon with the titular character Maverick, played, as before, by James Garner. Bruce also wrote and recorded the show's theme song. He also hosted two of his own shows in the late 1980s: Truckin' USA and American Sports Cavalcade.

Bruce received a 1980 nomination at the Academy of Country Music Awards for top new male vocalist. "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" received a 1978 Grammy nod for best country song and a 1978 CMA Awards nod for song of the year. He was also awarded the Arkansas Country Music Award for "Lifetime Achievement" in 2018 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.