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.