By Rick Bass (Guest Contributor)
Everyone’s heard of Elvis Presley, yet almost no one has heard of the Browns. This amazes me, for the Browns’ story – hardscrabble Depression era beginnings, startling and almost eerie natural talent, incandescent rise to fame, trials and tribulations followed by a sudden return to utter obscurity – far exceeds even the drama of Elvis, who grew up with the Browns, was essentially an adopted member of their family, touring with them in the early 1950s, during the formative years when he first gave up his aspirations of becoming a famous gospel singer and chose instead the path of rock and roll.
The Browns – siblings Maxine, Jim Ed, and Bonnie – possessed a soothing, tempered harmony that better than any other characterized the reassuring, silken sound of the 1950s, even as the turbulence of the 1960s awaited, just across the threshold of their fame.
The Browns were the first group to have a number one hit on both the country and pop charts, establishing a business model of the crossover genre that still exists today, and drives much of the music industry’s commerce, allowing entertainers and artists such as Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, and countless others, to move freely and with the acceptance of popularity wherever they wish, musically. From the very beginning, greatness was attracted to them. Legendary producer and studio musician Chet Atkins called them his favorite group to record. The Beatles toured with them in England and sought to learn to harmonize like the Browns, calling the Browns their favorite American group. And then they were gone.
The oldest Brown, Maxine, maintains and daily examines a web page.
Rick Bass’s fiction has received O. Henry Awards, numerous Pushcart Prizes, awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. Most recently, his memoir Why I Came West was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Image Credit: Maxine Brown