Jimmy Dean

Jimmy Dean has had an interesting career both in television and in the music business; he released some memorable songs and was a very popular performer in the 60's.

He was born in Plainview, Texas in 1928. While a member of the Air Force he joined a singing group called the Tennessee Haymakers and moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 1948. By 1952 he had formed his own group, the Texas Wildcats, and signed a recording contract with Four Star. That led to his first hit Bummin' Around in 1953. Then he got into television.

He hosted weekday and Saturday evening shows on WMAL in Virginia, and became well known around Washington, D.C. as an entertainer. Dean was a pioneer in the televising of country western songs. A regular on his TV show for a period of time in the 50's was a young Patsy Cline, whose work with Jimmy Dean was a big boost to her career. He had his own series on CBS-TV in 1957 and 1958. He signed with Columbia and recorded a novelty Christmas song, Little Sandy Sleighfoot, that reached the top forty in the late 50's.

In 1961 Dean recorded Big Bad John, a song that would become his biggest hit ever. It went to number one on the country and pop charts, and gained him the Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance. It was one of many songs he would record in a style that was more spoken than sung.

He followed his chart-buster with five more top forty songs in 1962, including Dear Ivan, The Cajun Queen [a follow-up to Big Bad John], To A Sleeping Beauty, and Little Black Book. His biggest hit that year, one that reached the top ten, was a song based on the sinking of President John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat and Kennedy's subsequent heroic feats in the South Pacific during World War II, PT 109.

In addition to being a singer, actor and TV host, he also played piano and guitar and did some songwriting. Dean once again hosted his own first-rate television series, from 1963 to 1966, this time on ABC-TV. He had other minor hit songs in the 60's, such as The First Thing Ev'ry Morning [And The Last Thing Ev'ry Night], switched to RCA and hit on a small scale with Stand Beside Me and A Thing Called Love. His duet with Dottie West, Slowly, came out in 1971.

He also did some acting on television, appearing in such shows as Daniel Boone and Candid Camera. Some of Dean's better record albums include Big Bad John in 1962 and Jimmy Dean's Hour Of Prayer in 1964 on Columbia, and Speaker Of The House on RCA in 1967. Dean portrayed billionaire Willard Whyte, starring with Sean Connery and Jill St. John, in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.

In the 70's Dean returned to the top forty one final time on the Casino label with I.O.U., a song he had written in gratitude to his mother. He left the entertainment industry to devote full-time to his sausage business and appeared on nationwide television ads for Jimmy Dean's Pure Pork Sausage. He is no longer associated with the product, although it continues to bear his name.

In 2004 his autobiography, titled Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham, was published by Penguin Books. The affable Jimmy Dean is one of pop music's good guys and is very well remembered for his two top ten songs from the 60's, Big Bad John and PT 109.

On June 13, 2010 Jimmy Dean passed away at his home near Richmond, Virginia.

Most Recent Update: June 13, 2010

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Send email to the author, Tom Simon tsimon@tsimon.com.