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Looking Back to See

A Country Music Memoir

Maxine Brown

Publication Year: 2010

The Browns—Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed—are a trio of siblings that had tremendous success in the 1950s and 60s. Following in the tradition of the best of such books, such as Loretta’s Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, this memoir, told in Maxine’s own plucky, spirited style, delves deeply into the Browns’ remarkable past, beginning with a Depression-era childhood in rural south Arkansas.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

When Maxine was writing this book about her life, her family, her music, and her times, she came by to see me. I had retired to my farm and was always glad to see old friends drop by. As there is no end to things that can be fixed on a farm...

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pp. xi-xiii

There are so many people I would like to thank who have helped me during the course of writing this book, but the one person I wish to thank the most is Baxter Clarence Hall. Had it not been for Clarence, this book would have never...

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pp. xv-xviii

Everyone this side of Fabor Robinson’s ghost should welcome Maxine Brown’s memoir. “Looking Back To See” was the title of the Browns’ first hit song (it went to number eight in 1954), and a perfect title for this volume, indicating both...

I. Fire and Hunger

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pp. 1-34

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1. Living Lean and Country Values

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pp. 3-17

I was only three years old when I first found out that fire and hunger are sometimes the same thing. That was back in 1934, in a time we now call the Great Depression, and we were a family named the Browns. Like so many poor people...

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2. Raymond’s Death and Daddy’s Logging Accident

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pp. 19-26

Our little brother Raymond was a free spirit. Even though he was only seven years old, he seemed to me to be wise beyond his years, and he always had a way of cheering us up and making us laugh. I think maybe...

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3. Moving on Up—and Around

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pp. 27-34

Our new house in Benton had indoor plumbing. It was the first indoor toilet we’d ever had. We still didn’t have a bath, but how nice it was to be able to use toilet tissue instead of the slick pages of a Sears catalog! Our next-door neighbors...

II. The Other Side

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pp. 35-72

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4. Now We’re in Show Business

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pp. 37-42

It started for us in the spring of 1952. The whole country seemed to be living on boogie-woogie and swing music, television, horror movies, and nickel Cokes. We didn’t have rock ’n’ roll, school integration, air conditioning, a polio vaccine...

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5. Our First Recording Session

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pp. 43-51

As the Barnyard Frolic kept growing in popularity, so did J. E. He sang a real crowd-pleaser called “Hey Joe,” and the girls yelled and screamed for him so much that sometimes he’d have to encore with the same songs. To tell the truth, I think he was more...

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6. Perils of the Road and That Old Devil Robinson

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pp. 53-63

“Looking Back To See” was such a big hit that J. E. and I were in demand. I quit my job with the State Police and J. E. dropped out of college. The first date we ever played after the song hit was in Cleveland, Ohio. Up until...

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7. We Get Screwed

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pp. 65-72

When we returned to the tour in Boise, Fabor acted as though nothing had happened. J. E. kept blaming himself for everything, all our troubles and my getting food poisoning. I blamed that devil Fabor. God, how we hated...

III. Here Today and Gone Tomorrow

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pp. 73-146

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8. Screwed Again

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pp. 75-84

After the reopening of the Trio Club, we stayed busy with show dates in and around the region. As regulars on the Louisiana Hayride, we journeyed down to Shreveport nearly every weekend. One Saturday night while we were...

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9. Putting on That Almighty Front

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pp. 85-94

I should have written a song about Fabor. I should have written a song about dumb kids with pipe dreams and California promises. That song would have been right up there with “There’s No Business like Show...

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10. Elvis Presley

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pp. 95-107

He wasn’t any better looking than a dozen other young studs on the music scene. He was slender and walked with a sexy hitch to his hips. He wore his hair full and wavy, with a teasy strand on his high forehead, and long sideburns...

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11. Another Legend is Born

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pp. 109-120

While we were getting our new act together, my folks’ new Trio Club was going great guns. The only trouble was that, as always, Momma was working herself to death. Thank goodness she had Dido Rowley from the...

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12. I Finally Meet My Childhood Idol

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pp. 121-128

After we started making it on a grander scale, Nashville became our second home, just as it’s been for countless other singers and pickers. Most of us have a favorite among the stars who have settled in Nashville...

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13. Europe

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pp. 129-136

In 1957, the Brown Trio made its first trip to Europe. J. E., Bonnie, and I were working regularly all over the country and happened to be on the East Coast when it was time to go. We’d been on tour for about two weeks and were scheduled to join...

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14. The Browns’ Younger Sister and Momma’s Stroke

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pp. 137-146

We didn’t join the Grand Ole Opry following our European tour after all. The reason was that we just couldn’t afford it. Joining the Opry back then would have required us to be in Nashville nearly every weekend. And it would have cost us dearly...

IV. Sweet Sounds

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pp. 147-172

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15. “The Three Bells” (Little Jimmy Brown)

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pp. 149-160

Driving back home from Nashville, we felt as low as the old wayfaring stranger. We just knew we had reached the end of our singing career. We didn’t sing while we drove, as we usually did. We didn’t laugh and tell jokes...

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16. “Scarlet Ribbons” and “The Old Lamplighter”

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pp. 161-172

Every artist who has ever had a number one record knows the anxiety and frustration of finding just the right song for a follow-up. We spent the two days before our next recording session with Chet Atkins, our producer, listening...

V. The Beginning of the End

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pp. 173-194

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17. Johnny Cash and Paying the Price for Crossover Records

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pp. 175-187

Our schedule had become so hectic by now and our big shows were so far apart that we began to travel by chartered airplane. Some of our experiences were like scenes out of the movie...

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18. “Mommy, Please Stay Home with Me”

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pp. 189-194

I came home from a tour one time to discover that my husband Tommy hadn’t set foot in the house since I’d been gone. Aunt Maggie was still taking care of my kids. She told me she knew Tommy had a serious girlfriend...

VI. The Last Hard Road

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19. Just a Matter of Time

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pp. 197-206

You hear a song you like so much it seems to become a part of your life and soul, you worship the ones singing it, and you buy all their records and go to all their concerts. When they break up, a little piece of you dies with them...

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20. Jim Reeves’s Last Flight

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pp. 207-216

So you think it’s the big time when you’ve been in the business almost ten years and had several million-selling hits? That’s what we thought all through the next five years of our career. We had made so much money from...

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21. Learning to Accept Life’s Gifts

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pp. 217-222

I was living in Nashville, a single lady again, when I went and made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I don’t know what it proves. That I was lonely? That I was a glutton for punishment? That I was a hopeless romantic who could never...

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22. “I Can’t Quit, I’m a Star”

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pp. 223-231

Bonnie finally decided she’d had it with all the road trips. She wanted to stay home with her family. I had three kids of my own but no husband. I think I would have quit on the spot if I’d had any means of support. But I had...

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23. “Old Hat” Maxine

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pp. 233-240

This quotation is from the October 27, 1967, issue of Billboard magazine. It summarized in one paragraph the long road that brought us to our final performance together at the Grand Ole Opry as members. Though we would appear...

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24. Losing Momma

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pp. 241-247

Delores booked me on a series of “hillbilly park” dates, four or five in succession in and around West Virginia. She had also booked a band I’d never heard of to accompany me on all the dates and arranged for me to ride the circuit...

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25. Chicken Today, Feathers Tomorrow

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pp. 249-254

Nobody knew how hard the next few years would be for me, the rough times I would have simply keeping food on the table for my children. After my marriage went to pieces and my singing career started downhill...

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26. The Browns’ Recording Studio

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pp. 255-264

It’s funny how people who know you were a star think you retired on top. I hadn’t retired at all. The country music business just sort of sloughed away from me piece by painful piece. Though I was getting along better financially...

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27. Legends of Country Music

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pp. 265-267

In 1985, Bonnie and I got another chance to make a comeback as the Browns. On a visit to Nashville to see J. E. and Becky, we went to watch the taping of his show, You Can Be A Star.Then we went with J. E. to the Grand Ole Opry. He called...

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28. Still Singing

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pp. 269-276

It’s not over until it’s over. And it wasn’t over yet for the Browns— not by a long shot. Nostalgia for older music had gotten so strong in the ’90s that many groups that had disbanded years earlier were getting back together...

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29. Last Song: Still Dreaming the Dream

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pp. 277-280

Finally it came time for me to accept the fact that the music world was a cloud I’d been riding for too long. I had experienced enough setbacks and frustrations to stay bitter for the rest of my life. Even today, it’s hard for me to understand...

Appendix A: Albums

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pp. 281

Appendix B: Hits and Awards

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pp. 283-286

Appendix C: Glossary of Names

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pp. 287-326


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pp. 327-348

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610752503
E-ISBN-10: 1610752503
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289346
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289344

Page Count: 359
Illustrations: 58 photographs
Publication Year: 2010