To be certain, there is an increasing fascination with the lives of country music celebrities, judging from the plethora of recent books on the stands. Stars from Charlie Daniels and Delbert McClinton to the Bellamy Brothers and Moe Bandy have all penned accounts of their lives and careers in the past several months, with likely more on the horizon.
Another new book devoted to celebrity life is also in circulation, but with a different and unique perspective. The work comes from Becky Perry Brown, wife of the late Country Music Hall of Fame member Jim Ed Brown. Her book, “Going Our Way: My Life With Jim Ed Brown,” co-written with Roxane Atwood, reveals what it’s truly like to be married to a country music superstar while trying to maintain one’s own identity. Brown opens up about their marriage in unusually honest fashion, detailing the highs and lows of their relationship together. She takes readers back to the days of their courtship in Arkansas, raising a family, Jim Ed’s path to stardom, and even their brief split, due to her husband’s affair with his duet singing partner. Brown also includes 175 photographs.
Brown welcomed “Sports and Entertainment Nashville” into her lovely Brentwood, Tennessee, home, to discuss the trials and triumphs of writing such a detailed, no-holding-back account. The home features a still-used tennis court, and readers will discover the little-known nugget from the book that Brown was quite the tennis player in her day. She notes that a number of the recollections came from her own memories along with Jim Ed’s extensive cache of personal journals and archives.
“I kept up with things, but not anything the way Jim Ed did,” Brown says, smiling. “He kept journals and details about dates that he played. He didn’t throw anything away. Most of what I put into the book really came from memory. I just started chronologically from my childhood, what it was like growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and meeting Jim Ed for the first time. I thought it was important to talk about my childhood and my background. People needed to know where I came from.”
At the time they began dating, Jim Ed Brown was already part of the successful country music trio The Browns, with sisters Bonnie and Maxine. Their signature hit, “The Three Bells,” is still considered a country music classic. Jim Ed was handsome, worldly, with a voice that commanded attention, and also a few years older than Becky. As Becky writes in the book, “Sometimes, he would take me on the most extravagant dates. Twice, he chartered planes . . . to see Arkansas play college football.” Pretty heady stuff for a young girl from Pine Bluff.
After Jim Ed went solo in the 1960’s, achieving considerable stardom on his own, he and Becky would travel to places far more exotic. Becky recalls several jaunts to England, Norway and other gorgeous locales. “I remember one RCA tour overseas with Bobby Bare and Dottie West and other acts,” Brown smiles. “You could not believe the thousands of people in the audience, sitting and clapping along in unison. I remember thinking, ‘They don’t clap the same way we do.’ It was just amazing.”
Brown paints a vivid picture of country celebrity life during the 1970’s and 1980’s, periods little known to the public. Those were the days that preceded social media and 24-hour news cycles, where stars’ lives were not necessarily open books. Becky and Jim Ed were part of a tight circle of close-knit friends who were also in the business.
“You just knew everybody,” Brown says. “Skeeter Davis and Ralph Emery lived down the street, [steel guitar player] Roy Wiggins was across the street. Eddy Arnold and his wife Sally were close friends of ours. They were our neighbors and our friends. That’s all we knew.” Sally Arnold in particular became a trusted confidante, and once gave Becky a wise piece of counsel, as she recalls in “Going Our Way.” Becky had grown increasingly irritated at the attention Jim Ed drew from female fans. Arnold cautioned that it was all part of the business.
“Sally Arnold told me years ago that those women are not after your husband,” Brown relates. “They are just after the celebrity. She said that she would tell any woman who came on to her husband, ‘You can have him, and you can also take his dirty laundry and all the bills.’ I loved that. Sally also shared that you can’t let your husband believe all the hype around him. It was very important to bring them back down to earth if they started getting a big head.”
No amount of advice, though, could have prepared Brown for the jolt she received during her marriage to Jim Ed. She discovered that her husband was involved in an affair with his duet-singing partner. Her confrontation with the woman, which turned somewhat physical, creates one of the most startling passages in the book. “I was engulfed by emotion,” she writes. “I thought I had experienced a nervous breakdown. For the first time in my life, I felt real hate.”
Jim Ed continued to perform with the woman. Despite Jim Ed’s protestations, and his insistence that he still loved her, Becky divorced her husband. “It was one of the hardest things I ever did,” she writes in the book.
Certainly, it was a difficult chapter to put down on paper. “That was the toughest part,” Brown agrees. “I wrote about my pain and how I felt and tried to keep it that way. I could have shared a lot of details but I did not want to do that.” Brown never gives the woman’s name in the book, though her identity could easily be uncovered through a Google search or any knowledge of 1970’s country music. “I felt like that’s how it needed to be,” Brown responds to the obvious question. “I did not want to make it sensational and I didn’t want to point fingers. I just did not want to go there.”
What followed is an incredible story of faith and forgiveness. Jim Ed and Becky eventually reconciled and remarried in October of 1981, with the divorce lasting only five months. And the other woman? Brown forgave her and even allowed her and Jim Ed to briefly sing together again. “People always ask me, ‘How could you let him work with her?’ But it’s amazing how you can forgive and go on,” she says earnestly. Brown relied on her unwavering faith to give her the strength to do what most would deem unthinkable, or even impossible.
The title of the book is partly derived from the TNN television series Jim Ed and Becky hosted from 1990-1995, “Going Our Way.” Each week, the couple, traveling in an RV, visited vacation destinations across the country and highlighted the top spots in the area. “We went all over the United States, to places I’d never seen,” Brown smiles. “I remember going to Lake Placid [New York] to watch the athletes train for the Winter Olympics. We went to the Grand Canyon and many places out West. That was quite an experience. I have to say that the show was very special to me.”
Fittingly, the book concludes with Jim Ed’s 2015 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, as a solo artist and member of The Browns trio. Jim Ed had been battling lung cancer but was able to receive the news of his induction in early June of that year. He passed away on June 11, 2015.
“Being inducted to the Hall of Fame was his crowning moment,” Becky reflects. “I’m so thankful that he got in before he passed away.” Becky touchingly recalls the details of Jim Ed’s funeral, held at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, in the book. “It was where he first became a member of the Grand Ole Opry,” she writes. “He called the Opry home.”
The book project proved a true labor of love, a vital work not only for Jim Ed’s fans but her own family as well. “My grandkids were asking a lot of questions,” Brown says. “They wanted to know about our life. I think the book is very honest about the ups and the downs. I tried my best not to make it boring,” she adds with a gentle laugh. “I hope people will like it and learn from it.”
“Going Our Way: My Life With Jim Ed Brown” is available now on the book’s official site. It is slated to hit stores on August 1st.