Teenage memories came flooding back with the news that Jimmy Dean, whose ‘Big John’ was a curiously addictive top ten hit in the UK in early 1962, has died. His obituary in The Guardian notes:
During the winter of 1961-62, British record-buyers indulged themselves in one of their periodic flirtations with American country music. But as Leroy van Dyke’s Walk On By, Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak and Jim Reeves’s You’re the Only Good Thing – conventional country songs of deception, desertion and devotion – cantered into the charts, they were overtaken at a gallop by Jimmy Dean’s ‘Big Bad John’.
Dean, who has died aged 81, wrote the piece as a dramatic monologue, the heroic story of a coal miner who “stood six foot six and weighed two forty-five” and held up a collapsing roof until his fellows had escaped, but could not save himself. Hammer-rings punctuate the recording, which ends with the epitaph: “At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man – Big Bad John.”
The disc spent nine weeks in the UK charts, six of them in the top 10, and was only just held off the top spot by Elvis Presley’s ‘His Latest Flame’, at the end of November 1961.
A year later The Beatles were back from Hamburg, recording ‘Please, Please Me’: our heads were about to get seriously messed with.
Dean was raised in what he called dirt-poor surroundings in the small west Texas town of Seth Ward, near Plainview. His autobiography is entitled Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham.