Ed Bruce is kind of a cult figure among country aficianados, a smooth-voiced, soft spoken singer-songwriter who hit his commerical peak in the early 1980s, and then sort of edged out of showbusiness just as the neotraditional movement started to heat up. He was an original 'Fifties rockabilly singer, cutting a couple of singles for Sun Records during their post-Elvis phase. Then he moved to Nashville and started plugging away as a songwriter, recording his own albums intermittently, but with only middling success in the charts for the better part of two decades. When he did hit, he hit big, writing and recording classics such as "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and "This Is The Last Cowboy Song," both of which fell into the orbit of outlaw megastars Waylon & Willie. Bruce's own records started to top the charts as well, but, as is often the case, his fortunes crested back down as fast as they went up, and Ed Bruce is now an artist that few of today's country fans know of, but many older fans deeply cherish. In the 1990s, his son, Trey Bruce, emerged as an up-and-coming songwriter and producer, working closely in particular with neotraditionalist Trace Adkins. Here's a quick look at Ed's work over the years...
Ed Bruce "Puzzles" (Bear Family, 1995)
This reissue disc collects Bruce's early folk-country recordings for RCA and Monument, in the late 1960s... It's all rather diffuse and Gordon Lightfoot-ish , and not that much like the delicious honkytonk balladry he became known for in the '70s and '80s... Also, there are lots of tunes from his '67 debut that seem to have been left off in favor of multiple takes of several songs... It's nice to hear Bruce working through and subtly changing his musical ideas... But still, a little more stylistic variety would have been nice. Ed Bruce fans, and folks who treasure, say, Waylon Jennings' old folk-country stuff on RCA from about the same time, might like this a lot. But for the average country fan, it might be kinda slow going...
Ed Bruce "The Best Of Ed Bruce" (Varese Sarabande, 1996)
Ed Bruce "12 Classics" (Varese Sarabande, 2003)
Re-recordings of many of his old hits, re-cut in 1997 with a sparing but sympathetic backup band. Maybe a disappointment for fans looking for his older stuff, but still a nice chance to hear Ed Bruce work his soft vocal magic.
Ed Bruce "The Tennessean/Cowboys And Dreamers" (Hux Records, 2009)
A twofer reissue that includes 1977's The Tennessean and Cowboys And Dreamers, from 1978.
Ed Bruce "Rockin' Boppin' Baby" (Bear Family, 1986) (LP)
This disc features his early rockabilly sides...
Ed Bruce "If I Could Just Go Home" (RCA Victor, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Bob Ferguson)
This album blew me away when I first heard it. I've heard countless Nashville albums from the same vintage, including quite a few on the RCA label, that attempted to incorporate a "country-folk" singer-songwriter sensibility into the countrypolitan sound, and this is certainly one of the best. What's most striking is the confidence, economy and precision with which Bruce performs; many artists of the same era clearly felt uncomfortable with the new crossover style, and sounded awkward recording similar material. Bruce, however sounds completely in command of the production -- his vocals are clear and confident, and the arrangements are much more restrained than other RCA releases tended to be, with a sexy bluesy strain running through several tunes. Fans of early, folk-oriented Waylon Jennings albums will wanna track this one down, too... All but two of the songs on here are Bruce originals; he'd cut a few singles for various labels before getting the nod from RCA, and clearly he was ready and rarin' to go when the big break came. Highly recommended.
Ed Bruce "Shades Of Ed Bruce" (Monument, 1969)
Ed Bruce "Ed Bruce" (United Artists, 1974)
Ed Bruce "The Tennessean" (CBS, 1977)
Ed Bruce "Cowboys And Dreamers" (Epic, 1978)
(Produced by Buddy Killen)
Pretty syrupy and overblown, but like Don Williams, Bruce has a certain sense of gravitas which you may find captivating. Interestingly enough, he only wrote about half the songs on this disc, and the outside songs are some of the more sluggish material. Things start to pick up in the middle of the album, though, with the farmer ballad, "The Family," and "Old Wore Out Cowboy," as well as a sizzling, funky version of "The Man That Turned My Mama On," which Tanya Tucker had already made a Top 5 hit out of in 1974. This record's not bad, though it takes a little while to get going up to speed.
Ed Bruce "Ed Bruce" (MCA, 1980)
(Produced by Tommy West)
What a great record. Song after song, melody after melody, this disc delivers the goods... And yes, he sounds just like Don Williams did at the time, but Bruce is an equal -- if not superior -- singer, and hardly a mere imitator. Every aspect of this record is first-rate... The songs are well-written and captivating, including classics like "The Last Cowboy Song," smouldering cheating ballads such as "Diane," and odes to the rowdy life, like "Red Doggin' Again," each of them delivered with the kind of conviction only the best artists can conjure. Even toss-off tunes like Bruce's love letter to Willie Nelson, "The Outlaw And The Stranger" are better than ninety percent of the country music made at the time. I think it also helps a lot that the album's producer, Tommy West and arranger Shane Keister both play on the album
Ed Bruce "One To One" (MCA, 1981)
(Produced by Tommy West)
Another truly superior album, with a strong superficial similarity to Don Williams' work of the same era, though Bruce swiftly establishes a sense of ruggedness and vigor that sets him apart from his wimpier early '80s compatriots. He only wrote or co-wrote three of the songs on here, the best of which are the album's opener, "(When You're In Love) Everything's A Waltz" and "Thirty Nine And Holding," over on the flip side. His choice of material to cover is pretty noteworthy, as well: two tunes by Jesse Winchester, a electric guitar-heavy version of Tom Rush's "No Regrets," and a sweet rendition of the Louvin Brothers weeper, "I Take The Chance." And finally, Charley Craig's "Hundred Dollar Lady," which turns the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliche on its head, is also quite nice. Nice record, definitely recommended.
Ed Bruce "I Write It Down" (MCA, 1982)
Ed Bruce "You're Not Leaving Here Tonight" (MCA, 1983)
(Produced by Tommy West; arranged by Shane Kester)
There are a few tunes on here that hit the right note, but overall this is a pretty florid, overly synthy album, where the formula that had worked so well starts to break down. Somewhere along the way Bruce's rugged, virile edge has been subsumed by a wimpy pop aesthetic, and all that's left are the early '80s pop-izations and sappy sentimentality. Of course, this isn't entirely true; there are a few songs like "If It Was Easy" that have a deep emotional resonance, but if you compare this disc to earlier albums, it's pretty disappointing.
Ed Bruce "Tell 'Em I've Gone Crazy" (MCA, 1984)
(Produced by Tommy West)
Ed Bruce "Homecoming" (RCA, 1984)
(Produced by Blake Mevis)
An absolutely terrible album that's all strings and syrupy, synthy production, and barely a trace of the gruff elegance that made Bruce's best work sound so swell. This record yielded a Top Five hit, "You Turn Me On (Like A Radio)", but for my money, there's only one song on here worth listening to, "Old Love Never Dies," which has some real twang and doesn't sound like everybody was sleepwalking through the performance. Otherwise, not a lot going on here.
Ed Bruce "Night Things" (RCA, 1986)
Ed Bruce "Set Me Free" (Ichiban, 1997)
I'm not sure what the story is behind this CD -- it's not listed on Bruce's own website, but it is apparently by the man himself... When I track a copy down, I'll check it out and let you know what I think...
Ed Bruce "This Old Hat" (Old Hat Productions, 2002)
Ed Bruce "Changed" (Lamon Records, 2006)
Ed Bruce "In JesusŐ Eyes" (Varese Sarabande, 2010)
Hick Music Index