Singer/Songwriter/Actor best known for the 1961 hit “Big Bad John”
1928 – 2010
Jimmy Dean, best known in music circles for his hit “Big Bad John”, passed away Sunday, June 13, 2010. He was 81 years young.
Dean was born in Plainview, Texas in 1928. He dropped out of school after the 9th grade. However his mother instilled a love of music in him, teaching him to play piano. Dean went on to teach himself how to play guitar, harmonica and accordion.
Sixteen year old Dean joined the Merchant Marines and two years later enlisted in the United States Air Force. While he was stationed in Washington, DC he performed with a group known as the Tennessee Haymakers. After leaving the Air Force, Dean formed his own group, The Texas Wildcats.
He scored a few minor hits during the 1950’s, including “Bummin’ Around” for “Four Star Records”. During this time he also secured a television variety show.
But it wasn’t until he wrote and recorded a song about a coal miner that his career really took off. According to legend, Dean was flying out to a recording session and needed one more song for the album. He began working on a story song about a man from “New Orleans” that stood six foot six and weighed 245. He finished the song in less than two hours and it became “Big Bad John” which eventually went #1 on both the pop and country charts in 1961. “Big Bad John” also earned Dean a Grammy. Other hits followed, including “P.T. 109” (about John F. Kennedy), “Little Black Book” and the sequel to “BBJ”, “The Cajun Queen”.
In 1963, Dean secured a daily variety TV show that helped to propel artists like Roger Miller to stardom. Another performer that got a big boost thanks to the show was future mupeteer Jim Henson. Henson’s piano playing muppet dog “Rolf” was a regular on the show.
Jimmy Dean also made forays into acting, including the 1971 James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever”, in which he portrayed billionaire “Willard Whyte”. Dean was also the first guest host on the “Tonight Show”.
In 1969 Dean created the “Jimmy Dean Meat Company”. And while he continued to accept acting gigs, most of his time was spent on the meat business. Dean did wander back into the recording studio during the 1970s, even scoring a Top Ten country hit in 1976 with an ode to moms with “I.O.U.”.
Dean sold his company to Sara Lee Foods in 1984. But in 2003 they dropped Dean as their spokesperson, with Dean issuing a statement stating “Somebody doesn’t like Sara Lee”.
Dean is survived by his wife Donna Meade Dean, three children, and two grandchildren.