Ed Bruce Dies: Country Singer-Songwriter & ‘Bret Maverick’ Actor Was 81

Ed Bruce, the singer and songwriter who got his start during the Sun Records rockabilly era and went on to write or record a long string of country chart-makers, died of natural causes today in Clarksville, Tennessee. Bruce, who sidelined as an actor on such TV series as James Garner’s 1981 Maverick sequel and 1980’s The Chisholms, was 81.

His death was announced by publicist Jeremy Westby.

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A cowriter of the country classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Bruce was only 17 when he worked as a recording engineer for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, where he’d soon writer and record “Rock Boppin’ Baby.” Through the mid-1960s he wrote songs for pop star Tommy Roe, country singer Charlie Louvin, and, later in the decade, charted himself with minor hits “Walker’s Woods” and a cover version of The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Bigger hits came in the 1970s, beginning with Tanya Tucker’s hit recording of his “The Man That Turned My Mama On” and Crystal Gayle’s “Restless,” both in 1974.

Bruce recorded his own moderately successful version of “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” in 1976, cowritten with his wife Patsy Bruce. Two years later, a cover version by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings became a major hit. Tucker had another hit in 1979 with the Bruce-penned “Texas (When I Die).”

Though he charted through the 1980s with recordings of his own songs including “Diane”, “The Last Cowboy Song”, “You Turn Me on Like a Radio” (not to be confused with Joni Mitchell’s earlier “You Turn Me On [I’m A Radio”]) and his #1 country chart hit “You’re the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had,” Bruce soon pivoted to acting, beginning with a recurring role on Western series The Chisholms and, most prominently, on Bret Maverick, costarring alongside a post-Rockford Files James Garner as gruff former lawman who was Maverick’s partner in the Red Ox Saloon. The short-lived NBC Western series was a sequel to the 1957-62 series Maverick.

Other TV credits would include Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long, Walker, Texas Ranger and, on the big screen, 1997’s Fire Down Below starring Steven Seagal.

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