Jimmy Dean, named this year as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, never quite got to witness his official induction. The singer, best known for his dramatic coal-miner recitation “Big Bad John,” died Sunday at his home in Virginia, according to the Associated Press.
He was one of country’s TV pioneers, hosting a local show in Washington, D.C., during the 1950s and picking up his own prime-time variety series during the ‘60s. In fact, “The Jimmy Dean Show” televised the Hall of Fame inductions of Eddy Arnold, Uncle Dave Macon, Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay and music publisher Jim Denny in October 1966.
Jimmy had only a handful of hits, though a couple were particularly significant. “Big Bad John” was the first country-based single to go gold after the Recording Industry Association of America established its metal certifications program in 1958. It topped both the country and pop charts as Jimmy told the story of a heroic miner who lost his life while saving all of his fellow workers in an underground disaster. His mid-‘70s single “I.O.U.” was also a million-selling recitation, this one paying homage to Mom.
The founder of Jimmy Dean Sausage, he was a stickler for promptness and was known to walk out when people he was meeting failed to show on time. It mattered not whether they were salesmen, journalists or corporate CEOs. Time was money, and he wasn’t wasting his.
In fact, Roy Clark’s habitual tardiness cost him a job on Jimmy’s D.C. TV show, though Roy got the last laugh. Ironically, Roy was just a hair quicker than Jimmy at landing in the Hall of Fame, becoming a member in 2009. Roy had hoped he would get to induct Jimmy at the official ceremony, and he already had a plan for the big moment.
“If they do ask me and I do present him with his medallion, as I put it around his neck, I’m gonna say, ‘I beat ya!’” Roy laughed recently.
Ultimately, neither man held a grudge about the end of their business relationship. Jimmy continued to be a mentor to Roy, and both were successful on the stage and off.
“We have been dear friends all these years,” Roy said. “Even when he fired me, we never had a cross word. It was just like, ‘Roy, you’re gonna be successful, but right now I can’t afford you.’ He put his arm around my shoulder, and that’s the way it’s been. He’s done so much for me through the years. He was the first one that had me on ‘The Tonight Show.’ And I learned the business side — that there’s more to a career in music than just pickin’ and singin’ on stage. There’s a business side that you have to pay attention to.”
Jimmy, who was 81, and Don Williams are both slated for their Hall of Fame induction on Oct. 24.