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Ed Bruce: Country Music's Christian Cowboy

By Cheryl Wilcox and Scott Ross
The 700 Club

CBN.comScott Ross recently caught up with the singer-songwriter on his ranch to discuss his legendary leap to fame.

SCOTT ROSS (reporting): Backtrack to the late 1950s, in Memphis, Tennessee. Hometown heartthrob Ed Bruce was graduating from high school. He couldn’t have been in a better place or time to showcase his vocal talents.

ED BRUCE: 706 Union Marshall, Sun Records.

SCOTT: Oh man! That’s Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison…

ED: Charlie Riggs…

SCOTT: I mean, man! You got into Sun Records?

SCOTT (reporting): Elvis was the name that drove Sun Records' engine and with him a host of other legendary artists. Seventeen-year-old Bruce was among the elite of the elite in the recording industry when he signed with the label.

ED: I made my first release when I was in the last of my senior year in high school in 1957 on Sun Records.

SCOTT: Did your record get on the charts?

ED: I bubbled under. It just barely got into the top 100, something like that.

SCOTT: That must have been encouraging for you, a young guy.

ED: The experience of hanging around with some of those people, sitting in the studio listening to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, you had to watch the language there, but yeah, it was quite an experience.

SCOTT (reporting): After a decade of singing, songwriting, and day gigging, Bruce relocated to Nashville to pursue full-time songwriting.

ED: I was on my way home from a jingle session. I was making a pretty good living doing commercials, doing jingles, but it was not the most satisfying thing in the world. Somebody else is doing all the creativity.

SCOTT: But it pays the bills.

ED: Yeah. But I was on the way home from a session, and I guess I was feeling a little frustrated. I just started singing, going along in the car. 'Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to pick guitars' is what I said first. I thought, 'Wait a minute now,' and I changed it to 'cowboys' and I worked in the guitars a line or two later. I was probably ten minutes from the house.

SCOTT: So you changed 'guitar' to 'cowboys'?

ED: Yeah, I worked it in a line or two later about the guitar pickers.

SCOTT: That song became absolutely enormous. Did that change your life or affect you in some way?

ED: Yeah, that established me as an artist at that time. I had a top 15 record. Then a year later, Willie and Waylon. Waylon actually brought that about. Waylon recorded it, and Willie over-dubbed it later on. But it was a huge, huge record. It just opened a lot of doors with awards, and it did everything. It established me as an artist and a writer.

SCOTT (reporting): The success of "Mammas" opened up other creative avenues. Ed signed recording contracts with record labels and cut a host of albums. Casting directors in Nashville and Hollywood seized on his rugged, masculine appeal, and before he knew it, he was acting.

SCOTT: How did you take to the acting field, memorizing lines and scripts and going through all that?

ED: Well, actually, I’ve always been what they call a quick study. Haven’t had a lot of problems with lines. The first scene I ever did, it was the first thing I’ve ever done, and I’m just thrown in there the first day on the set. When we finished the scene, the director came over. I’m sure he was trying to reassure me. He said, 'Ed, that was really good. I could just feel the tension in that.' And I said, 'Mel, that was abject terror.' And later, Robert Preston was in this thing, a great old actor, Oscar winner. He knew that was the first thing I’d ever done. I walked off the set there, and he was sitting in his chair. I walked over there and was going to sit down there. He said, 'That’s OK. They probably won’t use it anyway.'

SCOTT (reporting): Ed acted in the popular TV series Bret Maverick. The success of Bret Maverick kept the TV and film parts coming for the next 20 years. But somewhere between the success and the fame, Ed Bruce, the man, had lost his soul.

ED: I wasn’t terribly happy. I was having a good time. At the time, my second wife was my manager. It had gotten to a point that the relationship was just based on business.

SCOTT: And, as I understand it, God finds us and meets us where we are. You were out in the back 40 here somewhere.

ED: Yeah, on the tractor. You’ve been through the winter. It’s been raining. It’s been snowing. It’s been freezing. You get into those first few days of spring. The trees are starting to bud. I was back in the creek bottom back there, flat. I was bush-hogging. I was doing something. I don’t remember. I may have been cleaning up after winter floods back there. Water gets up back there, trees and logs and junk, and probably a couple of deer ran out across there. Trees were budding out on the bluffs up there. You know the cartoon where the little light goes on? That’s kind of what happened. I said, 'Oh.'

SCOTT: Really?

ED: Yeah. I started singing a song that I’d never heard before.

SCOTT: What was the song?

ED: It was a new song. I just started singing it. It was just, 'Here it is!' I started singing the chorus to a song I wound up writing later on that day.

SCOTT: What are the lyrics?

ED: 'He lives. He said He could. He lives. He said He would. He lives. He said we should believe in Him. If we have faith with Him, there is a place through Him. We have grace because He lives.'

SCOTT: And this was just there?

ED: Yeah, it just came out.

SCOTT: What did you do with that?

ED: I came to the house and got my guitar.

SCOTT: Start writing? I mean, now you’re hearing voices. This is significant. What did it do to you subsequently within the next few hours or days?

ED: I haven’t been the same since then. I have not been the same since then.

SCOTT: Do you consider this a real encounter with God?

ED: Yes sir, buddy!

SCOTT: It has changed your life?

ED: My life hasn’t been the same since then. It’s changed the way I live, the way I try to live. It’s changed the way I feel about my wife. It’s changed our relationship.

SCOTT (reporting): At that simple moment in the field with Jesus Christ, Ed became a new man.

ED: I can’t tell you how happy I am now, how thrilled I am to be here, to be living out here, to be with Judith. I tell people all the time that I’ve got Jesus and Judith. That’s all I need. I start each day brand new with a certain sense of excitement. What are God and I going to get done today? Every day is a new experience like that. I thank God every day for every day. I thank God for my wife Judith. I thank Him for this day, thank Him for each other. I pray a lot more. It’s not necessarily praying. It's just talking to God. I’m not comfortable if I don’t! I do it at night. I’ll do it in the day. I’ll get up in the morning and pray, 'Thanks for the day. Let me use it well,' just little things like that.

SCOTT: Did it change your songwriting? The scripts you choose? The work you do?

ED: As far as the scripts are concerned, I’ve always been a little bit selective about that. There were certain things I wouldn’t do. I mean, I’ve got kids and grand kids, and there are things I wouldn’t do then or now, either one. I don’t know that it affects that so much. Recently I read for something. I did not read the script exactly what it said because I did not want to use the language it used. I didn’t get the part either.

SCOTT: As a songwriter, you appreciate Kris Kristofferson, his writing 'Why Me, Lord?' which is a real classic. Do you ever ask the question, 'Why me Lord? Why me in the back of this pasture on my tractor and cleaning out some brush and --BAM!--that moment in time He comes and says, 'Ed Bruce'?

ED: Well, no I didn’t.

SCOTT: You didn’t question it? You accepted it?

ED: Yeah. I say that our God is a patient Father because I tried Him and He waited on me.

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