On August 10, 1959, Elvis Presley’s “Big Hunk O’ Love” dominated the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart. However, this reign was short-lived as “The Three Bells” by The Browns took over. This event marked a significant moment in the career of the country trio from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In her memoir, “Looking Back to See,” Maxine Brown, along with her siblings Jim Ed and Bonnie, reflects on the excitement and camaraderie they shared with Elvis during their rise to fame.
A Personal Connection
The Browns never saw themselves as rivals to Elvis in the music industry of the 1950s. Instead, they had a personal relationship with him, solidified by their common struggle to build their musical careers. Both Elvis and The Browns recorded their first chart records in 1954 and often performed together in Southern venues. It was through music that they transcended their humble beginnings and reached for the stars.
Maxine’s memoir is a true testament to the country music lifestyle, filled with tales of their humble origins, close-knit family ties, personal triumphs, and setbacks. She captures the essence of the early career of the man who would become the greatest entertainer of his time.
An Impression That Lasts
Maxine vividly describes her initial impression of Elvis, highlighting his slender physique, wavy hair, deep-staring eyes, and most importantly, his mesmerizing charm. She recounts how The Browns, along with their manager Tom Perryman, played a role in helping Elvis secure a spot on the famed Louisiana Hayride show. This opportunity proved to be a turning point in Elvis’s career, and the rest is history.
A Rollercoaster Ride
Maxine paints a colorful picture of the time they spent on the road with Elvis, describing his down-to-earth nature and his ability to balance his shy, sensitive side with his wild and mischievous antics. She dismisses the assumptions made by Presley’s biographers, emphasizing that to truly understand Elvis, one had to experience the daily grind of life on tour by his side.
Maxine fondly reminisces about the talent that surrounded them, including musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black, who backed both Elvis and The Browns during their tours. She also reveals the wild antics that often occurred when musicians let loose after being on the road for months, attracting admirers who were eager to party with the stars.
Love and Loyalty
Elvis’s charisma extended beyond the stage, as Maxine unveils a love story between her sister Bonnie and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. She narrates how the two fell head over heels for each other and even planned to marry at one point. However, the realities of life with a music star soon became apparent to Bonnie, and she made the difficult decision to end their relationship. Despite the heartbreak, Maxine maintains that the bond between Elvis and her family remained strong.
Ships Passing in the Night
As time passed, Elvis’s path diverged from that of The Browns. It wasn’t until over a year later that they crossed paths again, when Elvis visited their hometown of Pine Bluff on his way to his final appearance on the Louisiana Hayride. The encounter served as a chance for Elvis to reconnect with his roots before embarking on the monumental transformation that would define his career.
In 1957, The Browns took up Elvis’s invitation to visit him at Graceland. Maxine sensed a certain guilt within Elvis, as he struggled to reconcile his sudden success and the material wealth that accompanied it. She speculates that this internal battle may have driven him to excesses that eventually took a toll on his life.
An Enduring Legacy
Maxine’s memoir sheds light on the significant influence of country music on Elvis’s formative years. It becomes clear that the values expressed in country music lyrics and hymns resonated deeply with him. Maxine shares intimate moments of late-night hymn-singing sessions with Elvis, revealing his desire to establish himself as a gospel artist—a dream he shared with his mother. She suggests that Elvis’s debt to country music and its spiritual underpinnings is far greater than commonly acknowledged.
All in all, Maxine Brown’s captivating account of her family’s relationship with Elvis in the mid-1950s provides valuable insights into the extraordinary life of the legendary entertainer.
To learn more about Elvis Presley and his musical journey, check out All About Elvis.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is based on the original text by Alan Hanson, with modifications made to align with the guidelines and requirements given above.