“Nashville Chrome” by Rick Bass – The Story of The Browns

“Nashville Chrome” by Rick Bass (2010) – 253 pages

“Nashville Chrome” is the fictionalized story of the real music group the Browns.  The Browns were a brother and sisters act from southern Arkansas consisting of Maxine, Jim Ed, and Bonnie Brown who were popular in the Fifties and Sixties.  Before reading the rest of this article, you may want to listen to and watch the Browns sing their 1959 worldwide number one hit “The Three Bells” .  Much later the Browns found out that “The Three Bells” was one of John Lennon’s favorite songs and that he was actually playing “The Three Bells” in his studio the day he was killed.   

 I first discovered the Browns a few years ago and own their greatest hits album.   I particularly enjoy music with three part vocal harmony whether it is sung by the Hollies, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, or the Browns.  The idea of a novel about the Browns intrigued me. 

The Browns’ story starts in the early Fifties in the backwoods of southern Arkansas where the family is trying to make a go of it, their father running a sawmill.  The father drinks a bit too much, the mother holds the family together.  Whenever people got together, making music was always a part of the party.  The three oldest kids soon wind up in the music business.  Being from the backwoods, they sign up with a manager who is pretty much a crook.  The Browns had some early songs during that time which went to the top of the country charts and were popular all over the United States, yet this manager gave them next to nothing, keeping all the money for himself. 

In order to support their records during these early years, they travelled to the live shows such as the Louisiana Hayride, the Ozark Jubilee, and the Grand Ole Opry.   There was another young fellow from neighboring northern Mississippi who was trying to make a name for himself in the music business.  His name was Elvis Presley.  Elvis soon became close friends with the entire Brown family, Bonnie becoming Elvis’ girlfriend.  In the novel we see close at hand the transformation of Elvis from unspoiled country boy to superstar.  One particularly interesting story in “Nashville Chrome” occurs in the late Fifties when Elvis was already a big star.  Elvis and his band had some car trouble down in Louisiana and called up the Browns to get some help.  When the Browns got there, they saw that Elvis and the band were drunk, so the Browns drove them back to their place to sober them up.  After they had recovered, Elvis needed to get back to Nashville quick, so the Browns’ father lent him the family car to drive to Nashville.  At that point Elvis must have got busy and forgot about the car, because he didn’t return the car for two months.

According to the book, Bonnie broke off her relationship with Elvis, not the other way around.  Later Bonnie did make a very fortunate choice in husbands. 

 “Nashville Chrome” is as much about not being famous anymore as it is about having fame in the first place.  Most music stars at some point lose their popularity, and what do they do then?   In some ways the Browns were lucky, because they all survived; they are still alive today. 

As you can see, I was fascinated with the details of this story of the Browns.  I’m not going to try to do a literary critique of this novel except to say that it held my interest throughout.   

 If you want to find out more about the Browns, see a great early picture of the Browns with Elvis, and watch the excellent video “I Was Looking Back”, you can visit the Maxine Brown site.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. This is great, I would love hearing from you personally. Thank you for writing Rick Bass’s story of The Browns. I am promoting his book, Nashville Chrome on my website. I hope you will click onto the above. Thanks once again, Maxinie Brown

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  2. Great Story, I left a comment, hope you got it. I am proud of Rick Bass for writing a story about the Lives of The Browns. Thanks to you for this excellent article. Maxine Brown

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    • Hi Maxine Brown,
      Maxine Brown! This is indeed an honor. I particularly love the video of you and Jim Ed singing “Looking Back to See”.
      “I was looking back to see
      If you were looking back to see
      If I was looking back to see
      If you were looking back at me.”
      I believe you wrote that song as well as some others of the early songs. Those early songs happen to be my favorites.
      Thank you for making this wonderful music!

      PS. If others would like to see Maxine and Jim Ed singing “Looking Back To See”, either go to Maxine Brown’s website, http://themaxinebrown.com/ or to YouTube.

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  3. Posted by Gene Ring on October 21, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    II thought the book, l oosly based on The Browns was very interesting. If you didn’t know much about them, you might enjoy it more. However, I know all about them, and some parts are Way Out There.

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    • Hi Gene,
      I must admit I knew little or nothing about the Browns before reading “Nashville Chrome”. I just enjoyed listening to their music and watching them sing. That “Way Out There” sounds interesting.

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  4. Posted by Monte Railsback on October 21, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    I have yet to buy the book Nashville Chrome but it is on my “to do” list because as far as I am concerned, the Brown Family is the First Family of Country Music. My first connection with Maxine Brown goes back to 1969 when I was with a group of Marines up by the DMZ in Vietnam and through a lstSgt who knew her she sent us her album “Sugar Cane County”. Whenever we could, we played that album as we never had the large USO shows visit us due to our proximity to the DMZ. Ever since that time I have tried to contact her and thank her for her kindness in providing the album and some good entertainment during our tour in Vietnam. Thanks to the Bill Mack Show I was able to find a way to contact Maxine and I can tell you that she is one of the most precious ladies I have ever gotten to know as she has never forgotten the little people. I am so happy that her album as gotten a new lease on life and as I told Maxine, “Sugar Cane County” has served in combat.

    MSgt Monte L. Railsback, USMC(Ret)

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    • Hi Monte,
      Thank you for your fascinating comments. You have convinced me to buy the Maxine Brown album ‘Sugar Cane County’. I had heard good things about the album, and it’s great that it’s making a comeback. That is a fine story you relate.

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