'Nashville Chrome'

By Rick Bass

The story of Country Music's Maxine Brown

Book Review by Susan MacDougall

(from the publicity) - Late in 1959, the Brown siblings--Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed -- were enjoying unprecedented international success, rivaled only by their longtime friend Elvis Presley. They had a bona fide megahit on their hands, which topped both the country and pop charts and gave rise to the polished sound of the multibillion dollar country music industry we know today.

Mesmerized by the Browns' haunting harmonies, the Beatles even tried to learn their secret. Their unique harmony, however, was only achievable through shared blood, and the trio's perfect pitch was honed by a childhood spent listening for the elusive pulse and tone of an impeccably tempered blade at their parent's Arkansas sawmill.

Nashville Chrome is a vivid evocation of an era in American music, while at its heart it is a wrenching meditation on the complexities of fame and of one family who experienced them firsthand.

EIN contributor Susan MacDougall checks out this 2010 publication

Please note that Jim Ed Brown recently passed away on June 11 2015, a few weeks after this review was published. See Jim Ed Brown Obit below -

Publishing details: Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass, Houghton Mufflin Harcourt, Boston, 2010.

272 pages - note that unfortunately the book features - No illustrations, no table of contents, no index.

This year, back in March 2015, it was announced that The Browns would be inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Browns were an American country trio best known for their 1959 hit, 'The Three Bells'.
Jim Ed Brown and The Browns, who toured will Elvis (shown right), will be inducted into the "Veterans Era Artist" category. The Country Music Hall of Fame recognizes them for their outstanding contribution with Country Music's highest honor.
"Today is an overwhelming day not just for me, but for the Brown family” said Jim Ed Brown. “Receiving this honor with my sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, is something I had dreamed about for years, but never knew if it would happen or not. Fame is fleeting but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever."

With immaculate timing, EIN contributor Susan McDougall reviews the 2010 publication 'Nashville Chrome' about this fascinating group.  


Does anyone remember the successful country singers The Brown Trio? Those of us oldies who listened to Top Of the Pops in the 1950s surely recall their song "The Three Bells/Little Jimmy Brown". I do.

The Brown Trio consisted of Maxine, Bonnie and Jim Ed Brown. The family led a precarious existence in the years following the Great Depression. Their parents alternated between running restaurants that burned down and a saw mill on the edge of the forest in Arkansas, where family members and workers lost fingers, limbs and even lives to the saw blades. The children were attuned to the hum and resonance of the blades, using their unique musical talent to assess the tone and readiness of well-tempered saw blades for cutting timber.

Nashville Chrome is about Maxine Brown, the leader of the Trio and main songwriter, and her inability to adjust to life once fame and adulation was over. Her story is also interlaced with mention of the singers of the era, including Elvis Presley, with whom younger sister Bonnie had a relationship for a while.

The book is divided into short chapters, set during Maxine’s later years, when she reminisces about the past and continually hopes to make a comeback. The chapters jump between the present and the past at different stages of her life. In the present, she has physical ailments, can’t climb the stairs, and uses a walker. For several decades after music moved on and the Trio lost its popularity, Maxine was a heavy drinker. At one point she went to New York to meet with RCA, who had already rejected her by mail. A junior employee told her "You’re yesterday’s news. We’re done with you. You’re old hat". She returned home to drink more heavily. Eventually AA helped her give up. Now she wishes to stay free of the alcohol haze in order to be ready to pick up a singing career when the opportunity occurs.

Maxine spends a lonely, circumscribed life, still driving every so often to the local grocery store Piggly Wiggly, but with diminished eyesight and driving ability. Her children rarely visit; she had put ambition first and was often away on tour while they were small, so there was no close family bonding. Her disastrous marriage to Tommy Russell had ended in divorce. The nearest thing to a friend is a neighbourhood dog, Buddy, who stops by every morning for a snack.

All is not gloom: her constant ambition to be on the "silver screen" comes true in a small way when a twelve-year old boy videos her and her story for a school project. Has it now been shown to a wider audience?

Elvis used to come and listen to their music in the Trio Club restaurant run by the Brown parents, Floyd and Birdie. Sometimes the three Brown children would tour with Elvis, wandering to clubs to play for fun and for free.

In 1956, the Brown Trio was as big as Elvis, having won every major award in country music. They were neck and neck with him in the charts. Audiences gradually changed, crossing from country music to pop and rock-and-roll. Elvis became busy touring, but dropped in to see the Browns, and Bonnie in particular, in the Trio Club. He and Bonnie went on picnics together. Elvis could get away from reporters and publicity, relax and be himself. Jim Ed’s draft into the army adversely affected the Trio’s performances, while Elvis’s entry into the army did not preclude records from being released.

Chet Atkins with Maxine Brown, Bonnie Brown, and Jim Ed Brown in the recording studio

Musing on the annual August commemoration of Elvis’s death, Maxine considers that the Brown Trio blazed the trail and that Elvis partly owed his fame and success to them, although it wasn’t acknowledged by him. Various singers had visited the Trio Club and heard the Brown Trio sing, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline and Buddy Holly. The early Beatles visited the Browns to get ideas for improving their harmonies. Maxine feels that nobody knew the "real" Elvis as well as they did, and that fame had affected him for the worse.

Bass claims that in this book he was attempting to portray the emotional truths of the Brown Trio’s journey, rather than providing true-life details, precise dates and events. Fair enough. But there could be a problem of credibility if historical facts have been changed too much.

For instance, in the chapter "Borrowing the oldsmobile" (p. 150-156), the story goes that Elvis was recently back from the army and his car had broken down outside Shreveport. As he was due in Nashville the following day, he asked to borrow the Brown family’s car. Floyd and Bonnie drove in two cars to lend him Floyd’s oldsmobile. When eventually returned, the new car arrived battered, scratched and dirty, tyres with little remaining tread, having run up 30,000 miles on the odometer, and without any apology from Elvis.

The oldsmobile story was presumably included to illustrate how Elvis was drifting away and becoming corrupted by fame. But in the reference book 'Elvis Day by Day' Elvis is down as borrowing the family car in March 1955 in order to tour in Texas, well before he went into the army (unless he borrowed a car on two different occasions!) and before he was catapulted into fame.

There are some parallels between Maxine and Elvis. Both were adversely affected by fame and adulation.

Both became isolated and lonely people, Maxine caught in the trap of waiting daily for a comeback due to her own psychological need for an audience, unable to accept that the Brown Trio’s music had had its day;

Elvis was caught in the trap of audience expectations and the controlling influences around him.

The Brown Trio managed to escape from shocking exploitation by unscrupulous manager Fabor Robinson, their treatment far worse than that meted out to Elvis by "Col." Tom Parker. At least Parker made Elvis wealthy. The Browns had to sleep in their car while touring and received very little in payment.



The book raises another issue. How can the Browns be sure that they are the only ones who ever knew the "real" Elvis, by which they mean the "young" Elvis? What about the spiritual Elvis? What about the caring, generous Elvis? What about the non-racist Elvis? Elvis was a multi-faceted, deep person. The superficial image presented to the world was never the "real" Elvis. As Elvis said himself during a 1992 press interview, "The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way".

Another quote by Elvis: "To judge a man by his weakest link or deed is like judging the power of the ocean by one wave" (handwritten message on Elvis's King James Bible).

Nashville Chrome is well written grammatically and stylistically, easy to read and holds the reader’s interest. Maxine’s character is portrayed empathetically, even though her failure to come to terms with her situation could become a little irritating.

Overall Verdict: Nashville Chrome is well worth reading particularly for fans who know little of the connection between the group and the young Elvis. For readers who want to know more about the group, some of the their songs are up on Youtube. They are old enough now to be vintage and interesting again. They have an important place in the history of country music.

Review by Susan MacDougall.
-Copyright EIN May 2015 - DO NOT COPY -
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

Comment on this review

June 11 - 2015 - Jim Ed Brown, Country Singer, Dead at 81: Jim Ed Brown, a Grand Ole Opry star whose smooth, sweet baritone made him a chart-topper as a solo act and as one third of the close-harmony group the Browns, whose 1959 hit “The Three Bells” sold more than a million records, died on Thursday in Franklin, Tenn. He was 81. The cause was lung cancer.
Mr. Brown (left in the photo) and the other members of the Browns — his sisters Maxine and Bonnie — were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in March.
With the runaway success of “The Three Bells,” and the growing popularity of folk music, RCA packaged the Browns as a clean-cut country-folk act. After recording the solid crossover hits “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair),” “The Old Lamplighter” and “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On,” they were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1963.
Both sisters, Maxine Brown and Bonnie Ring, survive Mr. Brown, who lived in Brentwood, Tenn. The Browns disbanded in 1967, but over the next decade Mr. Brown reached the country Top 10 with “Morning,” “Southern Loving,” and “It’s That Time of Night,” all in the suave Nashville style of the time.
A week before Mr. Brown died, Opry officials took the Country Music Hall of Fame medallion to his hospital room and placed it around his neck.
Jim ED Brown said: ‘I had about convinced myself that even if I don’t make the Hall of Fame, I’ve had a pretty good run. But to wear this medallion and know that I made it to the Hall of Fame makes it perfect.’ ”

Please click HERE to check out The Browns performing on The Grand Ole Opry via YouTube


Comment on this review

Read more of Susan MacDougall's book reviews

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.



















































Did You Miss these Popular Interviews?
Shirley Dieu, author of Memphis Mafia Princess, talks to EIN:
Interview With Elvis author - : Gillian G. Gaar
Interview with Dick Grob, Elvis' Head Of Security:
Interview with 'Elvis Films FAQ' author Paul Simpson:
Elvis Music FAQ - Mike Eder Interview:
"My Fast Life" Rare Elvis Presley 1964 Interview:
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
John Wilkinson Tribute & 1972 Interview:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - Arjan Deelen Interview:
RIP - Bernard Lansky talks to EIN:
Allyson Adams 'The Rebel and The King' Interview: 
Joseph A. Tunzi
David Stanley (2012)
Vernon Presley Interview:
EIN interviews John Scheinfeld director of  'Fame & Fortune'
Jerry Leiber Interview for EIN
Elvis Paradise Hawaiian Interview - with Peter Noone
Sam Thompson, Elvis' bodyguard, 2011 Interview
James Burton Interview - Rick Nelson & Elvis:
Elvis Drummer Jerome "Stump" Monroe EIN Interview:
Donnie Sumner Remembers his friend Sherrill Nielsen: 
Lamar Fike EIN Exclusive Interview
Jamie Aaron Kelley - EIN Interview:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
D.J Fontana Interview - Elvis Week 2010 special: 
Red West Interview:- 2010 Elvis week special
Linda Thompson - Interview Special:
Elvis in 1969 - Ann Moses & Ray Connolly Interviews:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'On Stage' and Elvis' Legacy in 2010:
Paul Lichter
Dr. Nick talks to EIN
Alanna Nash
Ernst Jorgensen (2009)
Joseph Pirzada
Jeanne LeMay Dumas
Larry Geller
Mac Davis
Roger Semon
Ernst Jorgensen
Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns)
Did You Miss these Popular EIN articles
Wertheimer's Reaction To Finding The 'Mystery Kisser':
UPDATED - 'Elvis Madison 1977 - The Gas Station Incident' with Kathy Westmoreland:
"If You're Going To Start A Rumble" -The Importance of Fights In Elvis Movies:
ELVIS WEEK 2014 - EIN exclusive Sanja Meegin reports:
'Big Boss Man: What Kind of Technical Advice Did Parker Provide for Elvis’s Movies?':
FTD - What now, What next, Where to – What’s left?:
JAZZWORLD - Music vs. Elvis Presley.
UPDATED - 'American Studios 1969 - A Turning Point In History':
'ELVIS AT 21' Exhibtion
Elvis' Personal Record Collection:
'The Nation's Favourite Elvis Song' Spotlight
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
Fourteen Key Elvis Singles:
Happy Birthday EIN EIN turns 100 – a retrospective!:
Elvis Week Through The Years - Sanja Meegin looks back:
'The Wedding' Elvis & Priscilla EIN special Spotlight:
John Lennon And Elvis: It was "Thirty Years Ago Today"
Elvis or Michael Jackson - who is the bigger star?
Dark Side of the Colonel
Elvis And The Vocal Group Tradition:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive
Elvis at Madison Square Garden 40 Years Ago
'The Wedding' Elvis & Priscilla EIN special Spotlight:
'Elvis In Ottawa' Spotlight & Elvis Interview:
"Kissed By Elvis" Janet Fulton Interview:
'1956, Elvis Presley’s Pivotal Year':
'Elvis In Concert' 1977 TV special; Should it be released officially?
Did you miss these Reviews
(Book Review): CHANNELING ELVIS How Television Saved the King of Rock 'n' Roll:
(Book Review) Elvis and Ginger:
‘Final Countdown To Midnight' jewel-case Versions Review:
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 8' Review:
(Book Review) Memphis Mafia Princess:
'Final Countdown To Midnight' NYE 1976 - in-depth Review:
'ELVIS' FTD Classic Album Review:
(Book Review) 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:
'Elvis-The King Of The Jungle' In-Depth Book Review:
(Book Review): Elvis' Favorite Director: Norman Taurog:
'ELVIS AT 21' Exhibition Review:
'Elvis Music FAQ' - Book Review:
'Elvis Films FAQ' Book Review:
'The On Stage Season' FTD In-Depth Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 6 1971-1973'  Book Review:
'Love Me Tender' Blu-Ray Edition Review:
'Houston We Have A Problem' - CD review:
‘Elvis At Stax’ [Deluxe] Reviews:
‘The King Revealed’ Magazine Review:
'Hot August Night' FTD CD Review:
'Elvis - Aloha Via Satellite: A 40th Anniv Release' Book Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 1 1953-56' In Depth Book Review:
'Aloha From Hawaii' 40th Anniv LEGACY CD Review:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive Review:
‘Elvis On Tour’ E-book Review - with Great jumpsuit photos-
'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' FTD In-Depth Review:
'Prince From Another Planet’ In-Depth Review:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - EIN Review:
‘Greatest Live Hits of the 50s’ MRS CD Review: 
Once Upon A Time: Elvis and Anita (Memories of My Mother) - Book Review:
'A Boy From Tupelo' special In-depth Review:
Bootleg Elvis (Book Review)
'G.I.Blues Vol.1' FTD Soundtrack - CD review:
'From Hawaii to Las Vegas' FTD CD Review:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
'48 Hours To Memphis' FTD CD Review:
'Young Man with the Big Beat' In-Depth Review:
'Fashion For A King' FTD in-depth Review:
"ReBooked At The International'- in-depth Review:
'Stage Rehearsal' FTD Review:
Best of Elvis on YouTube
Graceland cam
EPE's Multimedia Elvis Gallery
Sirius Elvis Satellite Radio
Elvis Radio (ETA's)
Elvis Express Radio
Ultimate Elvis Radio
Elvis Only Radio
"Images in Concert" PhotoDatabase
Radio Interview: Vernon & Gladys Presley
Sanja's Elvis Week 2007 Photo Gallery
'EIN's Best of Elvis on YouTube'
The Music of Elvis Presley - Australian Radio Show
All about Elvis
All about Elvis Tribute Artists
All about Graceland
All about Lisa Marie Presley
Ancestors of Elvis
Art Archives
Book Releases 2009
Contact List
Elvis and Racism
Elvis as Religion
Elvis CDs in 2007
Elvis DVDs in 2006
Elvis Film Guide
'2007 New Releases'
Elvis Presley In Concert "downunder" 2006
Elvis Online Virtual Library
Elvis Research Forum
Elvis Rules on Television
Graceland - The National Historic Landmark
How & where do I sell my Elvis collection?
Is Elvis the best selling artist?
Links to Elvis' family & friends
Links to other Elvis sites
Marty's Musings
Online Elvis Symposium
Parkes Elvis Festival 2009 (Australia)
Presley Law legal archives (Preslaw)
Presleys In The Press
Sale of EPE (Archives)
6th Annual Elvis Website Survey
Spotlight on The King
"Wikipedia" Elvis biography