The Seventh Son
Besides my own research, this piece is based on an interview with Mr. Eddie Dean, conducted in 1988 by my dear friend, the late Hank Penny, at my request. The above photo was taken by my wife on August 16, 1987 (note Eddie's custom-built guitar).
Don't you think that 'The Seventh Son' would make a good western movie title ? Well, Eddie Dean really was the 7th son of the 7th son of a 7th son and he did play in more musical westerns than we'll ever remember !! Even if those movies are a bit dated now, they remain an integral part of the Country music scene of the '30s, '40s and well into the '50s.
was born on July 9th, 1907 in Posey (Texas), a small town north of Sulphur Springs.
His father was from Alabama while his mother originated from Tennessee. She
used to tell him "You're gonna amount to something" and he did just that --
but he truly earned it.
He was reared on a ranch where they raised cotton, barley, corn, wheat as well as horses and mules ; his love for music began when he went to music school ('two weeks every summer'). While in high school, he sang in a quartet with two of his brothers, Virgil and Jimmie. Thanks to John R. May from Grayson, Louisiana, who unearthed the beautiful poster at left, we can safely affirm that Eddie once was even part of a Gospel Quartet led by one Otis Deaton (far left) in the Dallas area ; the other members were Henry Long (second from left) and Theo Casey (far right).
Brother Jimmie was 4 years older than Eddie and was at one time lead singer with Foy Willing & The Riders Of The Purple Sage. Eddie took Jimmie under his wing and they eventually teamed up as a duet.
However, they had trouble down home on the farm : they had no irrigation, so the crops depended on the weather ; it was a bad year and Eddie and his father lost something like $1000. Eddie then decided to go and see his eldest brother in Dallas in order to get a job and make some money ; he told Eddie to contact a fifth cousin who was working for the Dallas News.
For a short while, Eddie carried papers (he did that on foot, with a pile of papers stacked up on top of his head !) but he was soon to get into big trouble with Union men and found work in Austin at a machine shop.
Still, he was singing in schools and churches, so much so that he decided to go all the way up to Chicago, where the action was then (it was 1925 and many talents hoped for a spot on WLS and the famous 'National Barn Dance' radio show). It's hard to realize now how radio was important for Country music in those days.
Chicago, Eddie landed a job at WBBM and played floor shows (he learned how to
reach for the tables and get his tips) in places like the Triangle Café
(where Al Capone used to hang out !). He also met a tenor singer from Scotland,
Johnny Sloan, with whom he toured for a while (1926/1927). Eventually, they
got broke and Eddie went to Shenandoah, Iowa. At the time, as Hank Penny remembered,
the place was kinda like a frontier for Country music due to the powerful KMA
radio station to which Hank tuned in all the time while he was in Alabama. Eddie
recalled being paid $75 a week for his radio shows ... in gold coins (much later,
this would lead him to write a song called 'Save A Little, Spend A Little &
Give A Little Away').
Afterwards, Eddie Dean went to Yankton, South Dakota, working on WNAX. That's when he met his wife, Lorene, better known as Dearest Dean -- herself a good songwriter since she co-wrote several of Dean's best known tunes. They were a happy couple : 1999 marked their 69th year of marriage.
with his brother, Jimmie, Eddie toured extensively : Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa,
Kansas. They all settled down in Kansas for a couple of years ; Eddie and Dearest
had a daughter, then a son. Eddie and his brother worked on WIBW in Topeka before
going to Kansas City (where Perry Como lived, said Dean). They went back on
tour and stayed in Omaha, Nebraska ('two radio shows a day').
With a growing popularity, WLS now wanted Eddie Dean : thus, they headed back to Chicago where they spent quite some time -- and cut a session for Decca Records in 1934 (see Discography for more details ; source for the Decca sessions : Cary Ginell's superb book, 'Decca Hillbilly Discography-1927/1945', Greenwood Press, 1989).
At the beginning of the '40s, after flipping coins, Eddie opted for Hollywood, California rather than going to New-York. That's when he made the move into motion pictures but he had to struggle some more. About the time he arrived in Hollywood, he couldn't find work because of the famous 'Petrillo ban' (a union strike called by AFM president, James C. Petrillo, in August 1942) which lasted more than one year. Eddie backed up various singers on guitar for a mere $3 a night but managed to audition for Republic Pictures. Since he could ride a horse and memorize a full script, he was signed, at first doing bit parts. He appeared in several Tex Ritter films - including 'The Golden Trail'. At that time, Eddie became friendly with Pete Canova and Pete got him on the popular Judy Canova Show ('Judy had this radio show on CBS, down on Vine Street, at the old Columbia Playhouse'). Eddie also worked with Gene Autry & The Ranch Boys (Frankie Marvin, Johnny Bond, Dick Reinhart and others) : they played countless rodeo shows together.
passing of Eddie Dean on March 4, 1999, of heart and lung disease, in Thousand
Oaks, California, saddened me very much. I was fortunate enough to meet him
and hear him sing, live, songs such as 'I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly Heaven' (perhaps
his biggest hit, although fellow Tex Ritter had an even bigger one on that)
and 'Can't Help Falling In Love', which he did as a tribute to Elvis Presley.
He was a gifted, golden voiced singer and a real gentleman ; he was one of the last surviving singing cowboys of an already ancient era.
Paul Vidal * Privas, France * August 1999 - December 2006 - May 2014