Sunday, November 6, 2011

50 years ago: Jimmy Dean hit #1 with “Big Bad John”

Big Bad John

Jimmy Dean

Writer(s): Roy Acuff, Jimmy Dean (see lyrics here)

First Charted: October 2, 1961

Peak: 15 US, 15 CB, 16 HR, 110 AC, 12 CW, 2 UK, 11 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 32.41 video, 18.84 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Big Bad John” tells a sort of American folklore tale in the vein of Paul Bunyan or John Henry about a “mysterious and quiet miner who earned the nickname Big John because of his height, weight, and muscular physique.” WK When a support timber cracked at the mine, John held the passage open while 20 men escaped. The mine collapsed, leaving John to die. WK

Jimmy Dean wrote it in an hour-and-a-half while on a plane heading to Nashville for a recording session. As he said, “At that time you recorded four sides a session. I had to do something. I had worked with a guy in summer stock named John Mentoe. He was six-foot-five and skinny as a rail…I used to call him Big John. It had a powerful ring to it. So I put him in a mine and killed him on a plane going to Nashville.” FB

The song proved fortunate for Dean as Columbia Records was ready to drop him. The legal department hadn’t renewed his contract because his records weren’t selling, but A&R didn’t know and released the single “I Won’t Go Huntin’ with You Jake, But I’ll Go Chasin’ Women” with “Big Bad John” as the B-side. When DJ’s took to the B-side, the song became a hit and suddenly Dean found himself in a much better negotiating place for a new contract. FB

“Big Bad John” proved to be a massive crossover success, hitting #1 on Billboard’s pop, country, and adult contemporary charts. The feat wasn’t achieved again until Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” in 1975. SF It won the Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording and was nominated for Song of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Jimmy Dean
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 100.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 3/13/2021; last updated 11/4/2021.

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