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Catching up with Jim Ed Brown

"After you reach a certain age, radio stops playing your records," says Jim Ed Brown matter-of-factly in his familiar, easygoing baritone. "If you can't get on the radio, there's no need to make a CD."

There was a time when radio couldn't get enough of Jim Ed – he scored 22 Top 20s between 1965 and 1981, including smashes like "Fools," "Lying in Love With You" and "Pop a Top."

And Jim Ed's musical history stretches back even farther than his own hits. The Browns – Jim Ed and sisters Maxine and Bonnie – were one of the biggest singing groups in America in the late 1950s, crossing over from country to pop before the term "crossover" had even been invented. In 1959, their 10-week country No.1 "the Bells" hit the top of the pop chart.

Today, despite his frustrations with the current country scene, 69-year-old Jim Ed still loves music and enjoys performing. He makes regular appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and will soon reunite with his sisters for a series of performances. But he doesn't plan to make a new record anytime soon – not that he doesn't want to.

"I have enough ego to think I could compete with the youngsters, if I could get the music out," he admits. "But as you get older, some of the fight goes out of you. The country audience is still loyal, but you're only as hot as your last recording."

Jim Ed notes that he's recently made a gospel album with frequent duet partner Helen Cornelius, with whom he shared the 1976 No.1 "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." But it hasn't been released, he says, because "the major labels don't want to buy it."

In any case, Jim Ed has other ways to occupy himself – like spending quality time in the kitchen. "I stick to basic American cooking," he explains. "Cakes, pies, steak and maybe a bit of salmon with a honey glaze. I think the main flavor in a good steak is in the sauce, and a big part of a good sauce is using fresh herbs – so I have an herb garden out back."

Jim Ed's love of cooking, like his love of music, always comes back to his family. "My mother ran a restaurant we had back in the days of The Browns, and I guess we worked her to death, but she left me her cookbook," he says. "I tell people I like exotic food – beans, potatoes and corn bread!"