Big Bad John

Album: Greatest Hits (1961)
Charted: 2 1
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Songfacts®:

  • Jimmy Dean wrote this about fellow actor John Mentoe ("Destry Rides Again"), who was 6' 5" tall. According to Dean's roommate (at the time), the song was intended to be a joke.
  • Floyd Cramer ("Last Date") was hired to play the piano on the recording, but wound up hitting a chunk of steel with a hammer instead. It was Floyd's idea to make the switch.
  • In the US, this was a monster hit with tremendous crossover appeal. Not only did it top the Hot 100 for five weeks, it was also #1 on the Country chart for two weeks, and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for 10 weeks. The next song to reach the top spot on all three charts was "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell in 1975.
  • Jimmy Dean went on to become famous for his line of sausage products. He also had his own TV series in the '50s and '60s.
  • The original ending of "At the bottom of this mine lies one hell of a man" was deemed too controversial. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    John - Bowie, MD
  • Dean wrote this on a flight from New York to Nashville when he realized he needed another song for his recording session.
  • This was the 100th #1 song of the Rock Era, defined by Billboard as beginning in July 1955, when "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets topped the US singles chart.

Comments: 31

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NySixty years ago today in 1961 {November 6th} "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean peaked at #1 {for 5 weeks} on Billboard's Top 100 chart, and it spent sixteen weeks on the Top 100...
    "Big Bad John" also reached #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles and Easy Listening charts...
    Between 1957 and 1976 the Olton, Texas native had ten records on the Top 100 chart, two made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, the above "Big Bad John"
    Besides "Big Bad John", his other Top 10 record was "P.T. 109", it peaked #8 for one week in May of 1962...
    He had four Top 30 records, "Dear Ivan" at #24 for two weeks in January of 1962, "The Cajun Queen" at #22 for one week in February of 1962, "To A Sleeping Beauty" at #26 for one week in February of 1962, and "Little Black Book" at #29 for one week in October of 1962...
    Jimmy Ray Dean passed away at the age of 81 on June 13th, 2010...
    May he R.I.P.
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of Billboard's Top 10 on November 6th, 1961:
    At #2. "Runaround Sue" by Dion {it was the #1 record for the previous two weeks}
    #3."Bristol Stomp" by The Dovells
    #4. "Hit The Road Jack" by Ray Charles
    #5. "Fool #1" by Brenda Lee (Decca)-6 (5)
    #6. "Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)" by Sue Thompson
    #7. "This Time" by Troy Shondell
    #8. "The Fly" by Chubby Checker
    #9. "I Love How You Love Me" by The Paris Sisters
    #10. "Tower of Strength" by Gene McDaniels
  • T Person from Here And NowI just heard big John on the radio and I turned it up and listened. I heard it when it first came out on the radio. Hearing it today, I'm like Those lyrics are to die for.

    They really tug at the heart strings. And I turned it up and listened to every word. And I wondered, after every verse where is this story going to go. How is he going to make it work. And who wrote this song. So I looked it up. Pretty incredible that Dean wrote it in two hours on an airplane before he got to the studio!

    I can imagine him racking his brain trying to finish it and then did a masterful job on the recitation.

    And I wondered did the back up singers know they were recording a masterpiece.

    Dean took a small detail from his own life and just went from there in true story teller fashion. Something you might tell around the campfire. Something we all could relate to.

    I wasn't thinking about it until just now but in the 80s I started this song called 'that's bullsh**.'

    It's about a guy who comes to town and when he speaks everyone agrees, that's bullsh**.

    He's a politician and he does a lot of talking and when they see him comin to town, they say 'that's Bullsh**t.'

    And there's a little 12-year-old boy who thinks that's his real name so one day the man is walking past the boy, who sees him and points at him and says, Bullsh**, bullsh**.

    The man gets mad when he hears this and grabs the kid by his ear most cruelly and 'says what did you call me boy?' And the boy says 'I didn't mean nothing wrong mister, that's the name I've heard you called, said bullsh**'.

    The man rears back to hit the child, when he hears a very deep powerful booming voice....BULLSH**! There's a crowd by now and they all kind of gasp.

    The man says, 'what did you ...' and wheels around and finds himself looking up at an enormous Big John type.

    His voice trails off 'call mmmme...' The cowardly politician then slinks off, very timidly.

    And the whole town gets into it ' we've had enough of this bullsh** no more bullsh**!

    And word gets around all the neighbors and the town...The whole world agrees... 'That's Bullsh**, no more bullsh*t.

    And the man can't show his face anymore anywhere without someone saying, that's bullshi**

    I don't have time to do it proper ..

    But if anyone can make a hit out of this don't forget me. T. Paige. #1 in search engines for my songs. Plug plug.

    You heard it here first...No Bullsh**
  • Mary KowalskiWasn't the last line of Big Bad John ORIGINALLY "At the bottom of this mine lies ONE HELL OF A MAN" . . .?
  • Oregon Steve from OregonTo Santa Fe Mick: Excuse me, but Jimmy wrote the song, and his ending was "one hell of a man". Read his epitaph on his grave stone. It was censors who swooped in and forced him, after it was first released, to re-record it with "big big man". I remember thinking as a 12-year-old, listening to rock-and-roll radio under the covers of my bed so my parents wouldn't hear, that the change was a sorry piece of s___.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrMy sweet love, Johnny thinks this song takes place inside of a volcano! I told him, "No, Captain, it was a mine! Volcanos are usually in a mountain. Mines are a pit in the ground!".
  • Mick from Santa FeThe ending "one hell of a man" misses the point of the song entirely. The title is Big, Bad John, therefore the "...big, big man" ending emphasizes the fact that he was big in the physical sense, but bigger in the moral sense in that he gave his life to save others. Thus he was a BIG, big man. Get it?
  • Coy from Palestine, TexasJimmy Dean had a popular Television Show in the 60's which featured many country performers and helped broaden the appeal of country music. Dean was instrumental in making country music more popular. His TV show featured 'Rowlf' the Dog, one of Jim Henson's first muppets. Henson and Frank Oz did 'Rowlf' who became popular on dog food commercials. But Dean's interaction and singing with Rowlf was brilliant and a highlight of each of his TV shows. Jim Henson later offered Dean 40% of the muppets for helping make him famous, but Dean turned Henson down and told him, "never sell your talent". Henson was forever grateful to Dean. Dean also helped launch the career of Roy Clark and Patsy Cline. He was a wonderful singer, when he wanted to he could croon like Perry Como, but Big Bad John made Dean famous for his recital songs.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 2nd 1961, Jimmy Dean was one of the acts* to appear in concert at the Birmingham Armory in Birmingham, Alabama...
    At the time his "Big Bad John" was in its fourth of five weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart {See next post below}...
    * Two other acts that appeared at the concert were Johnny Burnette and Johnny Tillotson; Mr. Burnette's "God, Country, and My Baby" was at #25 on the Top 100 and Mr. Tillotson's "Dreamy Eyes" was at #118 on Billboard's Bubbling Under chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 5th 1961, Jimmy Dean performed "Big Bad John" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    At the time the song was in its second week at #3 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the very next day it peaked at #1, was in the top spot for the next 5 weeks...
    And on November 14th, 1961 it reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    Between 1952 and 1983 he had twenty-five records make the Hot Country Singles chart; with nine making the Top 10 with two reaching #1, his other #1 record was "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (and the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)", it reached the top spot {for 2 weeks} on August 1st, 1965...
    R.I.P. Jimmy Ray Dean {1928 - 2010}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 4th, 1961, "Small Sad Sam" by Phil McLean entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eventually it peaked at #21 and stayed on the Top 100 for 10 weeks (its on You Tube)...
    R.I.P. Mr. McLean (1923 - 1993) and Mr. Dean (1928 - 2010).
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn the early 1960s Floyd Cramer had three consecutive Top 10 instrumental hits; "LAST DATE" was #2 for 4 weeks, then "ON THE REBOUND" peaked at #4, and finally "SAN ANTONIO ROSE" reached #8!!!
  • Camille from Toronto, OhImo, the song has a more effective ending with the lyrics "big, big man" rather than "one hell of a man". By the end of the story, the word takes on more meaning than just the fact that John was a man of considerable girth (lyrics say "he stood six foot six and weighed two forty five; kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip"). So not only was he a physically large man, but his actions, which saved twenty men's lives(at the cost of his own), added another dimension to the persona of this "big man".
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThis song won Jimmy Dean a Grammy. It took him less than 2 hours to write it. Dean was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2010.
  • Tony from Eugene, OrI was cooking up some sausage this morning, and this song came to mind. Songs like this one(especially Tennesee Ernie Ford's mining songs) instantly transport me back to my boyhood. A true classic. I see it as a great potential party sing-along song, as well.
  • Mike from Franklin County, PaSheb Wooley ( 1921 - 2003 ) did his own version of the song , changing the title and chorus line to "Big Sweet John" . .. He is known for writing the words and music to "Purple People Eater" ; a song he made up after his son told him a joke he learned at school ("What has one eye , one horn , flies and eat people ? A 'One - Eyed , One Horn , Flying Purple People Eater' " ).
  • Brad from Barry, TxIts 1962 sequel, "The Cajun Queen", describes the arrival of "Queenie", Big John's Cajun Queen, who rescues John from the mine and marries him. Eventually, they have "one hundred and ten grandchildren". The sequel's events are more exaggerated than the first, extending the story into the realm of tall tales.

    In June 1962, the story continued (and evidently concludes) with the arrival of "Little Bitty Big John", learning about his father's act of heroism.
  • Suzanne from Bay Point, CaMy uncle who is the man that inspired Jimmy Dean to write "Big Bad John",his last name is spelt wrong! His name is John MINTO not Mentoe!!!!!!!!!
    Suzanne Minto
  • Andy from Halesowen, West Midlands, United KingdomLater he recorded a sequel to this song called "The Cajun Queen" in which the woman John fought over in NOLA comes to the mine and finds John and they live "happily ever after".
  • Henry O. Godwinn from Wheeling, WvAnother classic song
  • Brian from Easton, MdJimmy Dean was also in the James Bond film "Diamonds are Forever"
  • Fay from Willow Spring, Nc08/20/07 This is very timely for todays events at the mine where 9 lives are now consider unable to be reach. May God give peace to the families of all involved.
  • Cheryl from Richmond, VaJimmy Dean now lives in Richmond, VA. He and his wife Donna live in a rural area just east of the city.
  • Pam from Bradenville, PaMy father John Molchan ran a continous miner at Harmarville,Pa, just outside Pittsburgh. On Sept 25,1961 he died saving his crew. Just as the song says. Thank-you Jimmy for (without knowing) honoring my father. We will always believe that the song was written for him, no matter what the truth is.
  • Mark from Lancaster, OhTo Annabelle of Eugene, Oregon: Don't be offended. The song celebrates a big man who saved his buddies in a mine disaster at the cost of his own life.

    The song says that they never re-opened that worthless pit, but placed a marble stand in front of it, leaving Big John entombed. But that's not what happens. Miners, alive or otherwise, are always recovered from mines, because there is always a chance that the fellow still lives.

    I love the story of Floyd Cramer and the hammer.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesThis returned the UK Top 20 in 1990, twenty-nine years after it's original release, when it was used in a popular commercial for Domestos bleach, in which the bleach bottle came to life and dressed up as a detective. In the commercial itself, the line "Big Bad John" was changed to "Big Bad Dom", but the original lyric was kept on the single, which was a remixed version of the 1961 original
  • Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaMost radio stations played a "censored" version which replaced the controversial line, instead calling Big John a "big, big man."
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrMy boyfriend's name is John Hayes, and some guys call him Big Bad John. I don't know why they do this, but I see that as a hurtful comment about my boyfriend!
  • Tom from Alma, Galol. Some people are easily distracted. :)
  • Deana from Indianapolis, InWhat on earth does Buddy Holly have to do with this song?
  • Alex from Syracuse, NyBuddy Holly's cool
  • David from Lubbock, TxJimmy Dean hails from Plainview, Tex, just 50 miles North of Lubbock, hometown of Buddy Holly, Mac Davis and Natalie Maines(Dixie Chicks lead singer).
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