Ed Bruce, ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ Songwriter, Dead at 81

Ed Bruce, the country singer-songwriter behind hits including “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” died Friday, January 8th in Clarksville, Tennessee, from natural causes, according to his publicist. He was 81.

William Edwin Bruce Jr. was born December 29th, 1939, in Keiser, Arkansas, and raised in nearby Memphis, Tennessee. That put him in close proximity to Sun Records engineer Jack Clement and owner Sam Phillips, who signed him at 17 to release the 1957 rockabilly side “Rock Boppin’ Baby.”

Bruce would later record with RCA and Wand/Scepter, but had some of his biggest early successes as a songwriter for others, including “Save Your Kisses” for Tommy Roe and “See the Big Man Cry” for Charlie Louvin. In the 1974, Tanya Tucker scored a Top Five hit with Bruce’s “The Man That Turned My Mama On” and Crystal Gayle reached the Top 40 with “Restless.”

In the 1970s, Bruce continued to chart modest hits under his own name, including the Top 20 “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which he’d written with then-wife Patsy. Of course, that song would go on to reach iconic status when it was recorded by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in 1978 for their duets album Waylon & Willie. Nelson and Jennings’ version became a multi-week Number One and won the country legends a Grammy.

“Mammas” spurred Bruce’s successes as a songwriter and performer. In 1979, Tucker earned one of her signature hits with Bruce’s “Texas (When I Die),” but Bruce also signed with MCA Records and enjoyed a string of hits under his name. Among those were the Top Tens “Ever Never Lovin’ You,” “My First Taste of Texas,” and “After All,” as well as the chart-topping 1981 single “You’re the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had” from his One to One album. His final Top 10 hit came in 1986 with “Nights.”

Bruce also spent some time working in television, including alongside James Garner in the early Eighties revival series Bret Maverick as well as in several made-for-television movies. In the late 1980s, he hosted the shows Truckin’ USA and American Sports Cavalcade. In 2018, Bruce was presented with a Lifetime Achievement honor from the Arkansas Country Music Awards.