Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys? Like Ed Bruce, They Might Turn Out Mavericks

updated 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys goes the title—and lyric—of singer-songwriter Ed Bruce's 1975 breakthrough country hit, popularized by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and by the Robert Redford movie The Electric Horseman. But shoot, growin' up as country as corn pone ain't hurt Ed hisself at all.

After some hardscrabble years, he's getting C&W recognition, and now, at 42, he has even lassoed a new career as an actor. He plays James Garner's barkeeper buddy, Tom Guthrie, on NBC's newly rebuilt Bret Maverick series. Trouble is, while Ed's career is riding high, he finds life in L.A. so low-down he might consider adding another verse: Mamas, if you do let your babies grow up to be cowboys, don't let 'em move to Hollywood.

"This is such a departure from going out on the road with a hillbilly band, I don't know if I'll ever get used to the confinement," says Bruce. It's not the work but the time clock that bothers him. He's used to freewheeling on tour 200 days a year, singing such hits as (When You Fall in Love) Everything's a Waltz, which he co-wrote, and his current You're the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had. (He also wrote Tanya Tucker's The Man That Turned My Mama On.)

After all those miles, Ed landed Maverick because the boots fit. "We had gone through the directory and talked to 20 or 30 actors," recalls Garner, a country fan who had met Bruce at a golf tournament in 1978. When co-star Stuart Margolin observed that "what we need is someone who looks like Ed," Garner continues, "I said, 'My God, do you think he can act?' So we tested him, and he was better than anyone we'd seen. The cameras don't frighten him, and he learns his dialogue quickly."

Ed and his manager-wife, Patsy, 41, consider Maverick a plum and clearly appreciate Garner's efforts to make them feel comfortable. "Jim normally doesn't go out weekends, and his coming over to our hotel the Sunday we arrived was a real warm show of support and affection," says Ed. It's also clear that Bruce, who used to live on 50 acres outside of Nashville, finds L.A. as itchy as long Johns in July. He has rented a four-bedroom house in North Hollywood and reluctantly lets Patsy drag him along on the town's "teeth and palm" (smiling and handshaking) circuit. All is not harmony on the set either. "I've started taking my guitar to work and have been hanging around by myself more," says Bruce ruefully. "I used to visit with the crew, but I say what I think, and I'm afraid that might cause some dissension." Why, exactly? "When I get an 8 a.m. call and I'm still waiting at 3 p.m., I want to know why the hell I was called so early," Ed grumps. "I'm not used to this."

He certainly wasn't born to it. The only child of a Keiser (pop. 962), Ark. butcher and his wife, a bank teller, Bruce grew up in Memphis where his father had gone in search of better pay. "We were poor," says Bruce, who recalls that in Keiser his grandfather farmed "40 acres of cotton with two mules." By the age of 10, Bruce was working as a drugstore delivery boy and spending his spare time playing baseball and learning the guitar. He formed a band, and during his high school senior year cut a Sun Records single, Rock Boppin' Baby. He snagged an appearance on American Bandstand, but his record—and his fledgling career—faltered. So did a three-year marriage to his high school sweetheart, which produced a son, Trey, now a 22-year-old body shop worker and aspiring musician.

By the time Ed met Patsy "at a poker party at her place" in 1963, he was a promoter and songwriter for a music publisher. They married in 1964, and for two years Ed sold cars. Then he owned and managed a Nashville restaurant-bar with Patsy while running through a string of unsuccessful recording contracts. In 1975 he and Patsy co-wrote Mammas. Waylon and Willie's version brought walloping royalty checks and, finally, stature within the industry.

Now, with Maverick's success, they're looking for a ranch in the L.A. canyons. Bruce spends his free hours scouting out "shit-kicker" music and good steaks. "I'm doing more than just going to work, reading and sleeping, which is all I did at first," says Ed. He has no complaints about how his manager has handled things. "I may not be as good as Patsy thinks I am," Ed allows, "but she's got everyone else convinced."

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