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Little Old Dynamite 2/8/22

Updated: Feb 9, 2022


Here’s a little something to think about before we get started: If you were hiring a musical act and could only judge the applicants based on their resumes, what’s the single most impressive thing you could find on one of those resumes? What’s the one thing that, if you read it, would immediately make you say “OK. You win. The job’s yours”? What if they said they had won a Grammy? Big deal. Lots of people have one of those. Gold records? Platinum records? That’s nice, but lots of people could say that too. What’s even more impressive than those things? Take a minute or two and when you have your answer you can continue.


I hadn’t thought about it before, but while doing some reading on a completely unrelated topic I recently came across what most people would consider a bit of trivia, and I had my answer to that question. There was nothing trivial about it to me, and it completely changed the way I think about the old singer Brenda Lee. Which is to say, I actually did think about her, which I had never done before other than knowing that she had sung that Christmas song a long time ago. I read something about her that I knew couldn’t possibly be true, so I had to look into it a little bit more. After reading everything I could find on the internet I eventually ended up with a copy of her autobiography to see what she had to say about it, and I learned a few things during that research. The biggest thing I learned is that Brenda’s relationship with the truth is on the rocks. I’m not saying she and honesty are legally separated, but there are several things in her book that make me think that they don’t spend much time together anymore. Is she a compulsive liar? I’d like to think not, mainly because if she’s a liar she’s not very good at it. I’m just not sure what to think, so I’ll let you all make up your own minds.


There were many things in Brenda’s book that made me wonder about her truthfulness, and she doesn’t waste any time before apparently just making stuff up. Right off the bat, she claimed to have grown up in such poverty in rural Georgia that she never lived in a home with indoor plumbing until after her father’s death in 1953. Nice try Brenda! This wasn’t 1853. You weren’t in Mongolia, or Paraguay, or some other little county halfway around the world. This was 1953! In the United States of America! Of course you had hot and cold running water in your house! Is it possible she’s telling the truth? Sure. But… Really? Mrs. Ednold was also born in Georgia and she grew up in the lap of luxury. Just sayin’.


You can tell from pictures that Brenda was never very big, but I’m also skeptical of her claim that she never grew to be more than 4’9”. I don’t know how big you have to be to not be a little person, but that’s cutting it pretty close, and I just don’t see how it’s possible. My mom has lost a few inches over the years and she and Brenda would probably see eye-to-eye today, but if Brenda was only 4’9”, then fifty years ago my mom would have towered over her, and my mom has never towered over anyone. Her family are not the towering type. I don’t know why Brenda would lie about such a thing, but it’s just very hard to believe.


Here’s another one: Know that song, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree? It was recorded in 1958, when Brenda was supposedly 13 years old. Now, anybody who’s ever heard that song knows that’s not a 13 year-old singing it. That voice belongs to some hefty woman who isn’t a day under 30. Listen to it again and tell me I’m wrong. My personal theory is that Brenda was actually born much earlier than she claims. More on that later. But it’s also possible she didn’t sing it at all. Maybe there was a mix-up at the recording studio and they put her name on that tape by mistake. I’m sure it happens. What I do know is that that is no 13 year-old girl singing that song.

Brenda with some guy

Here’s a good one: Know how many women are in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame? According to Brenda, she’s the only one! I’m pretty sure it’s not even legal to be in both of them. Oh, yeah - She’s also in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the English Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to her. She may have just made up a few Halls of Fame that don’t even exist. I don’t know. It would be easy to just look it up and see if it’s true, but I’m afraid it would only confirm my suspicions that she’s completely delusional.


One of the more believable stories she tells has to do with her time in the hospital giving birth. While her family and band mates sat in the waiting room, the nurse would give the group progress updates every once in a while:

Nurse: She’s dilated two centimeters

A little while later -

Nurse: She’s dilated five centimeters

Lamar, the Road Manager: How big do her eyes have to get before she has the baby?

This was at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, so is totally believable.


According to Brenda, when her manager died in 1971 she realized that he’d been living the high life on her money. She’d been busting her butt for fifteen years, traveling the world and selling more records than just about anyone, and had almost nothing to show for it. I’ve never heard of an entertainer being taken advantage of by their manager, and Brenda lost a lot of credibility with me by claiming he’d mismanaged her money. Those managers and financial advisers have a universal reputation for being ethically and morally unimpeachable, so why would she imply that he was otherwise? I don’t get it.


Brenda claims that during the 1970’s she was the voice behind jingles for McDonalds and Coca-Cola. I don’t remember that. She also says she was the spokesperson for Beanee Weenees! That job came with a lifetime supply, and her pantry is still full of cases of them! Sounds just a little too good to be true, if you ask me.


Brenda also claims to know everyone. If you aren’t her friend then you and I are members of a very small group. Most of her book is dedicated to dropping the names of everyone she ever worked with or had social ties to, and it would be silly to try to list them all, but she was friends with everybody who was anybody and has outlived most of them. Her good friend Elvis was playing one of her songs, “Sweet Nothin’s”, when future wife Priscilla walked into the room to meet him for the first time. To hear Brenda tell it, Elton John is a good friend and she was the inspiration for the song Crocodile Rock. Remember Loretta Lynn’s sister, Crystal Gayle? Well, if we can believe Brenda, which is up for debate, she, Brenda, is the reason Crystal Gayle has the name Crystal Gayle. I could go on, and on, and on, but that’s not the point of this story.

Brenda says she’s toured in 52 different countries and that people went crazy for her in South America and Asia. She’s been to Japan so many times, and is so popular there, that she became an unofficial diplomat for the city of Nashville whenever they have Japanese officials visit. She claims to have recorded in Spanish, Italian, French, and a bunch of other languages so that her droves of foreign fans can listen to her in their own language.


But let's get back to our question from the top of the story. Even if all of that stuff Brenda says is true and she had put it all on her resume, I still might not be sold. She makes one more claim though, that would definitely seal the deal. What did you come up with? Well, here’s my answer, and the claim that got me thinking about all of this in the first place: The one, single most impressive thing I could see on one of those resumes is… “The Beatles were my opening act.” Yes. You read that correctly. Brenda claims that in April of 1962, while she was performing in Germany, the Beatles opened for her.


My first reaction to Brenda’s claim was to think she had blatantly broken one of the most important rules of telling a good lie: It has to be plausible. Really, Brenda? The Beatles? Maybe if you had said that YOU opened for THEM it would be a little more believable. Maybe if it was, I don’t know… Gerry and the Pacemakers? The Hollies? The Dave Clark Five? But no. You had to go with the biggest, most successful group in the history of the world. Plausibility, Brenda, is very important. The Beatles were not a group to open for other people, and certainly not for someone I’ve barely heard of.


But it’s in her autobiography. She couldn’t say THAT if it wasn’t true, could she? And this was before The Beatles had even signed a record deal, and - cut me some slack here, I wasn't even born yet - she’d already had a couple of #1 hits, so when you think about it it kind of makes sense. But still, it’s mind-blowing to think of The Beatles ever opening for anyone. I did find other sources that do say that she’s mistaken and that she and The Beatles didn’t cross paths until the boys had made it big. But if that’s true, how did she and her manager meet with the big-shots at Decca Records and beg them to sign The Beatles before someone else got to them? How would she have known how good they were if she’d never met them? (When she provided them with pictures and tapes of The Beatles, the geniuses at Decca told her The Beatles look and sound would never be successful, and The Fab Four were soon signed by EMI.) Maybe you knew this story already and wonder what the big deal is. But even if it didn’t happen it definitely could have, and that just boggles my mind.


To hear it from Brenda, she had several separate careers. With the nickname of Little Miss Dynamite, she was a rockabilly star as a teenager and was present at the inception of the whole rock-and-roll era. Then she became a Vegas-style lounge singer during her twenties. She claims that during the 1960’s she sold more records than everyone except Elvis, The Beatles, and Ray Charles. So.. She had a more successful decade than anyone from Motown? Than the Beach Boys? Better than all but one of the British invasion bands? Not saying you’re a liar, Brenda, but… Really?

Just when it looked like she was done with the music business she then started hitting the country charts and became a country music queen in the 1970’s. When her career as a singer finally started to wane she started writing songs for other people. Brenda claims to have done a lot in her life. In fact she claims to have done just a little too much. I have done some quite extensive analysis of her career and by my calculations she would have to be approximately 143 years old to have done everything she says she’s done. If she really is that old I’d like to meet her plastic surgeon. If she’s not really that old then I think she has some explaining to do. If all of this is really true then why isn’t this lady famous? Why doesn’t anybody know who she is? And by anybody, I guess I mean me.


I've been able to think of two possible answers to that question. It could be that I'm just way too young to have been aware of any of this stuff. Hmmm. Probably not. The other possibility is just as sad. The only other answer to that question that I’ve been able to come up with doesn’t make any sense. If Brenda Lee had died 60 years too soon (Patsy Cline), poisoned herself to death (Elvis), married a jackass (Loretta Lynn), or her pubescent cousin (Jerry Lee Lewis), or been an addict who abandoned her young family (Johnny Cash), they’d be making movies about her. If she had died in her prime there would be Brenda Lee sightings all over the world now. People would be seeing Brenda’s face in their slices of toast. There would be statues of her. John Lennon said she had "the greatest rock & roll voice of them all". If she hadn’t lasted so long she would be a legend, just as well-known as any of those others. And how many of them had upstaged The Beatles? How many of them had a song at #2 on the charts just two months ago? None, and none.


Brenda was the breadwinner in her family from the time she was 8. During her peripatetic upbringing she was raised on the road by people in the music business as well as her widowed mother who had two other children to worry about. It’s amazing that she’s the one entertainer who turned out normal, but she did. She married the first boy she’d ever kissed and they’ve been married for almost 60 years. She not only knew everyone, but got along with everyone. I challenge you to find anyone who has a bad word to say about her. I looked, believe me, and found nothing. She did have drama in her life, but not the kind that sells newspapers or movie tickets. If she had been a little less level-headed she’d likely be much more famous and people would appreciate all the unbelievable stuff she’s done. They’d also know that she’s still alive, which I didn’t. If she really was 13 when she recorded that Christmas song (I’m still not convinced), then she’ll be turning 78 just about the time that song hits the charts again this year. 78 or 144. One or the other.


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