Ed Bruce, Writer of ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,’ Has Died

He shaped the country music landscape.

Written by Vernell Hackett
Ed Bruce, Writer of ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,’ Has Died
Ed Bruce backstage at Phoenix, Chicago, Illinois, June 18, 1980. (Photo by Kirk West/Getty Images)

Singer/songwriter Ed Bruce, who penned the iconic hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” has died. He was 81. Bruce died on January 8 in Clarksville, Tennessee from natural causes.

Bruce was born December 29, 1939 in Keiser, Arkansas but was raised in Memphis. At 17 he was signed to Sun Records, and in 1957 released “Rock Boppin’ Baby” under Edwin Bruce. He soon was writing songs for others, including “Save Your Kisses” for Tommy Roe, “See The Big Man Cry” for Charlie Louvin and “The Man That Turned My Mama On” and “Texas (When I Die”) by Tanya Tucker.

Bruce had his own success as a singer/songwriter with tunes including “My First Taste Of Texas,” “After All,” “Never Ever Lovin’ You,” “Girls, Women and Ladies” and “You’re The Best Break This Ol’ Heart Ever Had.” It featured Lynn Anderson and stayed on the Billboard Hot County Songs chart for 21 weeks. Other singles included his duet with Willie Nelson, “The Last Cowboy Song” and the theme song for “Bret Maverick.”

“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” was by far Bruce’s most famous song. He was the first to record it in 1976, and Chris LeDoux recorded it the same year. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson recorded it in 1978 for their duet album Waylon & Willie and took it to the top of the charts for four weeks. They won the 1979 Grammy for Best Country Performance By A Duo or Group with Vocal. Nelson’s version was in his 1979 film The Electric Horseman and the Gibson Miller Band recorded it in 1994. It was also in a 2015 commercial for Volkswagen’s Passat.

Bruce had a presence on television, including working with James Garner in the 1980’s remake Bret Maverick. In movies, he co-starred in the Johnny Depp and Christian Bale movie Public Enemies and the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Country Strong. He also hosted the television shows Truckin’ USA and American Sports Cavalcade.

In 2018, Bruce was presented with a Lifetime Achievement honor from the Arkansas Country Music Awards.

A private family service was planned. In lieu of flowers the family requests that contributions be made to the Nashville Songwriters Association in Nashville.

Artists remembered Bruce for his voice, his songwriting and his kindness and friendship to them along the way:

Just hearing that Ed Bruce passed away… What a stand alone voice he had. He’ll be remembered for his many talents including acting and maybe most important his songwriting… Rest In Peace cowboy. I’m not loving 2021 so far. — Blake Shelton  

We have lost another friend and songwriter today… Rest Easy Ed Bruce… many will remember him for songs like “Mama Don’t Let Your Baby’s Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but we shall remember him for a song called “I Know”… look it up for a blessing… Goodbye brother and Thank You.  — The Oak Ridge Boys

It was an honor to perform on stage with Ed Bruce. The memories of sitting in the living room with him and a couple of guitars are priceless. I appreciate his counsel and encouragement. My heartfelt condolences to his family. Thanks, Ed. —Trace Adkins

So sorry to hear about the passing of Ed Bruce. He was a great man, friend, singer, songwriter and actor. Of course you know the song he wrote called “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but he and Patsy Bruce also wrote my first United Artist Records single called “Restless.” We will miss Ed’s beautiful, rugged voice and friendly smile. — Crystal Gayle

Thank you Ed Bruce for all the years of dedication to country music that paved the way for songwriters like me. Hell of a run Sir. — Jamey Johnson

RIP Mr. Ed Bruce. I was flooded with memories the second I heard of his passing. He toured with Mom in Europe when I was just 12 years old. Long before I understood his songwriting genius, I loved him for being such a sweet person. Most people ignored me since I wasn’t in one of the bands we toured with or else just because I was so young, but Mr. Bruce talked to me and treated me like part of the whole group. The world will miss him dearly! — Georgette Jones

The good Lord, again, welcomed home one of the best. RIP Ed Bruce. — Ned LeDoux

I am very saddened to hear of the loss of my friend Ed Bruce, What a super, multi-talented man. He was proficient at so many things   Such a huge loss. Condolences to the family. Rest In Peace, Ed. — Steve Wariner

God speed Ed Bruce — wrote my 1st favorite song, might be responsible for my country music heart. — Erin Enderlin

So Sorry to hear the great Ed Bruce passed. — Gene Watson

Rest in Peace Ed Bruce. ­— David Bellamy