If you know country music, you know Bobby Braddock. Even if you don't know his name, you know the man's work. "He Stopped Loving Her Today." "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." "Golden Ring." "Time Marches On." "I Wanna Talk About Me." "People Are Crazy." These songs and numerous other chart-topping hits sprang from the mind of Bobby Braddock. A working songwriter and musician, Braddock has prowled the streets of Nashville's legendary Music Row since the mid-1960s, plying his trade and selling his songs. These decades of writing songs for legendary singers like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Toby Keith are recounted in Bobby Braddock: A Life on Nashville's Music Row, providing the reader with a stunning look at the beating heart of Nashville country music that cannot be matched.
If you're looking for insight into Nashville, the life of music in this town, and the story of a force of nature on the Row to this day, Bobby Braddock will take you there.
|Publisher:||Vanderbilt University Press|
|Series:||Co-published with the Country Music Foundation Press Series|
|Product dimensions:||6.90(w) x 10.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Bobby Braddock is a songwriter and producer who has worked for five decades with singers and musicians in Nashville. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981, and the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. He is author of Down in Orburndale: A Songwriter's Youth in Old Florida.
Read an Excerpt
A Life on Nashville's Music Row
By Bobby Braddock
Vanderbilt University PressCopyright © 2015 Bobby Braddock
All rights reserved.
This is a tale of two cities, both of them called Nashville.
One, a municipality, had its beginnings in 1779, when a small group of white settlers built a stockade called Fort Nashborough on the banks of the Cumberland River, in an area known as French Lick, about thirty miles northwest of the geographical center of what would become the state of Tennessee. When my bride and I set up housekeeping there 185 years later, it was pronounced NASH-vul (rhymes with bashful) and referred to alternately as the Athens of the South, the Wall Street of the South, and the Buckle of the Bible Belt. With one of America's first combined city-county metropolitan governments, this state capital then boasted a population of 425,000.
The other Nashville was not so much a city as a name that people gave to an entertainment center or a destination or a dream. "I'm going to Nashville" didn't call up images of tall buildings or university campuses, but of cowboy hats and guitars and microphones. It was the country-and-western capital of the world, Music City USA; it was Hollywood, Tennessee. This Nashville had its beginnings in 1925 when seventy-seven-year-old "Uncle Jimmy" Thompson played his fiddle on a program broadcast by radio station WSM. When the Braddocks rolled into town thirty-nine years later, it was pronounced NASH-ville, with only slightly more emphasis on the first syllable. This is how it was said by practically everyone not born in the area. This Nashville contained few natives, most of its inhabitants coming from small towns and farms across America, particularly the Southeast and Southwest. These were the singers, songwriters, musicians, publishers, managers, and booking agents. This Nashville was the magnet that led me to quit a popular rock & roll band and hitch a trailer to my car, as my pregnant wife, Sue, hitched her wagon to my star. We left my native Florida for that magical musical Mecca in Middle Tennessee.
Nancy Sue Rhodes was from Fairfield, Alabama, a steel mill suburb of Birmingham. When I met her only a few months earlier, I saw a cute, engaging nineteen-year-old girl who weighed ninety-something pounds and stood barely five feet tall. I saw big blonde hair, which was okay in 1964, and effervescent sky-blue eyes. What I didn't see was a young woman who was looking for a husband and had decided that I was a prime candidate. She spun her web, and I flew right into it. What I also failed to see was a tortured soul with dark memories of an alcoholic family, memories that she would never share with me. I saw her many faces, some of them loving and lovable, but I would never see deep into her soul. She kept that part hidden.
Ironically, when I decided to move to Nashville, Sue was the only person I knew who was supportive of relocation, but for reasons of her own. My grandfatherly father, a Deep-Southern, Old-Florida character to his core, told me in his W. C. Fields–meets–Foghorn Leghorn voice, "Bobby boy, that's a long waayy from home. When you get ready to mooove back to Polk County, Flahrr-da, let us knowww, and we'll dooo everythinnng possible to help you out." My mom, who often smiled from ear to ear even when she wasn't happy, was dead set against the move, and smilingly told me so. Big John Taylor, a guitar genius who normally had a happy Andy Griffith-like country boy demeanor, was angry at me for quitting (and splitting up) his group, one of the best rock & roll bands in the state. My two best friends in my hometown of Auburndale admitted years later that they had thought I'd be back to Florida within six months.
"You're going to do so good in Nashville," Sue cooed in her Alabama drawl. She may have had confidence in my musical abilities, but she was also very eager to get away from Central Florida and my ex-fiancée, Gloria.
On "band wives' night" at the El Patio Club in Orlando, home base for our band, Big John's Untouchables, someone had told my bride that Gloria was still wearing the engagement ring that I had given her four years before. From that point on, Sue wouldn't let up. "Call her and tell her you want that ring back!" she demanded over and over — and to placate her, I did. Finally, Gloria showed up at our house in Orlando, with a letter from advice columnist Ann Landers, assuring her that the ring rightfully belonged to the former betrothed, and that she didn't have to return it to me. Sue's enraged reaction was to physically attack Gloria on our front steps. I felt that we were sitting on top of a nuclear arsenal and would have the shortest marriage in history if I didn't do something radical, so the next day I announced my decision to move to Nashville, much to my bride's delight (but she probably would have been just as happy if I had asked her to move to Albuquerque or Wichita or Youngstown). My notice that I was leaving caused so much acrimony within the band that the lead singer and I got into a fistfight onstage during a jam-packed performance.
"I just know you're going to do good up there, Daddy," Sue said. This woman was carrying my child, so I was determined that the marriage was going to work.
My dream was to be a songwriter, but I wasn't really sure if I had what it took. I felt confident that I was a good musician and could get a job in Nashville playing piano, on recording sessions or on the road, and that was fine. I would love that. I figured it would all fall into place when we got there. I had only a couple of contacts in Nashville, and they were rather tenuous, so this was pretty much an exercise in blind faith.
One bright morning in early September, we took the big leap, loading up my 1962 Oldsmobile and heading north. I had a strong feeling that I would never live in Florida again. Though we had been residing in Orlando, my hometown was Auburndale (pronounced Orbundale by many of the locals). Polk County — where pendulous balls of gold adorned the surrounding countryside like weeds and wildflowers — was the leading citrus-producing county in America. My father was a citrus grower. This was pre-Disney Central Florida, and my neck of the woods was very Southern. Most of my classmates' parents were native Floridians or Alabamians or Georgians. This was not Northern-influenced Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. The white Auburndale classrooms were only that month enrolling the first black students ever, fully ten years after the Supreme Court had ruled that separate schools were unconstitutional. In fact, the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made it unlawful to turn black people away from public accommodations had been in effect for only two months, so the entire South was still in the baby stages of racial justice, and for the most part, had let go of the old ways grudgingly.
So this was the world we were living in as we began our new adventure. We drove through the grove-covered rolling hills of Central Florida past the little blue lakes, through the horse country around Ocala, through the flat tobacco land of North Florida into similar terrain in South Georgia, then turned westward into the sun, taking Alabama roads on up to the Birmingham area, where Sue would stay for a few days with her sister's family while I went on to Nashville to find a place for us to live.
After leaving my bride with her family, I headed north on the road to Nashville. Interstate 65 was far from completed, so most of my little journey was on US Highway 31. In those days, the first thing you saw when crossing into Tennessee was a billboard emblazoned with "WELCOME TO THE THREE STATES OF TENNESSEE." These signs would be taken down in the early 1970s, but in 1964 the state was still officially divided into three grand divisions: West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee. (The state being short and wide, her regions have never been referred to locally as north, central, and south.) The three divisions were a throwback to Civil War days when the mountainous eastern counties, having few slaves, remained loyal to the Union and joined up with the Federals rather than the Confederacy. The rest of Tennessee treated these mountaineers rather harshly during the early days of the war, but after the Yankees captured the capitol in Nashville, East Tennessee rejoiced, and sought revenge on the rest of the state. That sectional hatred from both sides was passed on down for a century, and though most of today's younger inhabitants may not know exactly why, to this day, people from that part of the state seldom say that they're from Tennessee; it's usually "I'm from East Tennessee."
My destination city of Nashville sat approximately in the middle of Middle Tennessee, a land of beautiful rolling hills, horse and tobacco country interspersed with pleasant old courthouse towns. As I drove around the square in the town of Franklin, I knew that I was only one county away from my destination. I neared the journey's end with country radio turned up full blast. My pulse quickened as I approached the city of country dreams.
Nashville got its big country music start in the 1920s when radio station WSM began broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry, so named because the old-time fiddling show aired immediately after a program that featured grand opera. Some people have said that Nashville had the perfect geographical pedigree to be the epicenter of American country music because it was located to the east of this or to the west of that, but in truth the music was popular all over the rural South, and it could just as easily have been headquartered in any number of cities in the Southland or, for that matter, to the north, where the popular WLS Barn Dance in Chicago preceded the Opry by a year. On the night that country came to town, Nashville was not a bastion of music, but a busy river city and a bustling financial center. The first big record stars in the field that we now call country, Jimmie Rodgers and Vernon Dalhart, were not Nashville connected, and it wasn't until the mid-1930s that the Opry featured a big-selling recording act, Roy Acuff. Though the hoedowns would remain popular on live shows, recordings of fiddle and dance tunes were being replaced by songs with lyrics, with words about Jesus and Mother and long lost love. These ballads, like the fiddle tunes, were nothing new; they were the rustic sound of the lower American heartland, from the mountains to the hills to the flatlands and the plains, brought over on ocean vessels from England, Scotland, and Ireland a century earlier, even more than two centuries earlier. Beginning in 1939, the famous Grand Ole Opry was broadcast nationally on the NBC radio network, but even then many of the country stars were not recording in Nashville, but in places like New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta — catch phrases like "The Nashville Sound" and "Music Row" were still quite a few years away. There were genres within the genre, and the sounds might include mandolins from the mountains or accordions from the bunkhouse. World War II spread this rural art form to all parts of the continent, and this American stew had some added ingredients stirred in by drifters on the High Plains, and polka-loving farmers in the Midwest. And even if some in the industry didn't like to admit it, there was a fair sprinkling of African hot sauce. An important part of 1940s country was the swing and honky-tonk from Texas and Oklahoma, which was finding its way to California. By the middle of the twentieth century, nobody knew whether to say hillbilly, country and western, or even folk and western. In great contrast to the bright-eyed, bouncy pop ditties of the day, here was something raw and realistic, with story songs about cold, cold hearts and back street affairs, sung by farm boys from the South who dressed like cowboys from the West.
When I was a kid, I generally disliked this hillbilly music that my big brother and his friends listened to — singers like Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, and Carl Smith. I said, "I could write that stuff," not knowing then that someday I would. When I got to junior high, I was drawn to rock & roll along with my peers. Hearing Elvis's "Mystery Train" was a defining moment. I felt that Johnny Cash was rockabilly just like Elvis and eagerly awaited each new release. After opening the country music door, I was drawn first to the crossover artists like Marty Robbins, then to Ray Price's traditional Texas shuffles, with the crying pedal-steel guitar and lonesome fiddle. This led me back to the music of my brother, which I listened to with new ears, particularly appreciating the genius of Hank Williams, the original Nashville singer-writer superstar. Though I was also into rock & roll (Everly Brothers, Little Richard) and rhythm & blues (Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed), I had come to love country music most of all. I would remain a fan of the genre for the rest of my life, but it would never move me as it did in the late 1950s when I was in my teens.
In September of 1964, country fans hadn't gotten over the marvelous voice of the late Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves was beginning a posthumous string of hits that would last for many years. Jumping out of the radio were Buck Owens and his twangy Bakersfield sound, and Roger Miller's pop-country novelty hits. I had been loving a lot of the rock & roll, especially the Beatles, but now that I was no longer in Big John's Untouchables, I was starting my new life totally focused on country music. Rock & roll was the wild girlfriend; country was the wife you settled down with. And that's how I got to Nashville. Ever since my senior year in high school, I had fantasized about coming to this city to make music — to play it or write it — and here I was.
Once in Nashville, US Highway 31 became Franklin Road, a thoroughfare lined with lush, spacious grounds and large, handsome houses and mansions: red brick Georgian, Greek Revival, Colonial, and large ranch-style. I turned right onto Harding Place, and carefully followed my directions through some twists and turns to a middle-class suburban area and the small ranch-style home of Benjamin Joy Eidson, known professionally as Benny Joy.
I knew Benny through Big John Taylor, my former rock & roll bandleader — they had toured Europe together in the late 1950s. Benny was born in Atlanta but moved to Florida as a child. A talented rockabilly shouter with a frantic style, he became a local star in the Tampa area. He never had any national hits, even after he moved up from an independent record label to Decca, but for the past couple of years he had been having some success in Nashville as a country songwriter. He was tall and thin, with a pallid complexion, and his features were bat-like — big dark eyes, large ears, and a little pointy nose. Though only in his late twenties, he was such a nervous wreck that his entire head trembled!
"Well, hey there, Bobby, come on in. I want you to meet my mama." His mother's name was Verna. A good-natured woman of about fifty-five, she came from a rural area of Georgia and spoke with a country accent. When she laughed, her eyes twinkled and her torso bounced up and down. I would come to realize that Benny was a mama's boy and a control freak. She lived with Benny to wait on him hand and foot, and every little thing had to be just right, or he would give her hell.
"Man, I've found a place for you to stay, while you're lookin' for somethin' permanent," Benny said. "Hank Snow's rhythm-guitar player is on the road this week, and you can sleep in the guy's bed 'til he gets back in town. It's in a roomin' house over near Franklin Road."
Benny was congenial and helpful, taking me up and down Music Row the next day. He wanted to help me find a gig as a piano player. Several months before, I had sent him several of my songs, and he wrote back, informing me that my melodies were decent but my words were weak, and he would have to change my lyrics and share in the credits in order for the songs to be presentable. As far as he was concerned, I was in town to be a musician, so I didn't promote my songwriting aspirations when I was around him.
Music Row appeared to be no more than a leafy little neighborhood within the city, but the area, just southwest of downtown, was the epicenter of Nashville's music business. It was roughly three long avenues and parallel alleyways, corresponding cross streets, and a couple of circular side streets. With only three or four actual office-type buildings, it looked more residential than commercial. Old two-story houses sported signs that converted them into record labels, publishing companies, recording studios, and managers' offices.
Excerpted from A Life on Nashville's Music Row by Bobby Braddock. Copyright © 2015 Bobby Braddock. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
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Table of Contents
For a Song, 1,
1 Two Cities, 3,
2 Singing the Blues, 19,
3 A Tree Grows in Nashville, 38,
4 Cheatin' Songs, 60,
5 The Taco Bell Building, 77,
6 Omega and Alpha, 105,
7 A Man Obsessed, 127,
8 Party Time, 150,
9 The Best of Times, the Worst of Times, 179,
10 Cold Wind Blowing, 203,
11 Coming Back, 230,
12 Brand New Century, 275,
13 Looking Back (and Ahead), 329,
Illustration Credits, 377,