Owen Bradley - Biography
By J Poet
Owen Bradley started life as a humble country piano player, but his production talent made him one of the architects of the Nashville sound. His clean, pop style ambience became the hallmark of the so-called Countrypolitan movement in the late 50s and early 60s. He produced career-making records like Red Foley’s 1950 #1 million seller “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin' After Midnight” and k. d. lang’s Shadowland (1988 Sire.) His original recording studio at 804 16th Avenue South was the first building on the street that later became known as Music Row.
Bradley was born in 1915 in a small town outside of Westmoreland, TN, and raised in Nashville. He taught himself piano, harmonica, steel guitar, trombone, piano, vibraphone, and organ and by 15 was playing professionally in juke joints, clubs, and roadhouses. With his own band, featuring singers Snooky Lanson and Kitty Kallen, he landed a half hour radio show on WLAC at the age of 19.
He started working at country powerhouse WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry, when he was 20. He became the station’s musical director, hosted Noontime Neighbors and Sunday Down South and became a successful writer with “Night Train to Memphis” for Roy Acuff, his first big songwriting credit. He also led his own group - Brad Brady and His Tennesseans. They played posh Nashville parties from the late ‘40s to 1964 and recorded several pop albums, all now out of print, including Christmas Time (1955 Coral), Strauss Waltzes (1955 Coral), Cherished Hymns (1956 Coral), Lazy River (1956 Coral), Singin' in the Rain (1956 Coral) Bandstand Hop (1958 Decca), Big Guitar (1959 Decca), and Paradise Island (1960 Decca.) The single of “Big Guitar” was an instrumental hit in 1958.
In 1947, Bradley became Paul Cohen’s production assistant at Decca Records. Cohen was based in New York and when he couldn’t make it to Nashville, Bradley produced sessions on is own. He scored with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” by Kitty Wells in 1952 and ran early bluegrass sessions for Bill Monroe. Soon Bradley and his brother Harold Bradley, a noted session guitarist, had their first production studio, moving the operation to 804 16th Avenue South in 1953. In 1957 Bradley produced Patsy Cline’s first LP Patsy Cline (1957 Decca.) It included the smash “Walkin' After Midnight” and introduced the Nashville Sound, a pop production style that featured soft piano instead of guitar and smooth backing vocals. He also worked with rockers Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. In 1958, Decca made Bradley vice president of their Nashville Division and in 1961 he produced the last Cline albums Showcase (1961 Decca, 1990 MCA). It featured backing vocals by the Jordanaires, a Gospel group that was later to go onto fame backing Elvis Presley, and the hits “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces.”
In 1962 Columbia bought Bradley’s studio and he moved to the legendary Bradley’s Barn complex just outside of town, to produce sessions with Conway Twitty, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Bobby Helms, Del Reeves, Charlie Walker, Grandpa Jones, Burl Ives, George Jones, Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline 1969 Columbia) k. d. lang and other legendary artists. He was working on an album with singer Mandy Barnett when he died in 1998.
Bradley was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974 and was nominated for an Academy Award for the soundtrack of Coal Miner's Daughter (1980 MCA, 200 Uni). The Recording Academy (Grammys) gave him its Governors Award in 1995. The Nashville Sound (1996 MCA) collects some of his most famous productions including Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” Conway Twitty’s heartbreaking “Hello Darlin’” and Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never.”