When songwriter Bobby Braddock has a hit these days, as he just did with Toby Keith's rappish No. 1 country single “I Wanna Talk About Me,” he finds people asking him if he wrote it a long time ago or with somebody younger.
He grins. “They seem surprised that I can retrieve enough words to put together a song. I feel like saying, 'Naw, the guy who puts the paisley smock around me and pushes me down the hall in the wheelchair helped me with it.' ”
An ex-rock piano player who arrived here from Florida's orange groves soon after Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson did, Braddock stands in the front rank of songwriters who made Nashville truly Music City. He was a member of the second wave of what he describes as “hillbilly bohemians,” but he was also part of the first wave of writers to pen more songs by day at Music Row publishing offices than at night in joints like Tootsie's.
The staff of Tree Music, his publishing company, then consisted of four or five people (instead of Sony/Tree's estimated hundred now), and he and fellow songsmiths Sonny Throckmorton, Curly Putman, Mickey Newbury and Don Cook frequently gathered at day's end to hear the results of somebody's demo session. “We'd all go in there and open up wineand maybe other thingsand sit around and listen,” he recalls.
With Putman, Braddock wrote “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the George Jones weeper that more than once has been voted history's greatest country song. The two also wrote Tammy Wynette's benchmark “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” But Braddock's is no name to be confined to the halls of memory. That fact was underscored doubly in 2000, when young Oklahoman Blake Shelton encamped at the top of the country hit charts for five weeks with a Braddock-produced single, “Austin,” and then Keith started scaling them with “I Wanna Talk About Me.”
Supervising recording sessions may seem like a new trick for a very seasoned dog, but in Braddock's case it isn't. He has made his own song demos for decades, and he says producing a record for somebody else is pretty much “the same thing” with “a bigger budget and more time to do it.”
“Production is something I always wanted to do,” he adds. “Whenever I write a song, I generally have an arrangement that goes with it, and over the years I've had a lot of songs recorded that came out sounding pretty much like the demos. I [got to] thinking, 'If people cut the records like my demos, why shouldn't I be producing?' ”
Then a fellow songwriter and friend, Michael Kosser, played him a couple of songs, one of which Kosser had co-written with another tunesmith. The voice on the latter was so distinctive that Braddock asked whose it was. “That's the guy I've been writing with, Blake Shelton,” Kosser said.
Braddock ended up getting Shelton a contract with now defunct Giant Records, and Giant boss Doug Johnson gave Braddock full production powers. By the time Giant folded and Shelton's contract reverted to Giant parent company Warner Bros., the CD was done.
Braddock says he actually wrote “I Wanna Talk About Me” for Shelton, because Shelton had a funny rap routine he liked to do. But record executives thought rap was a bit “far out” for a new country hopeful, he recalls, so he took the song, brashly written about a conversation with a self-absorbed friend, to Keith. “I thought Toby was a natural for that song,” he reflects.
By now, Braddock should have an instinct about such things. Hailing from little Auburndale, in the same Florida county that produced Gram Parsons, Jim Stafford, Lobo and fiddler Vassar Clements, he was the son of a citrus grower who was also the mayor, city manager and city judge. Auburndale was “sort of like Mayberry,” he says.
He played in regional rock 'n' roll bands in the '60s but recalls fist-fighting with high school classmates who disparaged country music. He loved the fiery, explosive sounds of Hank Williams, Ray Price and Marty Robbins just as much as he did those of Little Richard, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed and The Beatles. It thus was hardly out of character for him to show up in Nashville in 1966 to see if he could be a country songwriter. Finding a job playing piano for Robbins, he started creating.
In addition to the Putman collaborations, over the years he has written such memorable Jones-Wynette duets as “Golden Ring” and “We're Not the Jet Set” and the Charlie Louvin-Melba Montgomery duet “Did You Ever,” along with Tanya Tucker's “I Believe the South Is Gonna Rise Again,” Tracy Lawrence's “Time Marches On,” the John Prine co-write “Unwed Fathers” and many other well-known songs. He has had a dozen or so No. 1 singles and “about 32” top 10s from “about 1,300” published. He also has written “probably about that many pieces of crap that I never turned in,” he adds.
“And a lot of those 1,300 that were published are crap. Harlan Howard once said, 'We all write [crap], but the better of us eventually learn to not let other people hear it.' ”
Married and divorced twice, Braddock brands himself a hermit, an introvert who, with the help of alcohol, learned to be enough of an extrovert during his rock 'n' roll years. A friend and admirer of Nashville author John Egerton and other writers, he voraciously reads booksfrom Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis all the way to Rick Braggmore than he listens to music, and his work shows it.
A random example is the stark opening of “I Believe the South Is Gonna Rise Again”: “Mama never had a flower garden / 'Cause cotton grew right up to our front door.”
He professes to think another George Jones record, Dickey Lee's “She Thinks I Still Care,” is a better song than “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and he believes the latter was raised to its lofty place in the public esteem by Jones' rendition. It wouldn't have been cut by Jones at all, he adds, had it not been for the insistence of producer Billy Sherrill, because Jones, who has made a career of converting the banal to the sublime, thought it “too morbid.”
Nashville songwriting has become “more corporate” than in Braddock's early years: a dayplanner maze of daily co-writing appointments with the results all turned in at 5. It's “so much more competitive,” Braddock says, but better than the '60s and '70s “in some ways.
“Alcohol and drugs,” he explains with a laugh, “is not a good way to do business.”
A health enthusiast now, he hopes to produce records by Shelton for a long time, but he's not interested in producing anyone elsehe says he's too “obsessive and anal” to work with more than one person. He expects, however, to wind down his songwriting work at the end of another decade. “I can't imagine myself in my 70s doing this,” he explains.
At that point, he plans to focus his writing on “a book or two,” and he already has one working. “It's about growing up in a small Southern town, playing in a 1960s rock 'n' roll band, a couple of failed marriages and the music business,” he says. “It's about me.”
Dark; Deep; Brooding;Brilliant; A Measure of The Sin! A tale of how many decide that…
Never Forget the time Avery walked home from The Gulch to deep East Nashville. Before…
Can there be a spinoff where Juliettes ex-husband makes the Local Football Team really good…
Thanks so much for the fun read! Have a great summer.
death to parking minimums