Born William Owen Bradley, 21 October 1915, Westmoreland, Tennessee
Died 7 January 1988, Nashville, Tennessee

Producer, arranger, pianist/organist, bandleader.

That Nashville is the universally acknowledged centre of the country music industry is largely the legacy of one man : Owen Bradley. Along with Chet Atkins and Ken Nelson, he was one of the main architects of the “Nashville Sound”, which made country music accessible to a broader audience. Bradley was also responsible for developing the city’s 16th Avenue South, an area now known as “Music Row”, into the hub of the industry.

A native of Westmoreland, Tennessee, Bradley moved to Nashville in 1922. As a young man he learned to play piano, organ and other instruments. In the early 1930s he gained a foothold in the music industry as a piano player. His early experience was in pop and big-band music. It wasn’t until he returned from military service that he became involved in the country genre. Bradley began working at WSM radio in 1935 and stayed at the station (the home of the Grand Ole Opry) until 1958. He was promoted to music director there in 1942, the same year in which he co-wrote “Night Train To Memphis” for Roy Acuff. While leading a popular dance band, Bradley began his career at Decca Records in 1947, assisting Paul Cohen, then chief of Decca’s country division. The first artist Bradley worked with at Decca was Ernest Tubb. In 1949 he produced his first million seller, Red Foley’s “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy”, a # 1 hit on both the pop and the country charts in 1950. Owen also became a leading Nashville session pianist.

Between 1950 and 1953 Bradley and his quintet/sextet recorded extensively for Coral, scoring pop hits with "Blues Stay Away From Me” (# 11, 1949, vocals by Jack Shook and Dottie Dillard) and “The 3rd Man Theme” (# 23, 1950). Between 1954 and 1960 his instrumental recordings were released on Decca. Most of these were strictly in the easy listening genre. In 1957 the Owen Bradley Quintet returned to the charts with a cover of the Don Rondo hit “White Silver Sands” (# 18, vocals by the Anita Kerr Singers). The next year he covered Frank De Rosa’s “Big Guitar”. There were at least ten other covers, but Bradley’s recording is considered the definitive version and the only one to enter the Billboard charts, peaking at # 46. Bradley had several fine Nashville players to thank for the hit : Hank Garland on guitar, Bob Moore on bass, Dutch McMillan on sax and Buddy Harman on drums. Bradley himself played piano. “Big Guitar” is his only rock and roll recording of significance.

Owen and his brother Harold Bradley (one of the most recorded session guitarists) were among the first to build independent recording studios in Nashville. In 1956 they transformed a Quonset hut into Bradley Studio, which was rented to various labels. The earliest hits from the new studio were all non-Decca recordings, like Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula”, Marty Robbins’s “Singing the Blues” and Sonny James’s “Young Love”.

Bradley was named vice president and head of Decca Nashville when Paul Cohen was promoted to another division in 1958. He remained country A&R director for Decca until 1976. During his tenure the label changed to MCA Records. At Decca/MCA Bradley worked with many of country music’s top stars. It has been said that Bradley’s finest productions for Decca were with female artists : Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Brenda Lee (who scored twelve Top 10 pop hits, all produced by Bradley) and Loretta Lynn in particular. He led the session that revolutionized female country music in 1952 : Kitty Wells's “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. Among the male artists Bradley worked with are Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Buddy Holly, Burl Ives, Conway Twitty, Bill Anderson, Jack Greene and Moon Mullican. By the early 1960s Bradley’s studio was hosting 700 sessions annually and had been joined by similar businesses in a district that would come to be known as Music Row. In 1965 Bradley converted a barn in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, into another studio. “Bradley’s Barn”, as it was called, was mainly used by pop acts, like Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez and the Beau Brummels.

Bradley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974. He left MCA in 1976 to become an independent producer and to concentrate on his publishing company, Forest Hills Music. He built yet another studio (on the same site) after Bradley’s Barn was destroyed by fire in 1980. When the biopics “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (about Loretta Lynn) and “Sweet Dreams” (about Patsy Cline) were filmed, Bradley was chosen to direct their soundtracks. He was the only country music producer ever to be nominated for an Academy Award (soundtrack for “Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980). In 1988 he produced the album “Shadowland” by Canadian K.D. Lang, which sold over one million copies. Among Bradley’s last sessions (in the 1990s) were recordings with Brenda Lee and Jimmy Dean’s wife, Donna Dean. Owen Bradley died in a Nashville hospital on January 7, 1998, aged 82.

More info : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Bradley

Obituary : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-owen-bradley-1144707.html

Acknowledgements : Robert K. Oermann, Deborah Evans Price, Paul Wadey.

YouTube :
Big Guitar : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD1Ew7taJmQ
Whirlwind : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAhBMvCLNo8
Interview with Kitty Wells and Owen Bradley : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpTN2osO77U

Dik, November 2017

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
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