Country Music People March 2019 - Page 63

soon ended that prospect. His idol was brother Owen, 10 years his senior, who began forging his own legacy on the Nashville scene by initially playing piano for WLAC- Nashville radio in 1937, moving to WSM in 1940, eventually rising to the position of music director. When Harold became enthused about playing banjo, Owen warned it was passé, concentrate instead on guitar, so the youngster set his sights on Charlie Christian’s jazz style, but was primarily self-taught. The Owen Bradley Orchestra, specialising in society events, appeared on the network show Sunday Down South, while Owen was on call for occasional studio sessions for such as Ernest Tubb, who nicknamed him “Half-Moon” Bradley. Decca chief Paul Cohen engaged Owen as an assistant and his first production job was filling in on a session for unknown Kitty Wells in May 1952, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. Prior to all that, young graduate Harold Bradley heeded the siren call of World War II, and was inducted into the U.S. Navy, age 18. Discharged in ’46, he enrolled in George Peabody College on the Vanderbilt University campus, majoring in music under the GI Bill. Thanks to Opry stage manager Vito Pelletteiri, a family friend, Harold landed work at WSM pickin’ for programs spotlighting such stars as Bradley Kincaid and Eddy Arnold. In 1947, following his Pee Wee King Chicago session, Harold was engaged to play on King Records’ Ivory Joe Hunter’s session at Castle, Nashville’s first non-broadcast studio. As he confided in our interview: “I was the only white musician. Fact is, I’ve got that recording at home. Of course, they misidentified me on the record, saying it was Owen Bradley on guitar. I took it to Owen and said, ‘This is why you’re rich and famous and I’m not. They keep getting us mixed up, you know.’ And later, they did that on my first solo album (Misty Guitar), i.d.’ing Owen as my guitar player.” Harold’s first #1 disc was Red Foley’s Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy, playing rhythm guitar on one of the hottest 1950 releases, topping both country and pop charts. Unlike many musicians, Harold didn’t frequent honky tonks, explaining, “Drinking never interested me. A lot of guys drank to socialise. Socialising to me was playing softball or tennis. Even in the Navy, I didn’t drink. I was sort of shy really... I still don’t drink. When you work so much playing sessions, that’s enough time to be with your friends. So whatever time I had away from the studio, I wanted to spend with my family.” In those younger days, Harold also played in Owen’s band, then using the alias Brad Brady’s Orchestra and appears on Owen Bradley Quintet’s 1949 Top 10 country hit Blues Stay Away From Me (also #11 pop) and Top 20 pop recording The Third Man Theme (1950). With Owen, he co-produced 39 Country Style USA 30-minute TV variety shows for syndication in the ’50s.. In 1950, Harold married blonde beauty Eleanor Allen, and they would have two daughters Beverly and Bari, daddy’s pride and joy. Meantime, jointly the brothers Bradley built the second non-broadcast recording studio downtown, and later relocated to the Hillsboro area with a combination film and recording studio. In 1954, they constructed the first such studio on what is now Music Row, with a refurbished Quonset Hut (bought up by Columbia Records in 1962) that averaged some 700 sessions annually. In 1958, Owen became Decca-Nashville’s chief honcho, producing such superstars as Foley, Tubb, Wells, Webb Pierce, Brenda Lee, Bill Anderson, Patsy Cline, Jack Greene, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Even after leaving Decca, Owen continued to produce independent artists of note like Marcia Thornton, k.d. lang and Mandy Barnett (but died four songs into her 1998 session, that was completed by Harold). By the mid-1960s the Bradleys had established their Mt. Juliet suburban studio, Bradley’s Barn. Owen was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974, and is seen at the piano in a commemorative statue in Owen Bradley Park at the foot of Music Row. Of course, Owen passed away Jan. 7, 1998 at age 82. Harold worked overtime building up his credits, including backing a diverse roster of musical stars, among them Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Sonny James, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, Charley Pride, Marty Robbins, Freddie Hart, Roy Clark and Gene Watson. “Surely am sad to hear of the passing today of Harold Bradley,” says Watson. “One of the best session players... I was fortunate to have Harold as session leader for the Reflections LP back in 1978. That’s the album for the first recording we did of Farewell Party’ and Pick The Wildwood Flower.” Along with producers Owen, Chet, Ken Nelson, Don Law and Harold and the A Team, they not only built Music Row, but pioneered in developing the Nashville Sound, a sophisticated blending of instruments and arrangements that improved country’s flagging fortunes immensely. “Who knew we were making history? I kept thinking we’d wake up one morning and all that would be gone. That’s the way I looked at it,” said Harold. It was also in the 1960s that Harold recorded a trio of solo albums, including Bossa Nova Goes To Nashville” and Guitars For Lovers. Among movie soundtracks boasting Harold’s fleet-fingered touch are Presley’s “Kissin’ Cousins,” “Clambake,” “Stay Away Joe,” Orbison’s “Fastest Gun Alive,” Goldie Hawn’s “Sugarland Express,” Burt Reynolds’ “Smokey & The Bandit II” and Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” in which he also appears in a cameo. From 1974-1979, he was a recipient of the NARAS Superpicker Award. Another task he’d taken on was producing sessions, including such stellar talents as Slim Whitman, Eddy Arnold and Irish singer Sandy Kelly. By his own count, Harold has recorded or worked with 83 Country Hall of Famers and 30 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. He was the first Nashville president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) in 1965, serving many years on its board; is recipient of the prestigious Grammy Trustee Award; AFM’s Lifetime Achievement Award; and is a proud member of the Musicians Hall of Fame. In 2006, Harold was accorded country music’s highest honour, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which makes him and Owen the only two brothers inducted individually (apart from brother acts). Harold’s widow Eleanor expressed her gratitude for all who came to bid her husband a fond farewell, “Harold would’ve appreciated the thoughtfulness.” Daughter Bari Brooks said her father didn’t suffer too much, “he died peacefully in his sleep.” Daughter Beverly Hill reminded folks that Harold was first and foremost a dedicated family man. Reportedly, however, he had been under dialysis and special treatment prior to his passing. Harold’s legacy will continue to create beautiful music out of Nashville, hopefully via a newly-established Harold Bradley Endowed Scholarship in Belmont University’s Music Business department, to be awarded to outstanding students in the program, with an emphasis on guitar. “I was saddened to wake up to the news of the great guitarist Harold Bradley having passed away,” lamented Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. “Harold was Owen’s brother and the two of them left quite a mark on my early career. Owen produced my records and Harold played on most of them. He was a talented, kind, gentle soul, and we were blessed to have had him with us for 93 years. Rest in peace my friend, secure in knowing that you made the world a better place.” MARCH 2019 - cmp 63