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Owen Bradley (October 21, 1915 - January 7, 1998) was an American record producer, who, along with Chet Atkins and Bob Ferguson, was one of the chief architects of the 1950s and 1960s Nashville sound in country music and rockabilly.

Before the fame

A native of Westmoreland, Tennesseemarker, Bradley learned piano at an early age, and began playing in local nightclubs and roadhouse when he was a teenager. At 20, he got a job at WSM-AMmarker radio, where he worked as an arranger and musician. In 1942, he became the station's musical director, and was also the leader of a sought-after dance band that played well-heeled society parties all over the city. That same year he co-wrote Roy Acuff’s hit “Night Train to Memphis". He kept the band up until 1964, although in the intervening decades, his work as a producer would far overshadow his own performing career. He had a baby.

In 1947, Bradley took a position as an assistant producer and songwriter at Decca Records. He worked with Paul Cohen on recordings by some of the biggest talents of the day, including Ernest Tubb, Burl Ives, Red Foley and Kitty Wells. Learning from Cohen, he eventually began to produce records on his own. When his mentor left the label in 1958, Bradley became vice president of Decca's Nashville division, and began pioneering what would become "The Nashville Sound."

The Nashville sound

Country music had long been looked on as unsophisticated and folksy, and was largely confined to listeners in the less affluent small towns of the American South and Appalachia. In the late 1950s, Bradley's home base of Nashville was poising itself to be a vibrant, affluent, urban city with a burgeoning music recording industry, and not just the traditional home of the Grand Ole Oprymarker. In fact, a Quonset hut attached to a house Bradley owned with his brother Harold at 804 16th Avenue South in Nashville.

The Quonset Hut is commonly recognized as the birthplace of a more commercial country music that often crossed over into pop. This distinct genre of American music developed primarily by Owen Bradley's uniquely creative crew of hand picked musicians, Grady Martin, Bob Moore, Hank Garland and Buddy Harman—Nashville's revered "A-Team." The success of Bradley's Quonset Hut studio spurred RCA Victor to built its famous RCA Studio B. A handful of other labels soon followed setting up shop on what would eventually become known as Music Row. Bradley and his contemporaries infused hooky melodies with more refined lyrics and blended them with a refined pop music sensibility to create the Nashville sound, known later as Countrypolitan. Light, easy listening piano (as popularized by Floyd Cramer) replaced the clinky honky-tonk piano. Lush string sections took the place of the mountain fiddle sound; steel guitars and smooth backing vocals rounded out the mix. As one of the architects of the Nashville sound, Owen Bradley was one of the most influential country music producers in history.

Starmaker

The singers Bradley produced made unprecedented headway into pop radio, and artists such as Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, and Conway Twitty became household names nationwide. Pop singers like Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent also recorded with Bradley in his Nashville studio. In addition to his production, Bradley released a handful of instrumentals under his own name, including the minor 1958 hit "Big Guitar." In the late 1950s, Bradley produced a radio and TV series with his brother Harold, Country Style, USA, for distribution to local radio and TV stations as a recruiting tool for the US Army.

Bradley sold The Quonset Hut to Columbia (which today is a division of Sony BMG) and bought a farm outside of Nashville in 1961, converting a barn into a demo studio. Within a few years, the new "Bradley's Barn" became a legendary recording venue in country music circles. It burned to the ground in 1980, but Bradley rebuilt it within a few years in the same location.

Later years and honors

In 1974, Owen Bradley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Famemarker. One additional claim to fame is that he produced records for more fellow Hall of Fame members than anyone else: six. He retired from production in the early 1980s, but continued to work on the selected projects. Canadianmarker artist k.d. lang chose Bradley to produce her acclaimed 1988 album, Shadowland. At the time of his death, he and Harold were producing the album I've Got A Right To Cry for Mandy Barnett, who is best known for her portrayal of Patsy Cline in the original Nashville production of the stage play Always...Patsy Cline.

His production of Cline's legendary hits like "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Walkin' After Midnight" remain, more than forty years on, the standard against which great female country records are measured today. It is his work with Cline and Loretta Lynn for which he is best known, and when the biopics Coal Miner's Daughter and Sweet Dreams were filmed, he was chosen to direct their soundtracks.

In the 1980s Nashville's Hillsboro High School established the annual Owen Bradley Achievement Award for the student that most excels in the school's unique recording arts vocational curriculum. Many of the awards recipients have gone on to success in the Nashville recording industry and beyond. Past winners include prominent sound engineer Kurt Storey, and writer/musician Walton Robinson.

In 1997, the Metro Parks Authority in Nashville dedicated a small public park between 16th Avenue South and Division Street to Owen Bradley, where his bronze likeness sits at a bronze piano. Owen Bradley Park is at the northern end of Music Row.

References

  • Oermann, Robert K. (1998). "Owen Bradley" In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 50-51.


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