Bobby Braddock: The Comeback

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Of all the great songwriters who have called Nashville their home, one remains whose creative power is as strong in 1997 as it was back in 1967 when he was experiencing his earliest successes.

He is Bobby Braddock.  Back in the late sixties, seventies, and early eighties, he wrote and co-wrote a succession of hits that ran the gamut from brilliant to absurdly imaginative.  His major hits of the era included classics like “D.I.V.O.R.I.C.E.” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which he co-wrote with Curly Putman; and “Golden Ring,” written with Rafe Van Hoy.

Of all the great songwriters who have called Nashville their home, one remains whose creative power is as strong in 1997 as it was back in 1967 when he was experiencing his earliest successes.

He is Bobby Braddock.  Back in the late sixties, seventies, and early eighties, he wrote and co-wrote a succession of hits that ran the gamut from brilliant to absurdly imaginative.  His major hits of the era included classics like “D.I.V.O.R.I.C.E.” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which he co-wrote with Curly Putman; and “Golden Ring,” written with Rafe Van Hoy.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” became the anthem of its era, the CMA Song Of The Year two years running, later voted “Best All-time Country Song” by both BBC listeners and Country America readers.  Then there were the off-center songs, ideas that only Braddock could have crafted into radio hit material, which was a hit for George Jones and Tammy Wynette in 1974:

We’re not the jet set/ We’re the Old Chevro-let Set/ Our steak and martinis/ Are draft beer with weenies/ Our Bach and Tchaikovsky/ Are Haggard and Husky/ We’re not the jet set,/ We’re the old Chevro-let set/ But ain’t we got love.

Or this snippet for Jones back in 1973:

I had a toothache so severe my jawbone split in two/ But nothing ever hurt me half as bad as losing you.

And there were the Braddock songs that never became hits but were classics among music row cognoscente, like this one he wrote with Sparky Lawrence:

I lobster and never flounder/ He wrapped his line around her and they drove off in his carp/ Oh I lobster and never flounder/ I octopus his face in, eel only break her heart/

I said just squid me and leave me/ For that piano tuna/ If you wanna trout someone new/ She was the bass I ever had/ Now my life has no porpoise/ Oh my cod I love her yes I do.

Braddock was absolutely fearless when he sat down at the piano to create.  He let the muse take him first, and only later did he decide if the muse took him higher or left him in the garbage dump.  His best was among the best there ever was, his mediocre was often good enough for radio success, and his worst.. well that’s the price of being fearless in creativity.

Around 1984 the hits stopped coming.

“Maybe I wasn’t as focused on the songs,” he says. “Diverting myself to other musical projects.  Some he forgot about, others he brought into Sony Tree’s studio for full demos that he produced with loving care and brilliance.  The songs saw their brief light of day, then vanished into the maw of Tree’s huge catalog.

Gradually he came to the conclusion that nobody could pitch his songs as well as he could.  Bobby sometimes lives a scattered, unsystematic existence, but he knew that it would take a systematic pitching schedule to get him back in the ballgame.

“I felt that the quality of my songs was getting better.  I was getting good grades from my publisher,” he says.  Soon he was carrying tapes all over Music Row, and Music Row still remembered well enough to listen.

Veteran songpluggers Walter Campbell and Dan Wilson started the ball rolling with a Mark Chesnutt cut on “Old Flames Have New Names,” which became a big hit for Bobby and Rafe.

“The Chesnutt record helped me feel that I was back,” Braddock says.  In short order he went out and got himself a couple of Ricky Van Shelton cuts and then three John Anderson cuts.  “I remember calling John Anderson in the middle of a session and telling him I had this song that I thought was right for him.  He said it was probably too late but bring it by.  I did and “Nashville Tears” got cut then and there.

“I played “Texas Tornado” for Al Cooley at Atlantic,” he recalls.  Cooley passed it along to Tracy Lawrence and the result was a number one smash – one of Tracy’s biggest hits up to that time.  But “Texas Tornado” was just a prelude to “Time Marches On.”  It was nominated for a slew of awards and will probably be one of the most remembered country songs of the nineties.

The holds were now coming in quick succession.  Producers were looking forward to hearing his new demo sessions, and there were cuts by Martina McBride, Joy White, George Jones, Sammy Kershaw, LeAnn Rimes, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings, and George Strait, to name a few.  In an era when hit songs are generally written by two, three, and sometimes four people, most of Braddock’s new cuts were songs he was writing himself.

The nineties are definitely a better era for Braddock than the last half of the eighties.  “When you’re hotter everybody treats you nicer.  Even your pets treat you nicer because you exude good feelings when things are going well,” he says.  “But the people I hold precious are the ones who were nice to me when things weren’t going well,” he adds.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that after all these years I’m still here doing it and I’m probably getting more pleasure out of it than ever.  The fact that I write the songs mostly by myself, and arrange and demo them just the way I want to and then go out on the street and get them cut.  It’s a hands-on thing that makes me feel totally involved.  I feel more in control of my own destiny than I did back then and that’s a really good feeling.”

But in the midst of one of country music’s great comebacks, he offers these words of caution: “You can do everything right.  You can have the right attitude and be totally dedicated, writing great songs, all of that.  If the stars aren’t right sometimes it just won’t happen.”




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