Poet/Scribe Writes On
Bobby Braddock? His pen etches comedic lines like “I Lobster But Never Flounder” and co-writes a serious country classic such as “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Quirky might be a good place to start, followed by talented, innovative and compelling. Braddock’s induction into the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame is proof that Music City’s songwriter community also embraces those adjectives to describe this writer’s work. Over a career spanning 40+ years he has achieved 13 No. 1 singles.
Last week I heard the lines, What brings you to Ohio? He said “Damned if I know” followed by the chorus God is great, Beer is good and People are crazy. I wondered if Lakeland, Florida’s songwriting legend had struck again. Turns out I was right —”People Are Crazy” sung by Billy Currington was co-written by Bobby Braddock and Troy Jones.
“A lot of times when people cowrite, one will often write more than the other,” says Braddock. “But this was very co-written, right down the middle with each of us pulling our weight. I had never met Troy, but we hit it off real well cause we both are originally from small Florida towns. He was nice enough to invite me to write this. I want to be clear—’People Are Crazy’ was his idea. I could have gone a million years and never thought of ‘God is Great, Beer is Good, and People are Crazy.’ Troy is a very clever fellow, he also wrote Kenny Chesney’s ‘Shiftwork.’ ‘People…’ is so quirky that two or three people said, ‘That’s Braddock all over it,’ but I said ‘No, my co-writer is pretty quirky too and we have sort of the same sense of humor.’ I was glad to get in on it.”
Like most songs, “People Are Crazy” didn’t go immediately from the demo session to the radio airwaves. “Yeah, it’s been around a little while,” Braddock admits. “Chesney had cut it, but I think they felt it wasn’t like any of the other songs on the project so it didn’t get used. It sat around another year or so, but I just love this new record on it. Currington is the perfect artist for it.”
The song is about an old man (the Sage) and a younger man who meet in a bar and swap advice and stories about life and its travails. Surprisingly, the old man passes away and leaves his fortune to the man he met in the bar and hasn’t seen since. Perhaps the magic in the song—in addition to the chorus—is the matter-of-fact conversational tone between the two men.
Braddock’s career has flourished since the mid ’60s, but like all songwriters he has also had a few leaner years.
“My first No. 1— D-I-V-O-R-C-E—was 1968,” says Braddock, who was one of country music’s most prolific hitmakers during the ’70s. “When you’re hot some people return your calls a lot quicker. But then I went from the early ’80s to 1991 without having a big hit and a lot of people thought I had just quit writing songs. Then I had several hits in the ’90s with Tracy Lawrence and Mark Chesnutt. I never sit around worrying about dry spells or asking ‘When am I going to write another song?’ because whenever I diligently pursue songs they usually come. For me the only thing I worry about is other people’s perceptions.”
MR: Advice for young writers?
Braddock: In order to survive, songwriters today have to write hit singles. Because of downloading and the Internet —both bad and good—we’ve become a singles-driven business again. We had Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks selling 15-20 million units, but those days are gone. The biggest selling acts now are lucky to see 7 million. And the life of a single, instead of 3 or 4 months, can be closer to 8 months. Playlists have shrunk so the number of song slots are smaller. There was a time when writers could get a lot of songs on albums that weren’t singles, but more and more albums aren’t including things arty and good, they only want radio hits. Plus sales are down, so writers can’t rely on sales royalties. The big money comes from performances and downloads which comes mostly from the most popular songs which are like singles.
MR: It’s easy to say, “Write hit singles and get them cut,” but hard to do. Any thoughts on plugging and staying current?
Braddock: There are good pluggers and bad ones. I’m fortunate to be at a company that has good ones (Sony/ ATV). Terry Wakefield is as good as it gets. I’ve also had luck with several songs, plugging them myself and probably should do more. If a writer has a track record and a knack for pitching songs it is good to do. You need alligator hide to make sure the person you play it for feels comfortable in passing on your song. You have to understand that they hear 100s of songs a week and can’t take everything. I have heard stories about people that have burned bridges trying to pitch their own material. This town is too small to do that. While I’m playing a song for someone I’m trying to think of what I can say to them if they pass so they will feel comfortable and invite me back again. The music changes from year to year and so to stay current this rule applies for most any writer—listen to the radio and know what is going on. If you want to write left of center, you still have to know where that center is. A creative person can always lead, write a song that is different and it can even start a trend, but you have to know what is going on as a basis.
MR: You’re working on a second book?
Braddock: True. A couple of years ago I published Down In Orburndale. (http://www.downinorburndale.com) It wasn’t a best seller, but did pretty well in middle Tennessee. The new book is an epic/epoch sort of thing that, hopefully, will give the reader a strong sense of what it was like to live in the decades that span from the 1960s to the 2000s —in America in general, in Nashville in particular, and, most specifically, in the world of country music. I’m about 80% through and loving doing this probably more than any other creative project I’ve ever worked on. I start doing music and then can’t wait to get back to the book. In fact, at this time in my life I feel like I need an occasional hit to support my book writing habit. I hope to have the book finished in the late fall. Part of it concerns craziness in my life; two failed marriages and an emotional breakdown. It also deals with the songwriting process and many of the country music people I’ve known over the last few years walk through the pages of the book. Braddock: One thing I can say is it never gets old having a hit song. I remember the first time I heard a song of mine on the radio sung by Marty Robbins back in the ’60s. What a thrill it was. Even after all these years, it’s still a thrill. As Bill Anderson said when accepting a recent award, “Thanks to everyone for still allowing me to do this, I feel very, very fortunate.”
This article was first published for subscribers only in @Musicrow on June 3, 2009. See what David Letterman thought about this song, here.
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