Songwriter Bobby Braddock has lived in Nashville for 50 years, so it’s no surprise that the city takes a starring role his new memoir, A Life on Nashville’s Music Row. The supporting cast is remarkable too. George Jones, Buddy Killen, Dolly Parton, Curly Putman, Marty Robbins, Blake Shelton, two ex-wives, a beloved daughter, and many other characters all make notable appearances.
A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, Braddock offers an impressive catalog: “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “I Wanna Talk About Me,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Golden Ring,” “Time Marches On,” “People Are Crazy,” and so on. Taking guidance from his mentor, Southern literary giant John Egerton, Braddock has distilled decades of experiences in the music business (and more than a few romantic entanglements) into an entertaining and insightful book, published by Vanderbilt University Press and the Country Music Foundation Press.
“I think I have an innate thing with songwriting. I feel like I always knew how to write a song. I started doing that when I was 4 years old, but I had to learn how to write a book,” Braddock tells MusicRow. “A songwriter can also pilot an airplane but they’re two separate entities. A songwriter can also write a book but it’s certainly not the same thing.”
MusicRow: Several times in this book, you quote your journals. How far back do those journals go?
Braddock: I started them in 1971. I had some from way back when I was in my teens, but the ones that continue up to the present day started back in September 1971.
So many of your songs were inspired by real-life events, even “I Wanna Talk About Me.”
That’s true. There were two inspirations for that. One was my friend who was being very loquacious. And then I wanted to write a rap song for Blake anyway. He ran around doing this funny, dirty rap song he made up. I thought it was so funny–his Oklahoma white boy drawl doing a rap song. I thought it was hilarious, so I wanted to write something for him–and recorded it with Blake at first. But the label said they did some research on it, and said that nobody would like it. (laughs) So I played it for James Stroud, [to pitch to] Toby Keith.
So, somewhere out there is an unreleased recording of Blake singing that.
Yeah, absolutely. It was good too.
I would love to hear that. Did having these journals help you put things into focus?
It helped me years later in writing the book, to have that to glean from. It made it a lot easier because I even had dialogue in there. While it was still fresh in my mind, I would write down conversations I had with people, so a lot of the dialogue in the book is actually from the journal and was written that night.
One thing I noticed throughout the book that surprised me is the supernatural component. You had the Ouija board in the beginning, and the house on Shy’s Hill….
There was some really weird shit going on there!
Did you realize that was a recurring theme even before writing the book?
Yeah, it was. It’s something I don’t pay much attention to now, other than just reference, trying to figure out what life is, and what lies ahead. But at that time, I was kind of caught up in it. Of course, with the Ouija board, what in the world that was, I do not know! Some of it may have to do with the subconscious mind.
To this day, I think it could have something to do with some other entities, because I know it certainly did tell some things that the person I was doing it with would have no way of knowing about. So I don’t know if it makes us clairvoyant or if it actually brings out spirits or what. I mean, I wouldn’t touch one now. I wouldn’t want to get near one. Life on the surface is scary enough as it is, without looking for stuff!
Your sense of humor really shines through in the book. Do you think that is part of the reason for your longevity in the business?
I think it’s probably desperation, tenacity and OCD. (laughs) Sort of like a dog that has a rag doll and won’t let go of it, you know? Don’t have enough sense to quit.
Of course, we have to talk about “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” You wrote about George Jones and Billy Sherrill, but you also wrote about the dry spell that came after that song. How did you get through that without losing your mind or giving up?
Well, I think I kind of did lose my mind. Between 1983 and 1992, that’s nine years I didn’t have a big hit, after having some really big hits. That was not easy. I listen back to some of those songs I wrote then, and to this day, they are some of my favorite things I ever wrote.
I never quit writing. I just quit getting them recorded. When that happened, then you do develop this air of desperation. And then, when you start acting out of desperation, it’s not always wise. It’s not always the best thing. I think if you keep on at something, your odds of something happening will increase with repetition. It’s just as simple as that.
If you keep on and keep on, does that mean something’s going to happen? No, but your odds are increased that it will, rather than if you sit there and feel sorry for yourself and do nothing. You know, if you’re not exercising the creative part of your brain, if you let that right brain dry up, the muse is going to leave you, you know?
That reminds me of the stories about people calling you “sir,” and people being astonished that you drove across the country by yourself…
At 66 years old! Ageism, yeah. And the older you get, the more ageism you see. As you get older, you tend to become a little more crotchety anyway. You start to turn into more of a curmedgeon. You actually find yourself saying, “Hey! Don’t call me ‘sir’!” It’s just something that happens.
I think it’s important to keep your mind active, and you’re still doing that.
Yeah, I think cognitively, if you’re in good shape, when you open your eyes and look around you, you see the same things that young people see. You drink it in, in the same way. Certainly you’re going to process it differently when you’re older and have more experience. With experience, does wisdom come? Yeah. But with experience, does foolishness come? Yeah. (laughs)
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