Music industry titan and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Bradley has passed away at age 83. He died peacefully on Monday (July 17) in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
His 40 years of success in the record and publishing industries are unique in the Nashville music business community.
As part of what is known as “The First Family of Music Row,” Jerry was the son of Nashville sound architect Owen Bradley as well as the nephew of the renowned A-Team guitarist Harold Bradley, who were both in the Hall of Fame. His late wife was the iconic Connie Bradley, who led ASCAP for three decades.
Other members of the Bradley dynasty include Jerry’s sister, longtime BMI executive Patsy Bradley, and his son, current BMI Nashville VP of Creative Clay Bradley, as well as other family members who made an impact on the music business.
Jerry Owen Bradley was born in Nashville on January 30, 1940. He was a practical jokester in his youth. When he decided to follow his dad and uncle Harold’s footsteps into the music business, after two years in the army, Jerry started working with his family’s music publishing company, Forrest Hills Music. He also started learning to engineer and produce records in his dad’s studio, Bradley’s Barn, after it was built in 1965.
Learning from his father, Jerry watched and often contributed to sessions with artists like Webb Pierce, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Gordon Lightfoot and more.
Coming up in the music business as Owen Bradley’s son made Jerry ache for a shot at building his own reputation. In order to make a name for himself, Jerry asked Head of RCA Nashville Chet Atkins—who was ironically Owen’s competition at the time—for a job.
Jerry came on as an assistant for Atkins in 1970, but soon found himself behind the sound board as a staff producer. A few short years later Jerry became Head of RCA Nashville in 1973.
If making a mark for himself was what Jerry yearned for, he did that and more. With Jerry at the helm from 1973 to 1983, RCA Nashville experienced its famed success with country hitmakers Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride and many more. The label was heralded Label of the Year by Billboard for ten consecutive years, and launched the careers of some of country music’s most legendary stars.
“When my daddy died, my mother told me he was proud of me. He never said that but he told her that. That touches me,” Jerry told MusicRow in a 2021 interview about his family’s legacy.
One of Jerry’s early signings was Alabama, a family band from Fort Payne, Alabama. Jerry helped design the artwork for their first RCA Nashville album My Home’s in Alabama, and started their iconic trademark of Alabama spelled with a capital “A” at both the beginning and ending of the word. The now Country Music Hall of Fame members would go on to celebrate multiple Platinum and multi-Platinum albums.
Another stunning success of Jerry’s was his work with Ronnie Milsap, who recorded 35 No. 1 hits for RCA Nashville. Jerry produced many of Milsap’s hits, with publisher Tom Collins co-producing some as well.
He made history while working with Charley Pride, who became one of country music’s first Black superstars. Pride recorded hits such as “Someone Loves You Honey,” “Burgers and Fries” and “Where Do I Put Her Memory” under Jerry’s supervision.
During his time at RCA, Jerry was also the force behind the renowned 1976 album, Wanted: The Outlaws, from Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. He was meticulously involved in the imagery for the project, modeling the cover after a vintage, western wanted poster. The album became the very first country album to achieve Platinum status.
Like his father and uncle Harold, Jerry was very involved in the success of the Music Row community. He was President of the Country Music Association in 1974-1975, and was heavily involved in CMA’s annual Fan Fair (now CMA Fest).
Jerry was also known as a prankster on Music Row. Some of the many pranks he pulled were sticking spoons to his face during formal industry events while speeches were being given, and sneakily planting corn in the yards of his colleagues’ offices.
“When country music was taking off in the Garth Brooks era, Soundscan came out and all of the sudden country music was selling more than anything else, dad grabbed me one day on a Sunday and we went and planted corn in everybody’s front lot,” Jerry’s son Clay remembers. “In about three weeks they all had corn stalks growing.”
“I took Kenny Chesney on his first ride up 16th Avenue going the wrong way telling him I was checking the corn stalks. He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about until we got up the street,” Jerry admitted.
Jerry married the late ASCAP executive, Connie Bradley, in 1979. The two were married for nearly 43 years, until Connie unexpectedly died in March of 2021. There’s no doubt the two were the ultimate Music Row power couple.
From another marriage, Jerry had two children, Leigh Jankiv and Clay Bradley, who also went on to work in the business. Jerry’s cousin Bobby Bradley Jr. is also a noted recording-studio engineer. Bobby got his start at Bradley’s Barn, and went on to work with Johnny Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart, Tammy Wynette, Trisha Yearwood and more at many different studios.
Jerry left RCA Nashville in 1983 and stepped into leading Opryland Music Group, which owned all the Acuff-Rose publishing catalogs. Opryland Music Group became the first Nashville publishing company to win ASCAP and BMI Song of the Year honors in 1990. Acuff-Rose has been a steady earner because of its catalog of old songs, which included the classics of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, John D. Loudermilk, the Everly Brothers and Dallas Frazier. With a fire in his belly to elevate the company, Jerry went to work acquiring new staff, song pluggers and hit songwriters such as Dean Dillon, Casey Beathard and Kenny Chesney. Soon the Opryland Music Group was battling with the multinational corporate giants like Warner Chappell, EMI, Polygram Music and BMG.
Jerry retired from the music business in 2003. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019 for his incredible impact on Music Row. Jerry has mentored such successful music industry professionals as his son Clay Bradley, Troy Tomlinson and Joe Galante.
“I never lost the fact that it was fun,” Jerry shared. “I had fun.”
Jerry Bradley is predeceased by his parents Owen Bradley and Katherine Bradley; his uncles Harold Bradley, Charlie Bradley and Bobby Bradley; his aunt Ruby Strange; his wife Connie Bradley; and the mother of his two children, Gwynn Hastings Kellam.
He is survived by his sister Patsy Bradley; his children Leigh Jankiv (Rob LeBlanc) and Clay Bradley (Sara); his grandchildren Josh Jankiv (Ashley), Eli Jankiv, Emma Jankiv (Matt Acott), John Bradley and Lillian Grace Bradley; and his five great grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Cedar Creek Yacht Club on Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. This is the place Jerry enjoyed the most. He was a 60-year member and he spent his time on Old Hickory Lake with his family and friends on the “STUDIO A” houseboat.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you please make a donation to Music Health Alliance.
- First-Ever ‘People’s Choice Country Awards’ Airs Live From Nashville [Recap] - September 29, 2023
- Dylan Scott Earns MusicRow No. 1 With ‘Can’t Have Mine’ - September 29, 2023
- 2023 People’s Choice Country Awards Winners – Complete List - September 29, 2023