Sony Music Nashville
Just two months ago, Bradley made his debut in front of numerous music executives and radio programmers as he performed at the Sony boat show during the annual Country Radio Seminar. In between songs by Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Sara Evans, Jake Owen, Chris Young, Josh Thompson and Gwyneth Paltrow, the young country singer stood on stage with just his guitar and sang 'Mr. Bartender' to normally what is considered the toughest audience in the genre. When he sang the last note, the audience scrambled to their feet, filling the room with thunderous applause. Less than 24 hours later, radio stations were tying up the phone lines at Sony asking -- no, demanding -- that 'Mr. Bartender' be released as a single. Bradley was just beginning to record his debut album, and the song had not even been chosen as a single, much less been ready to hit the airwaves. The 31-year-old was scheduled to put out his first single in May, but the record company rushed to get 'Mr. Bartender' mixed to send out to radio as soon as possible.
Bradley, who began singing at church and revival meetings at just 9 years old, counts among his musical influences artists such as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Elvis Presley and Keith Whitley, and while other kids his age were purchasing rock and hip-hop music, the first albums he bought were by Garth Brooks and Ricky Skaggs.
The traditional singer later quit high school, earned his GED and then joined his father in the sheet-rock business. During breaks at job sites, he would often write song lyrics on sheet-rock paper, dreaming of a music career. He met his wife Adrian at church -- they married in 2007, and he resigned himself to hanging drywall for the rest of his life. That all changed, however, when his wife, knowing how happy he was making music, signed him up for a talent contest sponsored by John Rich and put 'Mr. Bartender' on MySpace, which would prove to be his entree into the world of country music.
Bradley recently sat down with The Boot to talk about his many trips to Nashville to work on his craft, his love for country music and his two-year-old daughter's reaction to hearing him on the radio for the first time (grab a tissue, because it's a real tearjerker).
Your wife convinced you to pursue your dream, even going so far as to post your music online. Were you aware when that happened what the potential payoff could be?
I had no idea what MySpace was! I took her advice, and three weeks later, Charlie, John Rich's partner, heard me and sent me a message that I did not believe. He invited me to a talent search they were doing, and had a showcase with five or six other bands. I wound up winning that night. They invited me back a month later for another show, and then a couple of weeks later, John signed me to his publishing company to write songs. That happened so fast, it spun my head around. I was hanging sheet rock with my Dad in Alabama, and always wanted to be in this town. Lo and behold, that happened quick. Then I started writing with people and started meeting some of the biggest artists I grew up listening to on vinyl records as a kid ... then I get this record deal, then I play that CRS boat; I didn't even know what Country Radio Seminar was, and that was a new world to me. Every day is a new adventure to me. Everything's come true, so prayers, they work. Anybody that says that they don't, golly bum, they could just ask me, because I feel like God really likes country music, or I wouldn't be here.
When you met John Rich, won the contest and started working with him, what was it about him that was different from all of your other experiences?
When I met people in this town, and they said, "OK, we need to change you and your songs," I thought, "I really don't want to change being me, and if I've got to pay my way to get into the studio to be a singer-songwriter, I'll never be able to do that! I'm [a] blue-collar-Alabama- sheet-rock guy. I live from paycheck to paycheck! If I have to pay my way, I'll never be able to afford to do that." But when I met John at 12th & Porter [in Nashville], we talked briefly and he called me throughout the weeks, and he said, "Bradley, there's one thing I'm going to change." I thought, "Here we go again!" He said, "I don't want to change nothing! I'm going to leave you who you are, and I'm going to let you write your own songs. You just stand behind the microphone and guitar and you just sing." By him doing that, he allowed me to be me. He didn't water me down, and didn't ask me to be anything more or less than what I was, and for that, I'm forever grateful to him ... I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be hooked up with a guy like John, who's written great songs, who's been a producer, who's been the artist. To have him on my side, words cannot express.
You made numerous trips to Nashville to pursue your dreams. What were those times like?
I'd come to town when I was younger. My wife and I were just dating. It was 2001, and I was 21. I'd come up here and try to play on Broadway, just get into the door anywhere. I wound up playing at 9:30 in the morning at a little club downtown. One day, I laid out of work and drove up here when I was 21, and I walked in the door, and he said, "Hey, are you here to play today?" I looked at him crazy, and I said, "Well, matter of fact, that's why I drove up all the way from Alabama this morning, to see if I could play." He said, "Well, I'm going to play during my time slot. Go get your guitar." So, I walked back across the road to get my guitar and came back, and he let me play five or six songs that morning. He said, "If you'll come back next Monday, I'll let you do it again. So, I did that a couple of Mondays in a row but then I lost touch with the guy. I couldn't get him to answer my phone calls. I'd come up here on Mondays, and he wouldn't be here.
It was probably the fifth or sixth time I came up here just to see if I could catch him, I couldn't find him. I thought, "OK, I don't know anybody in this town. I've been here for a few weeks and I don't know anybody. The last day I decided to go home, I walked over to the Ryman Auditorium to take the little tour they have, and I walked in there and paid the lady the money. She said, "Did you bring your guitar today?" I looked at her really crazy, and I said, "Yes, ma'am, it's in my car." I thought she had confused me with somebody, but nobody looks like me. [laughs] So, I walked back to my car, and I was laughing, thinking, "This is crazy." I came back, and she said, "Go ahead and get up on the Ryman stage. If you want to play a couple of songs today, go ahead. If people, when they're on this tour, don't get in their way, let them walk up on stage, but other than that, play as many songs as you'd like." I stood there on the stage, and I was able to play a couple of songs. And now, years later, I wound up playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time on October 7, 2010. The first song I played at the Ryman when she let me get up there was Keith Whitley's 'Don't Close Your Eyes,' and that's the first song I played when they gave me an appointment to play there.
Did you ever get discouraged?
I had flipped through Country Weekly magazine, calling all the numbers in the back, because it would say "Producer looking for new talent" or "Publisher looking for songs," and I would call those numbers and people would promise me the moon and never give me nothing. I would drive up to Nashville and try to meet with these people, and once I got into town, they wouldn't call me back or suddenly they'd have to fly out of town for a business meeting. So nothing seemed to go my way, but of course I kept smiling because at one point in my life I was content being me. I prayed so long to be in this town, and I prayed to meet people, and if it was God's will for me to be a country singer-songwriter, then it would happen. I was good at what I did working with my dad, I enjoyed that, but in the back of my mind I could not lay my dreams to rest.
For a little while, I put my guitar up. I stopped writing songs. I was working my normal job, and my girlfriend at the time -- who's now my wife -- said, "Bradley, you're making my life miserable. I wish you would pick up that guitar and start writing songs again, because I know that's what you want to do." And now, I sit here in this town with a record deal with a song that just hit radio ... a song I wrote in 2005 after hanging sheet rock.
How did you come up with 'Mr. Bartender?'
I sat down with my dad after we had come home from work, and he said, "Do you want to go see your grandma?," who lived right through the field beside our house. I said, "I'll go see her later on. I'm going to sit here and write a country song." My dad looked at me like I was crazy. He walked out, and I picked up the guitar and strummed the opening chord and I said, "Mr. Bartender," and that's all I said. I didn't write it on paper, I wrote it all in my head. My dad came back, and I sang it for him, and he said, "Bradley, I don't remember who sang that, was it [Merle] Haggard or [George] Jones?" I knew by his reaction to that, it could be a big song, but I didn't know how to get it to anybody. So, I held onto it and I kept playing it, and everybody I played it for kept saying, "Who did that song?" I'd say, "I wrote that song." They said, "That's crazy! Radio's not playing that kind of country anymore and it's hard to believe that you wrote that song."
Listen to 'Mr. Bartender' below.
You gravitated toward country music at an early age. What was it about it that drew you in?
I don't remember a time when I didn't like [music]. My mom says I started singing about two or three years old. I grew up in a small town and going to church on Sunday mornings and listening to harmony and great southern gospel music. I remember as a small kid, that really grabbed me -- that feeling of the song, for one, and when people would sing it, that harmony. My dad had a bunch of country records, and I would find myself playing southern gospel records, George Jones and Merle Haggard, and I just fell in love with it. It was an addiction for me at a young age. By the time junior high started, I was still listening to Buck Owens. I was listening to all this old country music, and people asked me, "Who is Buck Owens? Who is George Jones? Who's Merle Haggard?" I seemed to be the only person in school who knew who these people were. My mom told me, "I remember you watching the Grand Ole Opry standing up on the couch, pretending to play guitar, watching the Opry. I remember you telling me when you were a child that someday you were going to be a country singer." My mind never changed. I had people telling me it'll never happen, and I wouldn't make it being a traditional country singer. Well, I'm laughing today, because all that stuff came true, and they were wrong. I'm glad they were wrong. All those people that didn't believe me and gave me all that negative stuff, we're not friends anymore. [laughs]
You have a young daughter named Madilyn. How is she dealing with Daddy's career as a country artist as it is starting to really take off?
One of the showcases we had played with John, we found out a couple of days later that my wife was three weeks pregnant, and we were so excited. We had planned on having this kid, but I never really planned on my music taking off this quickly. Now my little girl is two and she knows what I do. I know that seems odd, but I can pull my guitar out of its case and she'll say, "Sing, dada." I have her singing Ronnie Milsap's 'The Girl Who Waits on Tables.' That song came out in 1974. My little girl, she knows all the lyrics to my song. My song came on the radio for the first time one Tuesday morning -- at 6:30 in the morning, she was asleep and it came back on at 8:40. Maddie walked over to the stereo, put her arm around it and hugged the stereo and said, "Dada, I love you," and sang the opening line of 'Mr. Bartender' at two years old. She then crawled up on my lap and gave me a kiss on my right cheek.
Another song that will appear on your album is 'I Worship the Woman You Walked On,' which we think could be a huge song for you!
That's the coolest song ever! I wrote the other songs, but I did not write 'The Woman You Walked On.' That's one of the first songs we recorded. Bob DiPiero, Tony Mullins and Mitzi Dawn wrote that song. I was at John's one night at a get-together downtown, and Mitzi walked up to me and said, "I've got a song for you." She sang me the chorus to this song, and I said, "OK! I'm going to cut that song." Ladies, especially, they love that song. I didn't write it, but it was one of those that I wish I had written.
What is the one thing that surprised you when you finally got into this business?
What I've learned is, you spend a lot of time trying to make it, trying to get here, and it seems like that's a climb, like you're running so fast to get where you're going. Once you get to where you're going and the door opens for you, it's like a rollercoaster. I've done things in the last few weeks that I never imagined that I'd ever do. Interviews -- I've talked to more people in the last few weeks than I've probably talked to in my whole life, to be honest. It's one of the craziest things I've ever experienced. I drive back to Alabama, because I still live there with my wife and daughter, thinking, "I was with all of these people I listen to on the radio, it's really crazy." When I played the Opry, I was hanging sheet rock with my dad on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, and on Thursday night I played the Opry. After the show, I went out with John Rich for a couple of shows that weekend and came back home on Sunday afternoon. On Monday morning, I was back on the job hanging sheet rock with my dad. Life has been really crazy for me. That's one thing that I'll say that I learned, is that once you get in this business and people believe in what you do and they like you, life changes, and it has.
Download Bradley Gaskin's 'Mr. Bartender'