Story by Hank Beach
I am humbled and proud to be able to call Harold Bradley a friend. He’s one of the first Bradley’s I met when I started coming to Nashville to record in the great studios around town. Believe you me, there are a lot of Bradley’s that have done some great things in country music. In fact, the late and great Owen Bradley, who produced Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and so many others, is Harold’s brother.
I would always try and get Harold to play and be the leader of musicians on my recording sessions, and he did so a few times. Harold is the kindest, most professional, very approachable, honest person, I ever met on music row. He is deeply respected by all who know him, and is certainly a master musician. He is the most recorded guitarist of all time. The last time Edna and I talked with the late great Eddy Arnold, Harold and Eddy were having lunch at the “Ole Maude’s Court Yard” here in Nashville. When Edna and I entered, Harold saw us, and motioned us to the table. As we approached the table, they both stood up, the reason, a lady was coming to the table. Eddy was up in years at this time, yet he got to his feet, and pulled out the chair for Edna to sit down. These two were always gentlemen in the truest since. We talked for awhile and learned that Harold was producing Eddy’s new album. Eddy and I talked about having the same producer, Dick Glasser, when we both were associated with MGM Records. Harold ask about a song entitled, “Run Right Back,” that I had recorded in the past on MGM, wanted to know if I had written the song. I told him no, that I believed it was composed by Ava Aldredge and Al Cartee. We chatted while they were eating lunch, then excused ourselves, and let them be alone, just as we found them.
Let me take this opportunity now to enlighten you on who this gentleman is, Harold Bradley, really is, some of the achievements he has accomplished in the musical world. Harold Ray Bradley was born January 2nd, 1926, in Nashville, Tennessee. His older brother Owen, (also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame), was a strong early musical influence on Harold. Although Owen Bradley had earned his spurs as a pianist, Harold was at first fascinated by the banjo. However, taking his big brother’s advice, he learned to play the guitar. His idols at that time were Charlie Christian and George Barnes. While still a teenager, Harold landed a much-coveted band spot with the legendary Ernest Tubb in 1943. After high school graduation, Harold joined the Navy.
Upon his discharge in 1946, he studied at George Peabody College under the GI Bill. To enhance his income, Harold played on the Grand Ole Opry with Eddy Arnold and Bradley Kincaid. His first recording session was on December the 17th, 1946, with Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys in Chicago, Illinois. Two of Pee Wee King songs on which Harold’s contribution was notable are “Texas Toni Lee” and “Tennessee Central Number Nine.”
Harold was of the original “A Team” of Nashville’s Superpickers. He can be heard on some of Elvis Presley’s record and movie soundtracks, as well as those of such entertainers as Perry Como, Joan Baez, Buddy Holly, Ivory Joe Hunter, Pee Wee King, George Morgan, Hank Williams SR., Burl Ives, Henry Mancini, Connie Francis, George Beverly Shea, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Leon Russell, The Everly Brothers, Gene Watson, Marty Robbins, Freddie Hart, Conway Twitty and Roy Clark.
He also played on such classic recording as Red Foley’s “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” Ray Anthony’s “Do The Hokey Pokey” Bobby Helms “Jingle Bell Rock,” Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Johnny Horton’s “Battle Of New Orleans,” Jimmy Dean’s “ Big Bad John,” Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road,” Jeannie C. Riley’s “ Harper Valley PTA,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” Eddy Arnold’s “Make The World Go Away,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” The Everly Brother “Ebony Eyes,” and John Anderson’s “Swinging.”
Harold can boast about a trio of his own albums on the Columbia record label, “Misty Guitar,” “The Bossa Nova Goes To Nashville” and “Guitar For Lovers Only.” His musical input can be heard too, on such other LP’s as the Bear Family’s ambitious four compact disc set, “Webb Pierce, The Wandering Boy, 1951-1958,” and Alan Jackson’s recent recording of “Here In The Real World” for Arista.
Harold Bradley is one of 12 musicians inducted into the Studio Musicians Hall of Fame at RCA’s Studio B, (I too have recorded there many times), now a museum operated by the Country Music Foundation. Harold also won the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences “Superpickers” Award from 1974 through 1979. Who’s Who In Country Music listed Harold Bradley on its Most Valuable Player polls in 1977,’78 and ’79. He was also among the Billboard Top 10 Most Promising Artist in 1964.
Harold’s credits also include co-producing 39 filmed 30 minute variety shows entitled “Country Style, USA, with his brother, Owen Bradley. Featured for this late 1950’s TV series were many stars of The Grand Ole Opry. In addition, Harold was music director for the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) fund-raising telethon, “Legends of Country Music,” in 1985. The artists Harold Bradley represented or produced personally include Bryon and Slim Whitman, Billy Chinnock, Eddy Arnold, Sandy Kelly, and Mandy Barnett.
Among the cinematic soundtracks boasting Harold’s touches are “Kissin’ Cousins,” “Clambake,” “Stay Away Joe,” The Fastest Guitar Alive,” Sugarland Express,” “A Walk In The Spring Rain,” “Tick, Tick, Tick,,” “Breathless,” “Smokey & The Bandit II,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Six- pack,” “Missing” and “Sweet Dreams.” Harold also appeared briefly in Robert Altman’s award-winning movie “Nashville.”
Since June, 1999, Harold had served as the elected International Vice-President of the more than 100,000 member American Federation of Musicians. In December, 1990, Harold was elected President of the 3,500 members of the Nashville Association of Musicians Local 257 of the American Federation of Musicians. A life time member, Harold has been active in the Nashville Local for many years. Harold was the first president of the NARAS’ Nashville chapter and continues as a member of the Grammy organization’s Board of Governors. He has recorded or worked with 30 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He has recorded with 76 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees, (not including himself). In December 2008, Harold marked his 53rd year as a studio musician.
Harold at present is still very active in Nashville’s Recording Industry. He’s recording a fourth Guitar Album, he lectures at seminars on Studio Recording Techniques and the History of Nashville’s recording Industry. And “YES”… He is still playing Guitar on Recording Sessions. When time permits, he gets to play tennis once in awhile. I personally admire anyone who has associated with the Music Business as long as Harold, yet…..remains a lifetime non drinker, non smoker, an non user of recreational drugs. Just thinking of the music business makes me want a drink right now.
You can certainly see that Harold Bradley has been, and still is, a very busy, busy, Superpicker. You have most surely been hearing Harold Bradley’s musical studio performances throughout your whole life whether you knew it or not. He has played on so many recordings for many recording artist’s, you couldn’t have possibly missed hearing him play at one time or another during your life time, unless you were deaf. Harold Bradley is not only a Superpicker, he is for sure, a Super Human Being.