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Harold Bradley refuses to slow down

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2006

At 80, most folks Harold Bradley's age take life just a tad easier. But, instead, the Nashville native holds down the presidency of the Nashville Association of Musicians Local 257. And that means jetting around to New York and meetings galore.

There is even recording studio session work to be done as music is not all business for the man who may be the most recorded guitarist in history.

And Bradley, who with brother Owen formed a dynamic duo that devoted their lives to music, ensured that his busy calendar included time to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in November for his long and vast work as a musician.

Bradley was part of the original "A Team" of Nashville superpickers, immortalized by John Sebastian in his song "Nashville Cats."

He played on Elvis Presley's records and movie soundtracks plus a long list including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly, George Morgan, Burl Ives, Henry Mancini, Connie Francis, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Leon Russell, The Everly Brothers, Gene Watson, Marty Robbins, Freddie Hart, Perry Como, Joan Baez and Roy Clark.

To be more specific, Bradley played on such classic cuts as Cline's "Crazy," Roger Miller's "King of the Road," 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," Johnny Horton's "Battle of Now Orleans," Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John," 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 Brothers' "Ebony Eyes" and John Anderson's "Swingin'."

"It kind of took my breath because I wasn't expecting it," says Bradley in a telephone interview from his Nashville office about being inducted. "Previous to this, in all the years that the Hall of Fame has given awards, they've only given to singers and songwriters. But three years ago, they inducted Floyd Cramer under the studio musician prior to 1980 (category). So every three years, this category will come up, and I'm the first studio recording musician to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, it is the beginning of a lot of really a lot of other worthy musicians being inducted."

The idea of being picked for country music's most coveted honor did cross Bradley's mind.

"I thought about it because I, of course, get a ballot, and I saw I was on the ballot. Later on, I knew I'd made the top five, but I was still surprised," he says, figuring that others such as Charlie McCoy and Lloyd Green would make it before he did.

"Of course, I was very grateful...to God, to my family and to the Country Music Association and the (Country Music Foundation) for the award," says Bradley.

His interest in music goes back to his early teen years with Owen a key influence. They are the only two brothers in the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted separately.

Harold Bradley was born Jan. 2, 1926, in Nashville. Although Owen Bradley played piano, his brother was at first drawn to the banjo. But he heeded the advice of his brother and learned how to play guitar, influenced by Charlie Christian.

"It is kind of strange because I didn't have a great drive to play. I wanted to do it because it was kind of a mystery. I told Owen I wanted to play the banjo because I heard someone out of Chicago on the radio program playing banjo, and it sounded happy, but he said it was going out of style. 'You've got to play guitar'."

"I was 15 years old," Bradley recalls. "When my cousin came by one Friday night and convinced my mother to let me play my first professional job...It took a little convincing because my dad was a traveling salesman, and he was out of town."

"My brother Owen said, 'well, if you're going to do that, you've got to join the union. So, I joined the union when was I was 16 years old in 1942."

By 17, Owen called him, asking, "'Why don't you go on the road with Ernest Tubb this summer? His guitar player just left with an ulcer.' I said, 'what? Play that old corny country music because I'd been playing pop music...He said, "It'd do you good', and he was right."

"I learned how to play country music or tried to. Ernest gave me some 78 records, and we got along great. He became a life-long friend, and I learned a great deal of respect for country music."

"We had a wonderful summer, and then I had to go back and finish the senior year of high school," Bradley says.

After high school graduation, it was off to the Navy for Bradley, who gave up a potential baseball career. The Chicago Cubs wanted to sign him, but he injured his arm right before enlisting in the Navy.

After his Navy stint, Bradley went to George Peabody College, playing music to earn money. He played the Opry with Arnold and Bradley Kincaid.

Nashville wasn't exactly a huge music center at the time like it is today.

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