Dale Ann Bradley continues on a solo rollPrint article

By George Hauenstein, May 1999

After five years with Kentucky's long-standing, all-female band, The New Coon Creek Girls, Dale Ann Bradley struck out on her own.

And following the success of 1997's "East Kentucky Morning," Bradley is out with "Old Southern Porches," on Pinecastle, a wonderful showcase of her writing talents and smooth lead vocals. It's finding favor with bluegrass and Americana DJs.

Bradley says the decision to do a solo album actually came from Pinecastle President Tom Riggs.

"I had performed at Renfro Valley (Kentucky's famous Renfro Valley Barn Dance) for a couple of year before joining the New Coon Creek Girls. I had done albums on their label that they sold there in their music store. It didn't have the distribution of some of the bigger independent labels."

"Mr. Riggs approached me to see if (an album) was something I'd be interested in," Bradley says.

"I had a well of songs that I'd written, along with Vicki Simmons (of the NCCG), stuff we co-wrote together...I thought it would be another opportunity to express music."

"East Kentucky Morning" was very well received by bluegrass fans for its heartfelt songs (many written or co-written by Bradley) and down-home charm. Both albums were produced by Sonny Osborne of the legendary bluegrass group, the Osborne Brothers.

Bradley says Osborne was more a facilitator than a dictator.

"He is incredible. He really is. Sonny has recorded with almost just about anybody you can think of, in one form or another. He was an innovator in the '60's and '70's, and he remains an innovator. He can embellish his ideas on your ideas without taking away the initial thought that you had...You grow to trust him, because he knows what he's talking about....He believes in his ideas, but he also believes in yours."

Many songs on "Old Southern Porches" were written by Bradley or by Bradley and Simmons, one of the founding members of the NCCG in 1979, and current member of Dale Ann Bradley & Coon Creek, the successor group to NCCG. Bradley says there was no magic formula when it came time to go back into the studio to record the album.

"In planning it, we did the same thing we've done with the NCCG and with 'East Kentucky Morning.' We put together what we have written, and we're always thinking of songs that strike us in the heart that we want to record and sing."

One of her favorite tunes is the title cut, a reflective number that Bradley says was a natural for the new record.

"It just says so much, especially in this day and time when everybody is looking for some piece of mind, whether it's in a song or anywhere. The song was soothing, and we thought maybe for three or four minutes if somebody could listen to it and reflect back on sweet memories from their childhood, it was well-worth recording it...we liked what it had to say...Pinecastle did too. They originally thought of the idea of it being the title cut...I love what the song has to say."

Two of the more interesting songs are actually covers of old pop tunes, "Rain On The Roof, written by Exile's J. P. Pennington (also a Kentucky native) and Gerry Rafferty's "Stuck In The Middle With You," a huge hit for Stealers Wheel.

"We've developed a friendship with J.P. Pennington when I worked at Renfro Valley. His father was the owner and entertainment director."

"I've always been a big fan as has everybody all over the world, and especially here in Central Kentucky. He's sent anything that was currently in his catalogue...when I heard that song I thought that would just make a killer bluegrass song because it's got a sassy attitude and would lend itself well to the instrumentation."

"'Stuck In The Middle With You' was a song that for years I thought would work bluegrass style," she says, adding, "It's fun."

"We've been doing that for a while in our shows. It did go over, people seemed to have fun with it."

"It's a little fun thing and a little high spirited," says Bradley. "That's why we decided to put it on the album."

Asked about the evolution from a group setting with The New Coon Creek Girls, to being more of a bandleader, Bradley says, "The New Coon Creek Girls stayed together for 18 years, had a lot of fun, wrote and recorded a lot of music. (But) it's hard to keep a band together just to say you've got an all-female band. You want quality musicians, you know."

Banjoist Ramona Church Taylor stayed home to take care of her children.

"Plus, the music was taking another step...crossing over into other places...we sat down and thought about what we wanted to do and what we needed to do, and said we'll hire a couple of guys and keep our tradition and our heritage and keep the Coon Creek name and call it Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek."

According to Bradley, "Fans have been very supportive, and we still do many of the songs that we did with the New Coon Creek Girls because they are special to us."

Spring and summer are the busiest times for bluegrass musicians, particularly ones with new albums to promote. Bradley looks forward to a busy season of festivals and concerts with Coon Creek.

Bradley finds herself in elite company these days, being a female leader of a bluegrass band. Some of the more famous include Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis, Lynn Morris and Rhonda Vincent. Bradley says she was surprised to find that not all festival and concert promoters are open-minded about booking female bluegrass acts.

"I'll be honest about this. I didn't realize it as much with the NCCG as I have now, kind of being in a co-ed situation, (but) a lot of people, unfortunately...you'll inquire about a festival or they'll inquire with you...and they'll stop it at one or two female acts. They feel like, 'well I've already hired my female for this particular festival.'...I think maybe that's changing too. When they become aware that that's actually what's happening, they'll say, 'well, I didn't mean it like that.' But a lot of times that happens."

In general, though, Bradley says bluegrass and acoustic music are becoming more female-friendly. "I think it's changing for the better. Women are becoming stronger musicians and strong songwriters. A lot of women are writing now. I think it'll take a turn for the better. I really do."