One of the key members of Nashville’s “A-Team” of studio session musicians, guitarist Harold Bradley died peacefully in his sleep early Thursday morning, according to a Facebook post from his daughters. They wrote, “”Many of you know him as a successful musician and no doubt many stories will be told in the coming week. But to us, his greatest accomplishment was being the best dad in the world. We love you, dad.”
During his long career, Bradley played on such iconic recordings as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and countless others. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006, he was often referred to as the “Dean of Nashville Session Guitarists.” Bradley was 93.
Born in Nashville in 1926, Harold Ray Bradley was the younger brother of fellow Hall of Fame member Owen Bradley, who produced records by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and many others. Although he first played banjo, the younger Bradley was given a six-dollar guitar purchased by his father in a junk store. By high school he was playing well enough to earn a spot in Ernest Tubb’s band the Texas Troubadours and also played in his brother’s popular dance band. Bradley served in the Navy and after his return began playing in the Grand Ole Opry house band, while also doing session work playing lead and rhythm guitar as well as bass. It was on the latter instrument that he popularized the “tic-tac” method, a muted style of playing that involved doubling a melody on six-string bass. Bradley’s first session took place in Chicago, playing on Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Central No. 9” in 1946.
In the early Fifties, Owen and Harold opened several recording studios in Nashville, the most famous being the Quonset Hut on 16th Avenue South, part of the city’s then-burgeoning Music Row. Bradley would be among the most recorded musicians working in the style that would be known as “countrypolitan” or the “Nashville sound,” a blend of smooth pop and traditional country music. Among the more notable songs that include his work are the holiday classic, “Jingle Bell Rock,” which opens with his distinctive guitar riff and “The Battle of New Orleans,” which kicks off with a memorable banjo lick. Bradley also recorded a trio of instrumental LPs for Columbia Records in the early Sixties.
In 1978, Bradley was one of the organizers of a concert at the White House, given by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Tom T. Hall to honor the Country Music Association. In 1999, he co-produced Mandy Barnett’s second LP, I’ve Got a Right to Cry, which featured four tracks produced by Owen Bradley just prior to his death in January 1998.
Bradley served as president of Nashville’s American Federation of Musicians from 1991 to 2008 and was the AFM’s International Vice President from 1999 to 2010. The first president of Nashville’s chapter of the Recording Academy, he was honored with a special Grammy Trustees Award in 2010.