Country HOF member Jerry Bradley passes
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Country HOF member Jerry Bradley passes

Monday, July 17, 2023 – Country Music Hall of Famer Jerry Bradley, the former head of RCA Records and producer of artists including Eddy Arnold and Dottie West, died today at 83.

Bradley, who was president of RCA Records from 1973 to 1982, signed artists including Ronnie Milsap and Alabama. No cause of death was given.

Bradley was the son of legendary Nashville music industry figure Owen Bradley and a nephew of Nashville A-Team guitarist Harold Bradley, Jerry Bradley was born in Nashville in 1940. Jerry attended Montgomery Bell Academy, Hillsboro High School and Peabody College. In his youth he raced sports cars at Nashville Fairgrounds and remained an avid race car fan throughout his life. After graduating, he served two years in the army.

In the 1960s, Bradley began working with his family's music publishing company, Forrest Hills Music. He learned to engineer and produce records while assisting his father at Bradley's Barn studio. As an engineer, his clients included Loretta Lynn, Roy Clark, Mickey Newbury, Burl Ives, Dinah Shore, Gordon Lightfoot and The Who.

Bradley worked with guitarist Chet Atkins, Nashville head of RCA Records and a producer. Jerry Bradley told his father that he might be able to land a job with RCA. "You already have a job," Owen Bradley said. "If you aim for another position, make sure it's an opportunity to advance."

In 1970, Atkins hired Bradley as his assistant. In addition to handling paperwork and communicating with the label's New York headquarters, Bradley worked with Atkins in the studio, scheduled sessions for producers and produced artists himself. Bradley succeeded Atkins as head of RCA Records in Nashville in 1973.

In addition to inking Alabama and Milsap, Bradley oversaw the recording careers of Dolly Parton, as it grew after 1974, and Charley Pride, who recorded hits such as "Someone Loves You Honey," "Burgers and Fries," and "Where Do I Put Her Memory" under Bradley's supervision.

He assembled a roster of hit-making artists that included Steve Wariner, Earl Thomas Conlee and Gary Stewart. He also produced number one singles and albums for RCA's long-time superstar, Charley Pride, including his hit album "Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs," as well as hits on Dave and Sugar, Jimmy Dean and West.

"I wasn't so much a musical leader," Bradley said. "I was more of a coach."

Bradley may be best remembered for his role in creating the 1976 album "Wanted! The Outlaws," featuring Jessi Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He branded the new, progressive country with the name Outlaw, although he did not coin the term. Although Nelson was at Columbia Records by the 1970s, Jennings was still on RCA, and there were various Nelson recordings in RCA's vaults plus material by Colter. Nelson overdubbed vocals on two earlier Jennings performances, while RCA leased tracks that Glaser had recorded for Polydor.

Bradley modeled the album cover after a vintage, Old West "wanted" poster, featuring all four singers' faces. The project became the first million-selling country album certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Bradley was also a longtime member of the CMA Board of Directors, playing a key role in creating CMA's Fan Fair experience. He served as CMA Board President in 1975 and was named the head of the newly formed Opryland Music Group when the Gaylord company bought Acuff-Rose Publishing in 1985.

For years Acuff-Rose has been a steady earner because of its old songs catalogs, which included the classics of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, John D. Loudermilk, the Everly Brothers and Dallas Frazier. But Bradley saw potential and went to work acquiring new staff, song pluggers and hit songwriters like Dean Dillon, Casey Beathard and Kenny Chesney. Bradley brought Chesney to Acuff-Rose in 1992.

"Jerry Bradley signed me to Acuff Rose when I was a kid. He had a profound and unmeasurable impact on my life," Kenny Chesney adds. "But not just in my life...he helped change the lives of so many people that had a song in their heart. Jerry's impact on our creative community will be felt for years."

Bradley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the Non-Performer category in 2019.

Jerry's wife of 42 years, Connie Bradley, who passed away in 2021, was the head of ASCAP Nashville and his sister Patsy Bradley was Assistant Vice President of BMI.

"Today we lost a Country Music Hall of Famer and business icon who was instrumental in the careers of dozens of artists. Jerry loved country music just as much as he lived it. His reputation preceded him and personally, I remember several times in my career being nervous to get Jerry's blessing on a project or program. However, I quickly realized his bark was not as bad as I'd imagined. Jerry's deep passion for our business will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences go out to his friends and family during this difficult time," said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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