Bankrate: So you spent better than 20 years in debt?
Yeah. And the thing is, it was only a few years
ago that I got a good credit rating because I
had IRS liens against property. I was in such
bad shape that in 1988, I was so badly in debt
-- I mean, I had hits up through the early '80s,
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" was 1980,
several number one records -- but I was in such
terrible debt that I had to sell the writer's
rights to my songs to my publisher, Buddy Killen
-- not to the company but to him personally. I
have to say, it saved my life, but at the same
time, if I had it to do over, I would rather have
lived in a little room and taken a bus to Music
Row every day than to have given up my copyrights.
That's a precious thing to left go of.
Bankrate: What was Nashville like when you arrived in 1964?
Braddock: Patsy Cline had died in '63, before I got to town. Willie Nelson was already established as a songwriter but not commercially successful as a singer. Of course, he had real short hair and no beard then. I never knew him really well. He never lived in Nashville much, except in his early years.
Bankrate: Who gave you your early break?
That would be [producer] Billy Sherrill. We weren't
like social friends, but I had his ear and he
would listen to my songs. There weren't a lot
of people he would let in; I was one of the lucky
ones. He cut a lot of my songs. He produced Tammy
Wynette, George Jones, and was the early producer
of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Mandrell. He did all
those hits with Charlie Rich. A majority of my
hits back then were produced either by him or
my publisher, Buddy Killen, who had a few big
acts. It does matter who you know --
the gatekeepers, you know?
Bankrate: How did you support yourself in Music City?
Braddock: When I first got to Nashville, I had a job polishing horns at Hewgley's Music Store, but I got my apron caught in the trumpet-polishing machine and they fired me. I played clubs and little bars around east Nashville, and lo and behold, I hadn't been here but just three or four months and I got a job playing piano for Marty Robbins on the road. And he recorded a couple of my songs. So I thought, well, if Marty likes my songs, he's recorded them, maybe I really am a songwriter. So I told Marty that I wanted to try my hand as a songwriter and could I have my material back and he said, "Yeah, if there's anything I haven't put any expense on, you can have it back." He was real nice about it.
I went to one publishing company, Tree Publishing, now Sony/ATV, which even then had just become the biggest company in town. In fact, Buddy Killen, who was the head of Tree, had been a millionaire for a few years. He was 33 years old and I was probably 25. This was May 1966. I called him up and actually got him on the phone and he listened to my songs and I started getting songs cut left and right. I was blessed from the beginning. I've had rough years, off years, since then, but I started with a bang.