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Fame & Fortune
Bobby Braddock
Bobby Braddock
Country hits got him into trouble and out of it
Celebrity interview

D-I-V-O-R-C-E made him rich and broke

Bankrate: So you spent better than 20 years in debt?

Braddock: 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?

Braddock: 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.

Next: "If I was earning $10,000 a year, we would live on $15,000."
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