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Jerry Bradley, Longtime Nashville Executive & Country Music Hall of Fame Member, Dies at 83

Bradley was known for his work on the album "Wanted! The Outlaws" as well as his work with artists like Kenny Chesney and Alabama.

Jerry Bradley

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Music executive and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Owen Bradley died Monday (July 17) in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He was 83.

Born in Nashville on Jan. 30, 1940, Bradley was part of the illustrious Bradley family, who played an indelible role in creating and shaping Nashville’s music industry and Music Row area.

Bradley’s father was music producer Owen Bradley while his uncle was studio musician Harold Bradley, who together shaped Nashville’s Music Row as a music business town and architected the “Nashville Sound.” Bradley’s wife of 42 years, Connie Bradley, died in 2021 at age 75; she had served as the head of ASCAP Nashville for more than three decades. Bradley’s sister, Patsy Bradley, previously served as assistant vp at BMI.

Jerry Bradley got his start in the music industry through Forrest Hills Music, a publishing company he launched with his uncle Harold. He soon began engineering and producing records at the Bradley’s Barn studio, which he and his father owned in Mt. Juliet; Bradley’s clients as an engineer included Loretta Lynn, Roy Clark, Gordon Lightfoot, The Who and more.

Given that his father Owen had produced enduring, legendary hits for artists including Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee while transforming Decca/MCA Records in Nashville into a dominant operation, Jerry sought to make his own way in the industry. He approached Chet Atkins for a job at RCA, where he served as staff producer from 1970 to 1973. Atkins later handpicked Bradley to succeed him as vp of Nashville operations — a role he held from 1973 to 1983.

While at RCA, Bradley worked with artists and on albums that shaped the fabric of country music. Inspired by the success of albums, including Nelson’s groundbreaking 1975 set Red Headed Stranger, Bradley began developing a compilation project using the “Outlaw” moniker that included music from Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.

“We’d been working on Waylon. He was selling about 250,000 albums, which at that time, was fairly good,” Bradley said during an interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012. “But Willie had Red Headed Stranger and he was selling a million on Columbia. Jessi had ‘I’m Not Lisa.’ Waylon, we just couldn’t get him over the hill and I had [a] Time Life set of books on the old west and we looked at it and all these things were happening. Hazel Smith, who was working for Tompall, she used the word ‘Outlaw’ first and [when] you would talk about the Outlaws, that’s what she was talking about. I got wind of it, and I picked up this old Time Life Western thing and it had a picture of an old wanted poster on it and I thought, ‘Man, that would make a good album cover for the Outlaws.’”

In addition to coming up with the album’s eventual title, Wanted! The Outlaws, Bradley was influential in its marketing, including by modeling its vintage-style cover after that Old West “wanted” poster. Spurred by the Jennings/Nelson duet “Good Hearted Woman,” Wanted! The Outlaws became the first platinum-selling country album certified by the Recording Industry Association of America and furthered the notion of country music as a major commercial force.

At RCA, Bradley also signed hitmakers including Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Steve Wariner, Earl Thomas Conlee and Gary Stewart. Additionally, he produced No. 1 singles and albums for RCA artist Charley Pride, including the album Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs, as well as hits for Dave and Sugar, Dottie West and Jimmy Dean.

After Bradley left RCA in 1983, the Gaylord Corporation (which had acquired Opryland) bought the Acuff-Rose music publishing company and named Bradley vp of Opryland USA and GM of the Opryland Music Group, which owned the Acuff-Rose publishing catalogs. During his tenure, Bradley brought in new staffers and song pluggers as well as hit writers and artists including Dean Dillon, Casey Beathard and Kenny Chesney, whom Bradley brought 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,” said Chesney in a statement. “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.”

“Jerry never once called himself a ‘mentor’ but every day since the summer of 1988, when he hired me at Acuff-Rose, he has mentored me,” said Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville CEO Troy Tomlinson in a statement. “I will deeply miss him and the place he has occupied in my life and in my heart.”

During his more than five decades in music, Bradley served as president of the Country Music Association (1974-1975) and became a charter alumnus of Leadership Music; he also served on the Fan Fair committee from 1970 to 2000, during which time the festival grew into CMA Fest. For 20 of those years, Bradley served as either chairman or co-chairman of the committee. During his last year on the committee, the event moved to Adelphia Coliseum (now known as Nissan Stadium), home to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

“Today we lost a Country Music Hall of Famer and business icon who was instrumental in the careers of dozens of artists,” Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern said in a statement. “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.”

Bradley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019, making him the third Bradley to be bestowed with that honor after his father Owen and his uncle Harold.

During his induction speech, Bradley told the audience, “This business has given me a wonderful life. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met, the songs I’ve heard and the part I played.”

Today, two more generations of Bradleys work on Nashville’s Music Row, including Bradley’s son, Clay Bradley (vp at BMI Nashville), grandson John Bradley (creative director at Eclipse Music Group) and granddaughter Lillian Grace Bradley (social media marketing manager at Easy Eye Sound).

Bradley was predeceased by his parents, Owen Bradley and Katherine Bradley; his uncles Harold Bradley, Charlie Bradley and Bobby Bradley; his aunt Ruby Strange; his wife Connie Bradley, and the mother of his two children, Gwynn Hastings Kellam. He is survived by his sister Patsy Bradley; his children Leigh Jankiv (Rob LeBlanc) and Clay Bradley (Sara); his grandchildren Josh Jankiv (Ashley), Eli Jankiv, Emma Jankiv (Matt Acott) John Bradley and Lillian Grace Bradley; and five great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at Cedar Creek Yacht Club in Mt. Juliet on Sept. 10 at 4 p.m.



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