If Bobby Braddock really wanted to talk about Bobby Braddock he could probably go on and on. In recent months he’s spent ten weeks in the number one spot on the country singles charts – five weeks as the writer of Toby Keith’s hit “I Wanna Talk About Me” and five weeks as the producer of Blake Shelton’s debut single “Austin.”
And when he’s not writing or producing hits these days, he’s writing about performing those tasks in a forthcoming autobiography gleaned largely from journals chronicling a career that has resulted in more than 30 Top Ten singles, including classics like “Golden Ring” and “Her Name Is.”
Still, he insists it’s not really himself he wants to talk about. “I think everybody’s life is interesting,” he says. “What’s more interesting than me is the people I’ve known.”
And one of those people would likely include Toby Keith, who’s helped make the latest chapter in the Braddock memoirs read like every songwriter’s fantasy, exceeding even his own dreams. “I thought ‘I Wanna Talk About Me’ had a chance of doing well,” Braddock says, “but I was just totally floored that it was number one for five weeks.”
The humorous, rapid-fire, country rap song, which Braddock wrote by himself, was first cut by newcomer Shelton and pitched to execs at his then-label, Giant Records. It was turned down because they considered it too risky for a debut offering. Braddock agreed, but was at no loss as to where to shop the song next. Keith had just enjoyed chart-topping success with “How Do You Like Me Now,” an egocentric song flaunting the singer’s stardom in the face of an unrequited high school crush.
“I thought it would be a natural for Toby because of the brashness of the lyric,” says Braddock. “It seemed like something he could really pull off. So I played it for (label president) James Stroud and he loved it and he said that Toby loved it right off.”
That love-fest was the happy result of a sad experience related to Braddock by a female friend. “I have a friend who was going through a lot of personal problems,” he says. “Normally, she’s a good, balanced conversationalist, but for a few days all the focus was on her, so that sort of inspired the song. When I sang it to her over the phone she didn’t comment much and then a few days later she called me back and asked, ‘Is that song about me?'”
Because the song strayed off the beaten path, not just in subject matter, but in musical approach, Braddock says he was unsure how the record would be accepted by radio programmers who had been reluctant to play another rap-inspired Toby Keith single, “Get Ya Some.”
“‘Get Ya Some’ was a kind of rap thing and I loved it,” he says. “That’s maybe my favorite thing that he’d done. I think a lot of radio stations were afraid of it, and frankly I thought there would be a lot more resistance to my song than there was. I thought of it as a big, polarizing song and I’m sure there are people who absolutely hate it. There must be thousands of people saying it’s not country, it’s rap and I understand that. I’m just surprised that so many people have told me they love it – people of all ages. I’ve had more people tell me that their kids love it, which to me is the ultimate compliment.”
Also earning Braddock a lot of compliments recently is his production work on “Austin” (written by David Kent & Kirsti Manna), a song which, like “I Wanna Talk About Me,” was also rejected at least once before it was cut by Shelton.
“‘Austin’ was pitched to Clay Walker, who passed on it. I gotta love him for that,” says Braddock with a laugh. To reinforce his own belief that the song was a hit, Braddock enlisted the aid of a few female friends.
“We cut a bunch of stuff and the decision was made to put out a single that wasn’t ‘Austin,'” he says. “So I played ‘Austin’ for five females – a couple in person and three out of town. That weekend I got calls from all the ones I had mailed it to and their reaction was all the same – they cried when they heard it. So I went into a meeting at the label and said we’ve got to put “Austin” out because of the way people are reacting to it. I talked them into it based on people’s reactions.”
And those reactions proved to be common among country fans, with “Austin” becoming the most successful debut single since Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy, Breaky Heart” nearly a decade ago.
However, Braddock’s hit-picking sensibilities haven’t always been as accurate as they were with “Austin.” Case in point – one of this own compositions, and the song he may be best known for co-writing with Curly Putman, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Twice named CMA Song Of The Year, the composition has also been voted Best All-Time Country Song by readers of Country America Magazine. Much of the credit for the song’s success though, says Braddock, extends beyond the composition itself.
“I thought it was an okay song,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was really great until (producer) Billy Sherrill played me the recording of it. It blew me away. I thought he made the perfect record on it. It breathed life into the song. I don’t deny that it’s a good song, but I think George Jones’ singing and Billy Sherrill’s production had so much to do with making it the really huge thing it turned out to be.”
So what does the man with such country standards as “We’re Not The Jet Set” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” to his credit believe makes a song a great song?
“I think it’s totally subjective really,” says Braddock, who has written some 1,300 songs over the course of his career with Sony/ATV/Tree Publishing. “It can be the simplest thing in the world and if somebody thinks it’s great, then to them, it is great. It’s in the ear of the beholder. I guess the thing to do is figure out what you can do to get the greatest number of people to think something is great.”
Hit songwriter Jeff Crossan is a recipient of the BMI Million Air Award for one million broadcast performances of a single song. Crossan, who is based in Nashville, is also a freelance journalist and cartoonist. He can be contacted at: [email protected]