Guitarist from Nashville, Tennessee, who started playing the banjo until his older brother Owen urged him to switch to the guitar. The banjo, said Owen, was becoming passé. Harold took his advice and modeled his early guitar playing on that of George Barnes and Charlie Christian.
Owen helped him get his first professional music gig, as well, arranging for him to go on tour with Ernest Tubb during the summer after his junior year of high school. After graduating, Harold enlisted in the U.S. Navy, then attended George Peabody College, studying music by day, and playing at the Grand Ole Opry at night.
On 17th December 1946, he laid down his first tracks as a session musician, in tandem with Pee Wee King & the Golden West Cowboys, including “Tennessee Central Number Nine” and “Texas Toni Lee”.
Harold and Owen were seminal figures in the establishment of Nashville as Music City, U.S.A. They built the first recording studio there in the late 1940s. It was called Castle Recording Studio, and it served its purpose well for a few years, but with stereo all the rage, the brothers needed a bigger, more sophisticated recording environment. Then they erected the Bradley Film and Recording Studios (a.k.a. Quonset Hut), and it was located on what is now commonly referred to as Music Row.
In the 1950s, Harold co-produced a TV show entitled Country Style, USA – with Owen Bradley, and recorded with Webb Pierce. Other artists with whom he worked included Joan Baez, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Buddy Holly, Henry Mancini, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Leon Russell, Hank Snow, and Hank Williams.
He has played on some of the biggest country-pop hits of all time, such as “Big Bad John”, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Crazy”, “Harper Valley PTA”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, “King of the Road”, “Only the Lonely”, and “Stand By Your Man”.
In the 1960s, he released three solo albums, Bossa Nova Guitar Goes to Nashville, Guitar for Lovers Only, and Misty Guitar.
Session work continued to pour in during the 1970s, and Harold expanded his musical clout by multi-tasking on the bass. For his efforts, he won the NARAS Superpicker Award in six consecutive years and was named in the Who’s Who in Country Music MVP polls from 1977 through 1979.
In 1985, he served as Music Director of Legends of Country Music, a telethon intended to raise money for the Public Broadcasting Service. He also had the distinction of having been the first president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Nashville chapter which he held from 1991 to 2008, vice president of the American Federation of Musicians International from 1999 to 2010 and past president of the AFM’s Nashville Association of Musicians Local 257. He was an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a solo artist and at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010 he was presented with the Trustees Award.
In 2004, he appeared on the compact disc, Regeneration (Reunion of Nashville’s “A” Team), a collection of artists who were essentially “The Wrecking Crew” of the Nashville scene.
In the 2000s Harold Bradley was considered to be the most recorded guitarist in history.
He died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville in January 2019 when he was 93 years old.
Hargus “Pig” Robbins recordings
Chunky People (Jim Vest/David Chamberlain)
Here he is performing “Jingle Bell Rock”…