TERRY GROSS, host:
Our Country Music Week continues with Bobby Braddock, who wrote George Jones' hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and co-wrote Tammy Wynette's hit, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," before she married George Jones. Braddock also wrote Tanya Tucker's "I Believe the South is Gonna Rise Again" and Toby Keith's "I Wanna Talk About Me."
Bobby Braddock was inducted into the Nashville Hall of Fame in 1981. After decades of lyric writing, he wrote a memoir about growing up in old Florida. I interviewed him when it was published in 2007.
Let's start with a Braddock song that was a number one hit on the country music charts in 1968. Here's Tammy Wynette.
(Soundbite of song, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E")
Ms. TAMMY WYNETTE (Musician): (Singing) Our little boy is 4 years old and quite a little man. So we spell out the words we don't want him to understand. Like t-o-y, or maybe s-u-r-p-r-i-s-e. But the words we're hiding from him now tear the heart right out of me.
Our d-i-v-o-r-c-e becomes final today. Me and little J-o-e will be going away. I love you both, and this will be pure h-e-double-l for me. Oh, I wish that we could stop this d-i-v-o-r-c-e.
GROSS: Bobby Braddock, welcome to FRESH AIR. So tell us the story behind this song. How did you write it?
Mr. BOBBY BRADDOCK (Songwriter): "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," I had written a song called "I L-O-V-E Y-O-U, Do I Have to Spell it Out for You?" And it wasn't very good, and that sort of inspired this song. I wrote it. Nobody recorded it. I asked my friend Curly Putnam, why did he think no one had recorded it? And he said he thought the melody was a little bit too happy for a sad song. And I said, what would you do? And he got around the title line and just made it sound real mournful, and mine sounded sort of like a detergent commercial. And I said, hey, let's get it on tape like that. And he didn't want any of it, and I wanted him to have half. So we compromised, and he took a quarter of it. And Tammy Wynette recorded it within - I'd say, probably a week or two after that.
GROSS: Can you sing us the more upbeat version that you originally wrote?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BRADDOCK: Okay. What I had was - everything else was the same except the title line. I had...
(Singing) Oh, I wish that we could stop this d-i-v-o-r-c-e.
And Curly changed it to...
(Singing) I wish that we could stop this d-i-v-o-r-c-e.
Which made it a lot, lot better. And that little change made the difference, I think, between it being a hit and just gathering cobwebs, and nobody ever having heard it.
GROSS: Let's talk about another of your most famous songs, a song recorded by George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." And after we talk about it a little bit, we'll hear it.
Now, this song tells a story. Would you describe the story?
Mr. BRADDOCK: It's the story of a man whose love was so strong, that the only way he could get over this woman was to die. I think he was a terrible role model.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BRADDOCK: A very bad role model. The man was obsessed with this woman, and he never got over. He never moved on. Again, this is one I wrote with Curly Putnam. I thought it was just an okay song. I didn't think it was that great a song. And when the producer, Billy Sherrill, played me George's recording of it, I went, wow. This is something really great. I think in this instance, the artist and the production elevated the song to a place that it wouldn't have been otherwise. I really attribute so much of the success of this to George Jones and his producer.
(Soundbite of song, "He Stopped Loving Her Today")
Mr. GEORGE JONES (Country music singer): (Singing) He stopped loving her today, and placed a wreath upon his door. And soon they'll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.
You know, she came to see him one last time. Oh, and we all wondered if she would.
GROSS: Bobby Braddock, the word schmaltz is probably not a word that's used a lot in country music.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: But it's a word that comes to mind with parts of the song -schmaltz being like, overly sentimental or, you know, almost maudlin. Did you think this is really going to be over the top?
Mr. BRADDOCK: I think in the hands of anyone other than George Jones, it would've been really schmaltzy. And there's such an intense believability about it. There's a little story that goes with this, and I think it's okay to tell it, that as George was performing in it - in those days, the recordings were pretty much done - the vocals were often done with the band on the original track in session, as opposed to now, when they're done separately, later on. And George had sung this once. And at that time, his ex, Tammy Wynette, came into the control room with her new boyfriend, who was also a friend of George, George Ritchie.
And she sat down next to the producer, Billy Sherrill, in the control room. And Billy said, George, you need to sing it one more time. And so as George sang it, he was looking in the control room and Tammy's face was - I mean, Tammy Wynette, the love of George Jones' life at that time, her face was illuminated, and he was looking right at her as he sang that song. So I think that probably put a little more poignancy into what was going on that day.
GROSS: That's the take he used, huh?
Mr. BRADDOCK: Mm-hmm. That's the take that we hear. Yeah.
GROSS: We're listening back to our 2007 interview with country music songwriter Bobby Braddock.
We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with country music songwriter Bobby Braddock. He co-wrote the George Jones hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and Tammy Wynette's hit "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."
Now you were signed to Tree Music, which I think was probably the biggest country music publisher. Is that fair?
Mr. BRADDOCK: It was. It wasn't the giant then that it is now. And, of course, it is now Sony/ATV/Tree.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now, what was the approach of Tree Music to matching -well, to deciding whether a song was worthy of being recorded and if so, who would be chosen to sing it? Or who would be asked to sing it?
Mr. BRADDOCK: My memory is of just turning in a bunch of songs, them liking the songs, and getting out there in the street and getting them cut, which is pretty easy. There were not a lot discussions about it. If they didn't like a song, they told me, you know. And more than likely, the next song or two I brought them that were decent, they would they would like.
GROSS: Did you ever think: Oh, not him. Don't give it to him.
Mr. BRADDOCK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I thought that a lot. Yeah, and that still happens.
GROSS: Do you say anything? Or do you figure, well, maybe it'll be a hit anyways?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BRADDOCK: Yeah. I think maybe it'll be a hit anyway. Eventually, I became a song-plugger myself, and got quite a few - the Toby Keith thing, "I Wanna Talk About Me." I got that cut. And I got...
GROSS: What do you mean when you say you became a song-plugger?
Mr. BRADDOCK: I just decided to go out and start pitching my own songs around.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. I'm glad you brought up the Toby Keith record. This is unusual, because it's a kind of rap country song. So what gave you the idea to do that?
Mr. BRADDOCK: I think it's the only number one country rap song, you know. And there probably don't need to be any more.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BRADDOCK: I got the idea for that song, Terry, by - I had a friend who I talked to quite a bit on the phone. And she was going through a lot of stressful personal things. And she - at that time, she seemed to pretty much dominate the conversation with things that were going on in her life. So she was the inspiration of the song. And I was producing -had just begun producing a young man named Blake Shelton. And I had a lot of successes with producing in the past few years.
And he went around doing this little rap thing, just to cut up, and I thought it would be good to write a country song in rap form for him to record. And the record label thought, well, this wouldn't be a good first record for a new artist - and they were probably right. So then I took it to Toby Keith's producer, and he immediately liked it for Toby.
GROSS: And he had a number-one hit for five weeks.
Mr. BRADDOCK: For five weeks in a row. Yeah. It's probably as big a song as I ever had. It's probably as big as "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
GROSS: Why don't we hear it? That's Toby Keith, recorded in 2001, "I Wanna Talk About Me," written by my guest, Bobby Braddock.
(Soundbite of song, "I Wanna Talk About Me")
Mr. TOBY KEITH (Country Music Singer): (Rapping) We talk about your work, how your boss is a jerk. We talk about your church and your head when it hurts. We talk about the troubles you've been having with your brother, about your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover. We talk about your friends and the places that you've been. We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin, the polish on your toes and the run in your hose, and God knows we're gonna talk about your clothes.
(Singing) You know talking about you makes me smile. But every once in awhile, I wanna talk about me. Wanna talk about I. Wanna talk about number one. Oh, my, me, my. What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see. I like talking about you, you, you, you, usually, but occasionally, I wanna talk about me. I wanna talk about me.
(Rapping) We talk about your dreams and we talk about your schemes...
GROSS: You know, a lot of people think of like, George Jones country music and, say, Toby Keith country music as being two different forms altogether, from two different eras of county music. You've, of course, had hits in both styles, both eras. Do you see that - those two being as disconnected as some other people do?
Mr. BRADDOCK: I haven't really thought about it that much. Of course, sonically, it's different because, for the most part, it's from different eras.
GROSS: What are some of the sonic differences from the different eras?
Mr. BRADDOCK: For one thing, I can identify from different eras by the amount of reverb...
Mr. BRADDOCK: ...and the amount of delay that they have on, which are technical things. I tell you one difference now is singers are tuned. There are singers out there who do not have really good pitch, who probably could not have gotten deal years ago who now, if they look good, and if they have an interesting delivery and have an interesting personality, then they might get a record deal because their flatness or sharpness can be tuned.
Toby Keith is not one of those. Toby live sounds pretty much like he does when he's recording. The attitude - Toby's got quite a bit of attitude, chutzpah. George comes from a different era, and it's more of a - from the perspective of somebody, maybe, who does not have as much self-confidence. And this was an era when country music was about, she went off and left me - you know - my heart's broken.
I can't imagine Toby Keith saying baby, you left me. I love you so much. Please come back to me. Country singers did a lot of that back in the '50s and '60s. You don't hear as much about that now. They inject themselves into the songs personally a lot, too. You know, you hear a songwriter saying, well, I wouldn't say that. Thankfully, you don't hear a lot of actors saying well, I wouldn't say that, you know?
GROSS: Yeah, well, that's the point.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: You're acting.
Mr. BRADDOCK: I know. I know.
Mr. BRADDOCK: So that's the big difference.
GROSS: Bobby Braddock, it's been great to talk with you. Thanks so much.
Mr. BRADDOCK: Thank you so much for having me on your show.
GROSS: Country music songwriter Bobby Braddock, recorded in 2007. Our Country Music Week continues tomorrow. We're collecting all the interviews from our Country Music Week series on one Web page. You'll find the link on our website: freshair.npr.org.