The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville inducted legendary record executive Jerry Bradley in 2019. Bradley, credited with shaping country music's sound in 1970s and '80s, died Monday at age 83. Photo by the Country Music Hall of Fame/Wikimedia Commons
July 17 (UPI) -- Country music executive Jerry Bradley, whose skills and savvy as a producer pushed the genre to new heights in the 1970s and '80s, has died in Nashville, his family announced Monday. He was 83.
Family members confirmed Bradley's death in a release to The Tennessean but did not provide a cause.
A 2019 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Bradley is credited with giving the genre a wildly successful new direction in the 1970s as head of RCA's Nashville division with his backing of what became known as "Outlaw Country."
The phenomenon was launched by the 1976 release of the album Wanted! The Outlaws, which, in fact, was a compilation of earlier recordings made by Waylon Jennings; his wife, Jessi Colter; Willie Nelson; and Tompall Glaser, and packaged with a striking image of a "wanted" poster.
The album was a huge success and heralded a new, "progressive" era for country music that blended the energy and attitude of rock 'n' roll with the traditional musical sensibilities of "golden era" country music of the 1950s and '60s.
The marketing techniques mastered by Bradley helped the project become the first million-selling country album certified by the Recording Industry Association of America, according to the Country Music of Hall of Fame.
"I picked up this Time Life [magazine] old Western thing and started thumbing through it. It had this picture of an old wanted poster on it, and I said, 'Man, that'd make a good album cover!'" Bradley told the Hall in a 2012 interview.
Bradley had a long and distinguished career in Nashville well before the "outlaws" phenomenon. He learned the production end of the industry from his father, legendary Nashville music industry figure Owen Bradley, and his uncle, top studio guitarist Harold Bradley.
He was present at his father's studio as the elder Bradley recorded sessions with some of the leading folk, country and pop artists of the era, such as Joan Baez, Brenda Lee, Gordon Lightfoot, Loretta Lynn, Webb Pierce and Dinah Shore.
He also befriended guitarist Chet Atkins, who was RCA Records' Nashville chief. That led to a job at the company in 1970; Bradley succeeded Atkins in the position three years later and charted a course that laid the foundation for the genre's future as a prime force in the music industry.
In addition to the progressive push of Outlaw Country, Bradley pioneered the mainstream pop-country crossover of the '80s through the development of artists such as Ronnie Milsap, Alabama, Charley Pride and Dolly Parton for RCA.
"Once Jerry took the reins at RCA, he innovated -- wresting marketing budgets and album cover control from New York; expanding country's reach to entice pop and rock fans; and nurturing dynamic artists like Alabama, Waylon Jennings, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton and Charley Pride, enabling their Hall of Fame careers," Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young said in a statement.
"Thanks to Jerry, country music gained newfound respect and commercial clout."
He left the company in the mid-1980s to spearhead the newly formed Opryland Music Group, where he signed a new generation of artists such as Kenny Chesney to publishing deals.
Lee Sun-kyun arrives at a photocall for "Parasite" during the Cannes International Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 22, 2019. The South Korean actor died
at the age of 48 on December 27. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo