As millions of country music fans know, Brad Cotter is the newly-crowned winner of USA Network's Nashville Star. He's the 33-year-old singer- songwriter from Opelika, Alabama. He's the rebellious son of a preacher. But Brad wants people to know what he isn't.
"I'm not this fly-by-night, aw-shucks, karaoke-singer kind of guy who just walked in here and got a record deal," Brad says. "I've been doing this forever!"
Indeed, Brad learned to sing before he could walk. He even had a career as a child Gospel star. But when Brad says "forever" he is mostly addressing the last eight, very long years he spent in Nashville pounding the pavement on Music Row trying to get a record deal before Nashville Star even existed.
"That was a rough time," he says. "I tried to put my foot in a lot of slammed doors."
Then, in what he calls his last ditch desperation move, Brad auditioned for Nashville Star. To his complete shock, he won. And his life literally changed overnight.
"The day after I won the show, my single, 'I Meant To' hit the radio," Brad says. "I was up at 4:30 AM doing interviews. I talked to 97 radio stations in 38 hours. It was insane."
The guy who for eight years couldn't get a phone call returned now had to buy a cell phone because his record company, producers, fellow-song-writers, publicists, radio deejays and tour manager needed to be in constant touch. The guy who dropped off songs to record companies for countless weeks in a row now finds his home mailbox jammed with unsolicited CDs from other aspiring songwriters.
"Ultimately, I think working so hard for so long has made me really ready and appreciative of this," Brad says. "The funny thing is I'm singing the same songs and playing the same guitar I have been for eight years. The only difference is now somebody cares!"
Brad, whose earliest memories include standing on the fireplace, singing along with his parents' records, including Elvis (Mom's favorite), and Otis Redding (Dad's pick), was just 9-years-old when he first hit the stage. Jerry Redd, a family friend who sang with Gospel greats, The Stamps Quartet, in the 60's, arranged for him to perform during a week-long revival. Soon after, Brad began touring the Gospel circuit. His father, a preacher who still has a Baptist congregation in Alabama, served as tour manager.
"My dad used his vacation time to travel around and take care of me and the business," Brad says. "He's always been really supportive, over and above the call of a father."
Brad went on to release five Gospel albums. Despite scoring several top-25 hits, his career was less than profitable so, just shy of high school graduation, Brad quit the Gospel scene.
A few years later, Brad began performing again. This time, Southern rock and country was the music of choice. "I was playing with my friends in these little chicken finger and beer joints around town," Brad says. "Doing mostly cover band stuff."
When friends and fans questioned Brad on his switch from Gospel to rock and country, Brad explained: "If I were a plumber, would I only work on churches or would I go anywhere that needed their pipes fixed? I'm a musician whether it's at a wedding, a bar, a softball game or whatever. I sing. That's my job."
One of Brad's jobs was playing in a frat party band called, Red NekkEd. Later, he joined Silverado, a "straight-ahead" country band that enjoyed some regional success opening for several well-known country acts.
In 1993, Brad went to Nashville where he signed a development deal with RCA records. He was broken-hearted when his contract was dropped after he recorded just six songs. Nonetheless, he moved to Nashville full-time and began the slow process of meeting and working with other songwriters, playing live in clubs and delivering tapes on music row.
"You just can't tell me nothing I guess, especially no," laughs Brad.
Brad signed writing deals with EMI Publishing and Warner Chappell, but basically made his living the next eight years singing demos for other songwriters. All the while, this talented musician who plays piano, guitar, drums and bass, kept writing (Tommy Shane Steiner and Chad Brock recorded his songs) and working with producers trying to land a record deal of his own. He was ready to give up. Then, along came Nashville Star.
"I didn't decide to audition until the last minute," Brad says. "It was one of those desperation moves. I had just pitched my fifth project in seven years. I felt that anybody who was in a position to sign me had already passed. So I was done. Literally."
Just last year, Brad worked through a deep depression. "I thought God had forgotten about me," he says. "I was crushed." Brad reconciled himself to the reality that at age 32, he would probably never be an artist. He decided to pursue a full-time songwriting gig and maybe a job singing on a cruise ship. But before he did, he dropped by The Nashville Star audition.
"I thought, what the hell," Brad says. "If I make it on one week of the show that's two million viewers. Maybe I'll get a better cruise ship gig."
Then, an amazing thing happened. Millions of Americans voted for him. And Brad won. "I truly did not think this was possible," he says. "I didn't even vote for myselfnot once-- because I didn't believe anyone actually counted the votes!"
Brad immediately cashed in his record deal grand prize and began recording PATIENT MAN, his new Epic Records album which was released in July. He recently broke the record set by last years Nashville Star winner, Buddy Jewell, for the highest chart debut by a new country artist when his first single, "I Meant To", entered the charts at #42.
Brad co-wrote "I Meant To" with Steve Bogard and Rick Giles, who also produced the album. "The idea for that song came about one day when I was late for a writing appointment with those guys," Brad says. "I said, 'I'm sorry. I meant to call you' and we started thinking about all the things you really should do in life. That became my first single!"
Brad, who has written dozens of songs with Giles and Bogard over the years, ultimately chose five of their co-written efforts for his debut record.
"We just cherry-picked our favorite ones out of the bunch that we had," Brad says. "The songs on the album, especially the ones I wrote really represent my background and what I'm all about. I hope these are songs with a message that give people a bridge to think about something they may not have thought about."
Even the songs he didnt write seem tailor-made for Brad.
"I didn't write 'You Can't Tell Me Nothin'," says Brad, "but I it was written about me. It's kind of a light-hearted way of saying everybody's human. I don't want to be too preachy about it but I want to let people know there's nothing wrong with having a good time as long as you don't hurt anybody. And if you do, just say you're sorry and try not to do it again!"
Brad is currently on tour with fellow Nashville Star finalists, George Canyon, Matt Lindahl and Lance Miller, enjoying a huge response from fans already familiar with his music. The fans Brad wants to reach most are people just like him.
"After all this, I have to say, chase your dreams," Brad says. "You've got one life. You have no choice but to wake up tomorrow, so you might as well go after what will make you happy."
--- from the official Brad Cotter website