Wednesday, February 18, 2009

John Braden

(Note: This is the original story, but I've posted an update at this link)

I've got somewhat of a mystery on my hands. Unfortunately, solving it isn't really going to benefit much of anyone, but it's piqued my attention lately.

Here's how the story begins:

I was at the record store a month or so ago, looking through the country records, and came across a record in the bargain bin that wasn't in too good of shape. It was a self-titled release by a guy named John Braden, recorded in 1968 and released in 1969 I think. I had never heard of him, but it was from A&M records, the label co-founded by Herb Alpert, of Tijuana Brass fame, so I took a second look at it. Looking through the musicians that played on the album, I first saw Ry Cooder's name as playing guitar on a few songs, and thought, "hmm, might as well buy this (for $2.99) and see what it sounds like." I haven't mentioned yet, but the cover art was well done, and from the back cover, you can see that the guy just plain looks cool.

(I had a heck of a time getting a decent picture (where's Julie when you need her?), but you should be able to click these to see a bigger version of the image)

(And yes that is the LP itself poking out from the bottom of the sleeve - the whole thing is about to disintegrate)

When I got to the counter, a 40-something year old guy, who I think is a collector who just hangs out at the record store trying to get the inside scoop, asked me who John Braden was. I replied that I didn't know, but that I was buying it because Ry Cooder played on it and I wanted to check it out. He asked to look at it, and started talking about all the other "names" on it. I didn't recognize them at the time, but it turns out that Chris Ethridge (bass) and Sneaky Pete (pedal steel) from the Flying Burrito Brothers played on the album. I guess they played on the album just before they started to gain notoriety, as Gilded Palace of Sin came out just after Braden's album in 1969. Also, as I've come to find out, Henry Lewy, who also produced the aforementioned Gilded Palace of Sin for the FBB, was one of the producers on this album. The list goes on and on - also on the album are Paul Horn, a renowned jazz flutist, Bruce Langhorne, apparently a fairly well known folk musician, Richard Bell, a keyboardist/pianist for Janis Joplin and The Band, and a couple of other guys who I think were session musicians that have been on various and sundry albums of some import.

Long story, I know, but stick with me. So finally, I get home and listen to the record. Doesn't blow me away. It's not terrible, but it's got the 60s folky sound, mainly characterized by the high pitched voice. It's not quite falsetto, but just very high. However, the more I listen to it, it has grown on me, and as you might expect, the musicianship is really strong on the album. Whether John Braden knew it or not, he ended up with some of the best rock musicians of the era on his record. The songs are mostly originals, with Dylan's "I Want You" and the traditional "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" as the only 2 covers.

As it has turned out, I've developed a growing appreciation for these songs as I've listened to them, but even more so, I've become intrigued to find out more about where John Braden ended up. And this gets close to where my story ends. As best I can tell, there was a John Braden who was a lyricist and actor on Broadway, and a John Braden (a different one) who did some work in the TV industry and apparently put out some records related to the Atari gaming system and some generally kid related music on Kid Stuff Records. Kind of crazy, I know. Both are deceased, although both were born around the same time (around 1946 and 1949). From what I can find on either of them, there is no mention of a previous record release. The guy in the picture is clearly young, early 20s probably. The only connection I can make is that Arkansas is mentioned in one of the songs, and the John Braden that worked in TV and for Atari was born in Arkansas, but that's not really solid information to close this cold case.

Regarding the record, about the only mention I can find is on the discographies of some of the musicians (Cooder and Langhorne), and also one band called Autumn that covered the song "Song to Raymondo" and apparently named an album after the song, which was penned by Braden and appears on his album.

Otherwise, this record seems to have fallen into obscurity long before the digital age, and thus, there's almost nothing else around about it. I have seen one copy of the LP up on ebay for $40, but with no additional information, and I recently found that Braden recorded some demos (pictured below) in the early 1970s with A&M, and apparently they were never released. In demo form, they aren't as good as the album, and clearly don't have the level of musicianship as the LP.

Beyond that, I'm at a loss. I think the online search is almost exhausted. I don't know why I am so intrigued by this subject, but it's probably a combination of the obscurity of it and also how cool he is dressed on the back cover of the album. A&M Records was absorbed by Interscope, and I can't even find a place on Interscope's site to write them, much less ask if they still have any info on an A&M artist from 40 years ago. I wrote to the A&M/Ocotone (Maroon 5's label) subsidiary of Interscope, and they basically told me they are not really A&M, but some sort of branch of Interscope that I guess kept the A&M name for appearance sake. I'm coming up with dead ends everywhere. My hope is that someone who is smarter or more knowledgeable (or both) than me can help me fill in the blanks a bit at some point. I'm hoping to get the LP converted to mp3s some time to pass along just for history's sake, and while I know it's not that hard, I haven't had the time to mess with it lately and haven't wanted to pay to have it done either.

New update: Progress made, and updates will be posted soon. I'll leave this post as is. There was a blog with a link to his music, but it has since been shut down, so his work remains in relative obscurity at this point.


derek said...

I vote for the Hollywood actor/producer because allmusic has a link to allmovies for John Braden.

My mom bought me two records in corpus christi based entirely on the band's appearance. One of them is sketches of the band. Sweet. The pictures are awesome. I've yet to listen to the lps because I don't want to ruin it.

Oz Music said...

This really is a mystery! My instinct is that it is the Hollywood actor / producer as well, but I have no real evidence for that.

It'd be great if you were able to convert the LP to mp3s sometime - I'd love to hear this album, a really intriguing effort. Even if you don't get to the whole album for a while, I'm particularly interested to hear John Braden's original version of Song to Raymondo as an mp3 if at all possible.

This song was released as a single in Australia in 1970 by a Sydney band called Autumn with some success. It's a fine version, but I would love to hear the original for comparison.

And if you'd like to hear Autumn's take on this Braden classic - well here it is.


Windfarm said...

I've got some links to music posted, but they are limited download. Anyone that has trouble with that that wants to hear the music should email me at windfarmrecords1 at gmail.

georgia braden rohan said...

Great to see this. I am John Braden's sister. Have as much info as you want about him. Contact me at please. He was born 1/17/46 in NC and died in NYC July, 1987. Nine gold records on KidStuff label and dozens of musicals (Down River, Silver Queen, Hell Bent to Heaven, and more). Collaborated with Jeff Waxman (arranger), Jeff Tambornino (writer), John Vaccaro (director). Not the same as John Braden of Arkansas. He was a way cool guy. We miss him. His mother is living also. This blog thrilled us. Thanks for your interest. I have original scores etc. What all are you interested in?

Ameryx said...

Every now and then I do a web search for John Braden. I bought the album when I was in college, based on the list of musicians accompanying him.

A few years back, I found Sneaky Pete's website,and sent him an email. He was kind enough to send me a CD with a couple of songs from the album, along with information about the production. On Song For Raymondo, Pete did all the music, with his pedal steel guitar. They varied the speed of the playback to get the effect of different instruments being used. (Sadly, Sneaky Pete died about 6 months after our correspondence.)

What A Friend We Have In Jesus is one of my favorite songs, especially when Sneaky Pete takes flight on the pedal steel at the end of the song. I've clipped a bit of that to use as a ringtone!

What with everything being digitized these days, does anyone know whether the eponymous album, and any of the other works, are available? I'd much like to hear the other recordings by John Braden.

Windfarmblog said...

email me and I'll help you get some of the songs you don't have.

Anonymous said...

I remember being in a studio with John Braden and playing guitar on a couple demos he was recording one afternoon (the music wasn't so very demanding or interesting) and also playing at a promotional theatrical production at Westbeth in Greenwich Village. Occasionally, I accompanied him when he played on the street in the 1970(?). I believe he came from Florida

Gary baker said...

John Braden from Arkansas is my father he passed after a severe heart attack that left him brain injured for 7 years. Not the same guy as the singer. He was known for alot of TV shows and some b rated movies. Brought tears to my eyes reminiscing. Thank you

Unknown said...

Dear All,

I've just started a site dedicated to songwriting and my own music. On a post titled 40 Best Songs Ever here's what I wrote about John Braden's Delancy Street:

Delancy Street by John Braden. John Braden was a musician and producer who in 1969 put out an eponymously titled album that went nowhere, and he never did that again. He died at age 41. There is a Wikipedia entry for him that lists the tracks on his album. The song "Delancy Street" is an absolute stand-out and then some, every bit as good as the Beatles’ "She’s leaving home" or Brian Wilson’s "Don’t talk – put your head on my shoulder." If I ever get comfortable with the technology I’ll risk being sued by putting this song up on the net. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

Georgia - I'll be in touch.

Love - Len.