Wednesday, November 11, 2009

John Braden - Part I

I have been meaning to write this blog for a couple of months now, although more than anything, I did not want to rush into it and neglect important information. While I know my search for information on John Braden is not of widespread interest, I have taken it upon myself to use this blog as a source for information for anyone interested in him in the future. My research has been fairly extensive, although it has led to dead ends in many cases, but as you will eventually see, not in every case. I will continue to compile more information as I can find it, but I have come to find that I shouldn't continue to wait for some note of finality to publish everything, because I'm not sure that time will ever come.

It may become clear at times that I am not a trained journalist, but I did put some time in as a copy editor at my college newspaper, so I'll do my best to clearly and cohesively present the story. My reporting at times will shift between reporting the facts I've gathered and reporting the personal interest story that this has become for me. For anyone that runs across this blog who had a personal connection to and/or sources that reference John Braden that I have not come across, I welcome you to contact me, and I'll attribute the information to you as you request.

You can find the back story here if you’re unfamiliar with where my interest in John Braden arose from, quite randomly I might add. My search from that original point was largely unproductive for 5 or 6 months, but at the end of July, it just so happened that John Braden’s sister Georgia commented on my blog and has been in communication over email about her brother ever since. Unfortunately, I was hitting a really busy time just when she wrote, so I’ve put much of the writing off until now. As much as anything, I found through my searches that John Braden is a fairly common name, and thus, her clarifications have helped me to discern more accurately which references are specifically directed at this particular John Braden. I have reached out to as many people as I could in regard to their connections with Braden, and quite literally have found some people who "know a person that knows a person" that had some connection to him. However, even in those cases, it has proven quite difficult to obtain much information, given that many of these people worked with John over 40 years ago. This search has been sustained by the kindness of many persons, all of whom have taken the time to talk or email with me all in the name of keeping the music alive. Whether that sounds cliche or not, it is quite literally the case here. I don't make a cent off of this blog, and no one else profits in my writing of it, so it is what it is. I welcome corrections on any information you may find in error.

As I’ve come upon various pieces of information, I’ve decided that his story is best broken up into a couple of parts. First of all, I hope to pass along any and all information I’ve been able to acquire in regard to his career as a recording artist. The other major part I’ll spend time on the part of his music career that lasted the longest, that is, his career as a Broadway composer and lyricist, as well as his time producing and writing children’s records. Throughout each of these pieces, I’ll link to as many internet references as possible. In some cases, I provide information specifically from his sister, and while I consider it “official,” I’m not sure wikipedia allows such sources, so any facts I mention that are not linked are my "official unofficial" reports from his sister.

A wikipedia page exists for a John Braden, although the entry is not for the Braden I have taken interest in. However, the wiki page notes that that John Braden made albums for Kid Stuff Records, which in fact, from every source I can find, is actually the work of the John Braden that I am writing about. Kind of confusing I know. However, I cannot find a single source used in the aforementioned wikipedia page for the John Braden they reference, so eventually I hope that either myself or another person can help disambiguate these pages, and give John Braden the musician and composer his own page. Since it really needs to be done correctly, that is, with all information fully sourced, I'm hesitant to make the major changes that are needed, since a few gaps remain in sourcing all of my research fully.

Biographical Sketch

John Stuart Braden, Jr., was born in Asheboro, North Carolina, on January 17th, 1946. He graduated from Southwest Miami High School in 1965. He hitchhiked to New York City shortly after graduating high school and lived there for the rest of his life. While I will elaborate more upon it in later posts, Braden made his living from music his entire life. As you can deduce from the obscurity of his first album, his income from music was quite meager at times, although he eventually did find success and a bit more financial security with later musical endeavors. As his sister notes, he was not cut out for the 9-to-5 life, and continued to pursue what truly inspired him, which was clearly composing, performing, and producing music. At her permission, I provide you with a story directly from Georgia about an experience John had in applying for one such 9-to-5 type job (his only such attempt, according to her).

He applied for one job as a Western Union bike delivery guy, in the late 60's, early 70's, and at the end of the interview, he told us the man said, "well, John, I like you - I just need to ask you one more question....have you ever shot up marijuana?" John replied, "well, I've smoked marijuana, but the only thing I've ever shot up is heroin." Needless to say, he did not get the job.

As I've come to understand his passion for music more clearly, his story and his music have become more compelling and meaningful for me. The personal accounts of John from the folks I've spoken with, both family and musicians, paint him as a person who was quite non-conformist and forward thinking for his time, yet more importantly, as someone who was an extremely personable and pleasant person to be around.

The main part of Braden's story that I plan to tell, that is, his life from the time when he moved to New York City up until his death, will be covered in subsequent posts. Quite regrettably my initial search for him did not turn up a still-living John Braden, but rather a report from his sister that he had passed some 22 years earlier, the details of which I note below in the interests of completing his basic biographical information.

This New York Times obituary is in fact for the correct John Braden, or more accurately, the one I am interested in. As his sister confirmed, he died of complications resulting from pneumococcal meningitis, after a 7 week long coma, at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City on July 22nd, 1987. John’s sister has pointed out that one account you'll find, if you search hard enough (linked here), notes that John succumbed to AIDS in his mid-thirties. This is technically incorrect on both accounts – he was never tested for AIDS and he was 41 years old at his death. Further, she has confirmed that his death certificate matches the NY Times account, in regard to the date, age, and cause of death. I am greatly indebted to Georgia for her willingness to discuss these details with me, as I know even 20+ years after his death, losing a loved one at such a young age, and after such a long ordeal must remain a painful memory to this day.

As a result of the great generosity of John's mother and sister, I am able to provide a few pictures (all of those included in this post) of John from their personal collection that have not been otherwise available in the past. I'll be passing along more of these, including some promo pictures from his time with A&M, in future posts.

Read Part II here.

Georgia and John, New York City, circa 1984

(All pictures courtesy of Braden's family)


Barry Arnold said...

So glad you've created this blog about John Braden, who I had the pleasure to collaborate with for several years. He was a very talented man, and I still miss him greatly.

Note that I've updated his biography on the ROLLER DERBY site, thank to you and his sister Georgia, to reflect his correct age when he passed away much too early, and provided a link to your blog.

ROLLER DERBY, The Rocking Rolling Musical, for which John wrote the wonderful score, is dedicated to his memory.

Windfarmblog said...

Hi Barry,

Thanks for the comment, and glad you were able to find some new information from the blog. Georgia has been great in helping me put the pieces together on John's career.

Is Roller Derby still in production on any regular basis? Feel free to email me if there's anything else you'd like to pass on about John.

Barry Arnold said...

ROLLER DERBY has had productions in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For the second time in New York, it was last performed at the Alvin Ailey Theatre in 2007 as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The show has its fans and is being presented later this year at Mt Diablo High School in Concord, California. We are still looking for a commercial producer for the show.

John's last concert appearance that I know of was at New York's Off-Broadway Orpheum Theatre in either the late 70's or early 80's. I'm not sure of the date. It was a fun concert that featured John and a small band.

His greatest commercial success was with children's records, most notably for the Madam Alexander doll series. Although there were several others, including DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, CABBAGE PATCH KIDS, KNIGHT RIDER, TARZAN, BARBIE AND KEN, THE CARE BEARS, and and a children's version of the Arthur C. Clark film 2010. In that arena, John was a five time ASCAP Award winner in the Pop and Theatre categories, with three gold records to his credit.

John loved musical theatre, and wrote dozens of musicals, which were performed mostly Off-Off Broadway. among them THE BEARD, SILVER QUEEN SALOON, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, EMILY POST’S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE, the Obie Award winning WRITERS OPERA, and DOWNRIVER. His work was seen and heard at such theatres as Theatre for the New City and LaMama ETC. I believe, had there been more time, he would have gone on to have great success in that field.

Robyn Whatley-Kahn--LINK2Health-BodyTalk said...

I attended SW High School in Miami the same years as John. He graduated one year ahead of me. My memorance of John was this calm, long haired, sandled, sweet, very thin boy sitting in the grass playing his guitar and I think sometimess a dulcimer.

His hair was much longer than the Beatles who came to the USA's attention in 1963-4. He was definitely ahead of his time. I always felt him to be lonely at that time as he was so different people didn't know how to be with him. Funny though, while reading the new Facebook forum for SW High School, as soon as I joined it I asked about him... He was so different, strong of convictions to be able to calmly sit in the midst of a different fairly closed minded society at that moment. Definitely ahead of the game and very special. So thrilled to hear of his life's success. Thank you for writing this blog. Robyn Whatley-Kahn

David Pike said...

Must be some kind of magic that there should be two posts about John Braden on the very same day.

I didn't know Mr. Braden, but for some 25+ years now I've been a fan of the show "Downriver." Finally, this afternoon I decided to see if I could find the composer to be in touch and tell him how much I loved the score. My sadness in finding that he has passed has been tempered by finding that there are others who feels as charmed by his wonderful talent as I do.

David Pike

Anonymous said...

Kind of weird, but I'm a really big fan of his Flash Gordon record on Kid Stuff, and I actually tried finding out more about him a few years ago. Glad somebody else was more interested in finding him than I was.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to amend my comment and say, that I don't think its pretty weird to find this site, but pretty weird that I'm 31 and love a kids record so much. haha.

Anonymous said...

"kind of weird", I meant, not pretty weird. anyway.

Brasescafe said...

I went to school sw high and we used to go to the lions den coffeehouse on miami beach in my tenault dauphine in 64
Poetry ect learned alot i was a member of the intruders rnr band
John and i got along great i learned to be quiet. Wes brasse

Anonymous said...

I grew up two doors down from John (whom we knew as Stuart) and Georgia. He entertained us with magic tricks, stories and songs. I wish there was more of his music on YouTube.