That moment when you first walk up to Dale Ann Bradley, you are greeted with a smile and a hug. In fact, you know that she is a pure Kentucky lady from the Appalachian Mountains because she treats you like family.
Friday night, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame hosted the 2018 inductee, Dale Ann Bradley, album release party. The sold-out crowd were enthusiastic to hear the sounds from Dale Ann Bradley, as well as Kentucky Just Us who opened the show.
Prior to the night’s festivities, I sat down and talked with Dale Ann Bradley about the many Bs in her life – Bell County, Berea, Bluegrass, and Baptist hymnals. Of course, there is much more of that conversation as you will see below.
Your songs have always reflected the sights and sounds of Kentucky; the people, places, and events. What would be a favorite memory growing up in Bell County?
Oh boy. I would say my grandmother always raised a garden and she raised a lot of rhubarb. We would make rhubarb jam and rhubarb pie. Then picking blackberries. The church was a memory. It was Primitive Baptist and we had no musical instruments. I’ll never forget the sound of those songs ringing in those little buildings and up through the hollers you know. There’s so many memories that it would be so hard to just pick one, but those are just some that I think of off and on and remember.
Your daddy was a primitive Baptist preacher. What is some of your favorite Baptist hymnals to sing in church?
“Sweet Hour of Prayer” was one that was also in the Red Book Hymnal and from our little Gold Book Hymnal, which didn’t have any musical staffs or anything. “Sweet Hour of Prayer” was one that I loved so good. “I Am the Stranger Hear Below” – that’s another one. “And What Wonderful Love is This” – there’s nothing like those songs. It’s just so poetic and those songs make you kinda leave the current world for a little bit and you’re somewhere else for a little bit.
There is something about the old school Baptist church with acapella singing like Ralph Stanley would sing. You can’t describe it unless you are in the pews or even up in the pulpit singing for the Lord. My grandma always said that when you are singing, it is the singer’s prayer.
That’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s in tune or out of tune, the feeling is there and it’s a prayer you’re singing to God.
When you did the Marlboro Country Music Roundup years ago, do you recall what songs that you performed?
We did 3 songs I remembered. I know that “Mule Skinner Blues” was one of them. I was a lot younger. Maybe “Making Plans,” the old country song. I don’t remember what the other one would have been.
Goodness, I could only imagine how “Mule Skinner Blues” would have been for you.
That mule, God love him, I’ve done let him retire.
You have been fortunate to have traveled the world because of music. What place has been a favorite, or made the biggest impact?
A lot of those European countries because they use to not have access to our music. They love it so much, and Japan too. They adore it. Ireland is where I felt was home. I felt like I was in Kentucky or Tennessee or southwest Virginia. It looked like that. The people, even though they have an accent, it seems as though their demeanor was a lot like folks of Appalachia. You can see how that traveled from them on over to us. I would say Ireland left a biggest impression.
Even now, Europe is just loving that traditional country music sound. Folks like Dwight Yoakam and Sunny Sweeney would be considered headliners there as compared to Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.
They never had that before. They listen to the makeup of music. They know if you’re really playing, or if it’s just something that you do over and over as a pattern. They play that way – it’s just whatever they’re feeling that day.
Renfro Valley is a huge part of your career. What years did you perform there?
I started in May of 88 or 89 I believe it was at Renfro Valley. I started working with the Coon Creek Girls January of 91 I believe. I still did the solo stuff and with the girls too. If that had not come along for me, I don’t really know where I would have been or if I had an outlet to grow musically. I learned about music. I learned so much from the folks that have gone on now. When I was there at Renfro Valley, I look back and wished that I had known more then. We were in the presence of some serious talent.
Renfro Valley is getting ready to celebrate their 80th year this year, which is amazing they have been running this long.
Yep and the contributions that it gave to country music, bluegrass music, and gospel music and folkier type music; it’s been a birthplace. It really has. I know other places are the birthplace of country music, but this was the birthplace of Kentucky’s music.
It is amazing how many acts have performed in both barns and have went on to bigger things. Back in time, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, even Josh Turner have performed there before making it bigger in entertainment. Josh has been coming back too.
That’s the thing – people love Josh because of his demeanor and that country voice. It’s like the acts that we would have had on the Barn Dance in those days.
Speaking of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, how would you have described the crowds when you were playing?
There were times that the energy was spiritual. The crowd was really connected, but those are times that are very precious to me. Every time was special. Every time you walked out onto that stage was special. So there was always, I don’t know how to put it; the audience that always loved Renfro Valley because it was refreshing to them I think.
You feel like you’re home when you come to Renfro Valley.
Everybody, you know, people from the north that are from Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, they had moved from here. So they are tickled to death to get back to visit Kentucky. So many people married here and spent their honeymoon here. It was the coolest place, and still is.
Last year, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame had their 2018 Induction Ceremony at Renfro Valley. What ran through your head the moment that you found out that you were being inducted?
My heart broke in the best sweetest way. I’ve loved Kentucky’s artists so much and I am kinda partial to them. I think what all of them have had to offer in every musical style is so special. I never had anything musically like that touch me. This meant everything to me that what I had worked for and expressed. To have the state of Kentucky recognize that and appreciate it, I can’t describe that. If you look all those people, like Ricky and Patty and Larry Cordle, all of the people from Lionel Hampton, Bill Monroe, from both sides of the state and all over. To be inducted with those people, I tell you it was like there was a healing that took place. I sure do appreciate it very much.
Even that night of the induction ceremony, there was a special electricity in that room. I’ve been to ceremonies in Lexington, but to have it at Renfro Valley, it just seemed fitting.
Yes, it seemed like that’s exactly where it was supposed to happen. You had to be there. There is no way to describe it.
You recently got to experience the Grammy Awards with your group, Sister Sadie. How was that experience for you?
I was nominated in 2015, I think it was, for a solo album. I was working as we were actually in Boston playing. I could not manage to go then. This time, the girls said we’re going and I hopped on that plane. It was amazing to see people from all over the world; different clothing styles, different hair styles, etc. There was a sense of being there, so that was so good to see. There seemed to be, out of all the musical people (musicians, singers, writers, producers, engineers) there was a feeling of a camaraderie. It wasn’t like anyone was talking to anybody. It was just a feeling that we were all a part of this same world. It was amazing and I’m glad that I went.
The title track of your new album, “The Hard Way,” talks about overcoming the hardships in life.
I’ve been scared to death. I put the whole album together and named it that. I get scared.
I will say that song is one that is so relevant in the world we are living in today. Coming from a female point of view, it is perfect for those that are going through difficulties.
Thank you. Yes, we’ve lived it. It’s the hard way every time. I imagine that I’m living and breathing together I guess, so I guess I’ve overcome the hard times. It’s not been easy, but in it not being easy, I’ve learned things that I would not have known. I’ve learned to walk in other people’s shoes a little bit. I’ve learned to forgive. I’ve learned how to ask for forgiveness. I’ve learned through those hard times. So I’ve gotten through them. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over them, but I’ve gotten through them.
You have achieved quite a bit of success in your career with multiple albums, IBMA awards for Top Female Vocalist, Grammy nominations, and lately the SPBGMA Female Artist of the Year. How do you remain humble with your success?
I just know that I know how fortunate one is to receive any kind of award or accolade for what they love. For so many people that are so good and they work so hard, it’s just something I’ve never even thought of to take for granted. I truly, this is the truth, I’m so happy when others do well. So many artists that I know, I have felt about their winning just as if it were me. I’m so proud of them. It certainly is when you receive an accolade like that or in sales or whatever, cherish that. Cherish that nod because that’s one of those things I think God puts in your life that says, ‘come on now, you’re alright, let’s go.’ It keeps you going. It lets you know that you’re alright. If you can’t be happy for others, you’re in a bad shape and fixin’ to get worse.
As we concluded our conversation, Dale Ann Bradley and I talked about our families and how we were raised. When it comes to Kentucky, Dale Ann Bradley is indeed the perfect Ambassador of its music and its people.
To find out more on where Dale Ann Bradley is touring, as well as to purchase her new album, “The Hard Way,” be sure to check out www.daleann.com.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.