Felice and Boudleaux Bryant

It’s Tuesday, and this is a combined Man Crush Monday and Woman Crush Wednesday! Today we’re going to look at a couple, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who were a driving creative force behind perhaps the biggest popular music revolution in American history in the 1950s. Often called the first professional songwriters in Nashville, the Byants wrote songs for The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and nearly every aspiring singing act of the 1950s. Younger Buzzkillers will just have to ask their grandparents who the Everly Brothers were, and who Buddy Holly was. In some cases, their grandparents will respond, “they were popular when your great-grandparents were young.”

If your grandparents or great-grandparents are in the house somewhere while you’re listening to me on the radio, call them into the room. They’ll erupt with nostalgia, and may even tell you about dancing at sock hops and smoochin’ at drive-in movies. Most likely, however, they _won’t_ be able to tell you about about the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. That’s because they would only know their work as it came to them through in their songs.

Just a few examples. Their enormous number of hit songs include: for the Everly Brothers, “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Love Hurts” and “Wake Up Little Susie”; “Raining in My Heart” for Buddy Holly; and songs for dozens of other acts popular at the time. They even later wrote “Rocky Top,” the famous Appalachian song that is now one of Tennessee’s official state songs.

In 1945, a young fiddler from Georgia travelling with (I’m not kidding) Hank Renny and His Radio Cowboys met another young musician named Matilda Genevieve Scaduto during a show in Milwaukee. Quickly giving her the name “Felice,” this fiddler asked her out and they were together from then on. Oh, and the young man’s name was one of the greatest in American history — Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant. They eloped within two days, married, and moved to Nashville so that Boudleaux could work as a studio musician.

Studio work didn’t pay very well in those days, and the young Bryants struggled financially. Felice tried her hand at writing songs while Boudleaux was at work. She kept this kind of a secret from Boudleaux at first, but then started showing him her songs and discussing song ideas. They quickly started writing more and more songs together, and by 1948, had at least one song high up on the country charts.

From there they worked with lots of different artists and continued to hone their talents. In the late 1950s, their songs were being picked up by a singing duo, the Everly Brothers, as well as by Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. Later, in 1967, they penned perhaps their most famous country/bluegrass song, “Rocky Top.” It became a hit for the Osborne Brothers, and has recorded by almost every country act since.

Their songs had a strong presence in popular music through the 1950s and early 60s. This second or third generation of performers (the musical grandchildren of Felice and Boudleaux, if you will) were influenced by the Everly Brothers, and recorded their songs during a whole new age of hits. These musicians included: Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Carly Simon, and a little skiffle group from Liverpool we like to call The Beatles.

Boudleaux died in 1987 and Felice in 2003. There were, of course, many tributes to them in the 80s and 90s. But one thing struck me while doing research for this episode — very often, singers would only mention Boudleaux when introducing the songs. Not only sexist, this was odd, especially since Felice had started off their songwriting career after World War II. There’s one particular instance where Chet Atkins was sharing a television stage with the Everly Brothers in the 1980s. He introduced a medley of Bryant hits by saying, “let’s play some Boudleaux Bryant songs.” Phil and/or Don corrected him immediately, saying “Felice and Boudleaux Bryant,” before launching into the tribute.

I’d like to come back to this topic for a longer show on songs and songwriting in that period in American history. And Buzzkill Institute lawyers and accountants are slaving away, negotiating with the Bryant royalty and copyright holders, to make sure we do it all the correct way, and that proper credit is given.

In the meantime, tell your grandparents and great-grandparents about podcasts and how to get them. And then tell them to subscribe to Professor Buzzkill.

Now all I have to do is dream. Talk to you next week.

Buzzkill Bookshelf

Lee Wilson, All I Have to Do Is Dream: The Boudleaux and Felice Bryant Story

Nashville’s first professional songwriters, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, wrote a long string of 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s country and pop hits, most of the Everly Brothers standards, and “Rocky Top,” the most famous bluegrass song in the world. Their professional partnership is legendary–their compositions have influenced several generations of artists and few other writers have had as great an impact on modern popular music. Their personal relationship is one of the great American love stories–they eloped within days of meeting and were madly in love for the next forty years. This lavishly illustrated biography tells the story of the songwriters and of the most famous Bryant songs. Rare interviews and photos from the Bryant family’s private collection tell how the Bryants’ talent, hard work, and devotion to each other changed music history. Anyone who was ever in love will enjoy the account of their romance and anyone who appreciates the scope and originality of American popular music will treasure the story of their songs.

Posted in