After nine consecutive weeks on national television, Brad Cotter quickly became a household name to millions of Americans who voted for him as the 2004 winner of USA Network's Nashville Star. His overnight success story was actually ten years in the making during which time he held writer publishing deals with EMI Music and Warner Chappell and like his label mates Gretchen Wilson and Buddy Jewell, made a living in Nashville as a demo singer. When you first meet Brad you are instantly put at ease by his ever present smile. And what’s not to smile about? In a years time Brad has won the largest country music competition in America, recorded a record with the best players in Nashville, toured with the hottest side-men in Nashville and started down the road to super-stardom. Has it all gone to his head? Not at all. Don Mitchell's recent conversation with Brad and his guitarists John Bohlinger and Tim Beattie revealed that not only is Brad level headed but also greatful for the good fortune that has come his way.

EPI: Life’s been a little hectic for you these past nine or ten months!

BRAD: Yes, to say the least. And it continues as we speak. This week our schedule is full of CMA events so we’re kind of around Nashville and I’m afraid to say it but I think I’ve actually got the weekend off. (Laughs) I think, I don’t know! After CMA week we’re off to Illinois and then we’re playing the Opry on the 19th and after that we’ve got a USO tour. We’ll be going over to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Austria to play for the troops. That will pretty much fill up December.

EPI: All of this Brad Cotter frenzy started as a result of Nashville Star. Tell me about your Nashville Star experience.

BRAD: Well it just really came about in desperation. I was here for nine years and couldn’t really get a break. I saw what Nashville Star had done for Buddy (Ed Note: 2003 winner Buddy Jewel) and I thought you know, before I leave this place I want to make a record and this might be the only chance I get. I just decided if I had to live on a reality TV show in a cast house or they hung me up and threw stones at me or whatever, I was going to do it, if for nothing else just to prove that I could. I didn’t think I would ever win the show I just wanted to prove that I could be there with that crop of talent and maybe get some exposure out of it. Every week it just kept getting better and better but I never thought I’d win. Of course it is a little nerve racking. The show was like a roller coaster really. There were low moments where you thought, what have I done, why am I hear and there were high moments were you were like, this is exactly why I am here, why I was meant to do this. The show also gave me the opportunity to do some things I maybe wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. For example, we got to go to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It really made us appreciate what was more important in life. Suddenly it wasn’t about what song you were selecting for the week or worrying if you were going to make the cut.

EPI: Nine years of slugging it out in the trenches of Nashville says a lot about your perseverance. What were you doing during that time?

BRAD: I had publishing deals. I bounced from one publisher to the next trying to get songs cut and living on a draw. Same old, same old like everybody else here trying to find a gig. I played down on lower Broadway for a couple of years to supplement my income. Then I got a little better publishing deal, got a couple of cuts and then got a little better publishing deal. Everything seemed to be going my way for a while and then after I had pitched myself around town four or five times with different producers everybody was like, OK, we’ve heard him, we like the way he sings but he’s just not a star so quit bringing him in here!

EPI: What do you think it was that America saw in you that nine years of record labels didn’t?

BRAD: I don’t necessarily know that America saw anything different. I wasn’t any different on the show other than those whacky clothes they put me in. I think it was like anybody else. If you put Garth Brooks in somebody’s office with an acoustic guitar and a couple of demos that he sang on, they’re going to think…oh, another singer…next. But if you put him on a stage with fifty thousand dollars worth of lights, five thousand dollars worth of make-up like they did us every Saturday night, you’re going to look more like a star. I think the only reason I maybe caught America’s eye more than the others is because my co-writers Rick Giles, Steve Bogard and some other seasoned song writers around Nashville helped bring my songwriting to a level that was maybe a little…maybe not better…but more experienced. I think my songs were the only thing that set me apart and I can’t take the credit for that because I didn’t write all of them.

EPI: So your advice to this years contestants might be to concentrate on great songs?

BRAD: If the show is anything like it was for me I would definitely say yes. Even selecting the right cover tunes is so important. I mean, if you chose the wrong song America couldn’t really see through that and say OK, well that’s just a bad song. They either got moved or they didn’t so yeah, the song selection is way more important than what you’re wearing or even how well you sing.

EPI: When you look back at the show now do you feel like you gave your best performances?

BRAD: I haven’t seen the episodes so I don’t know.

EPI: You’re kidding me? You’ve never seen the shows you were on?

JOHN: What the hell man???? (Laughs)

BRAD: The show gave me DVDs of all the episodes but my buddy back home has them. I just haven’t had time to watch them. Maybe one day. (Laughs)

EPI: Where is “back home”?

BRAD: Auburn, Alabama. I still live in Nashville in the same place that I did before all this happened but home is Auburn.

EPI: What was it like growing up there? Do you draw musical influences from your childhood there?

BRAD: Oh yeah! There was music around although my parents weren’t musically gifted at all. My dad’s a preacher and my mom was just a fan of pop music. She listened to Pop and dad was into R&B so I had the best of both worlds I suppose. The 1970’s had some really good music. Pop music was strong and R&B was still going strong in Motown. I was influenced by a lot of great music when I was a kid and then when I was about eight years old my parents became Christians and we started following gospel music real heavy.

EPI: Traditional gospel?

BRAD: Yes, traditional, southern, foot-stompin’, hand clappin’, Saturday night singin’ Gospel! We did that until I was about fifteen. I traveled around singing and opening for quartets. Mostly I was singing in churches for free but when I was eleven we started doing records, trying to actually make an income off of it. Then when I was seventeen I realized what the business part of it was and I didn’t want to do it anymore…so I quit.

When I was 21 I was hanging out at a bar one night and the band didn’t show up. The guy that ran the place said “hey man I’ll give you the door and whatever beer you can drink if you’ll entertain my crowd”. I went home with 65 bucks and the prettiest girl in the joint and said, “this is what I’m gonna do”! (Whole band laughs) I know a lot of people are going to read this and say he turned his back on gospel music but I’ve seen the business side and I’ve actually gotten screwed over really hard in gospel music. I realized at an early age what the difference is in singing for the Lord and singing for a record company while using the Lord for the basis of the songs. It’s a big difference and like it or not, it’s a business, it’s a business, it’s a business. I decided if I was going to be in the business, as cruddy as it is, then I’m going to be in a secular version of it so I can make a living. That’s where my head is on that…and I could be wrong.

EPI: Do you still draw on your Faith for musical inspiration?

BRAD: Honestly I’d rather sing a gospel song any day but I don’t get paid to do that. I look at it like this; If I was a Christian plumber I wouldn’t only fix pipes in churches. I’m just like a plumber only I’m a singer.

EPI: We’ve had a long relationship with the Nashville Star band and in particular John. (Ed Note: see related story HERE.) What was it like having these guys as your back-up band every week?

BRAD: It was great! You knew the music was going to be there every week….

JOHN: God bless you man! (Laughs)

BRAD: Of course, knowing him now the way I do…. (Laughter) No, it was great. We had minimal rehearsal time and they pulled it off week after week perfectly.

EPI: I bet it was pretty much on the fly!

BRAD: Especially early on during the first few episodes when you have such a large cast. There were like nine or ten people…

JOHN: That first episode we did 44 songs. It was unreal.

BRAD: And not only that, all the songs are different, all the singers are different with different styles to be captured…

JOHN: ...and a lot of those were originals so they were songs you had never even heard before. We did a lot of on the fly arrangements.

BRAD: But the band was awesome. That was the first time for a lot of us to play live with the pros. I mean I’d played with the best in the business in the studio but getting to play with the best in front of a live audience was awesome. You’re usually paying out the nose for that and I never had the money to do it on my own so that was really cool! It was treat. If we hadn’t been so nervous about the cameras in that place it would have really been fun. (Laughs)

EPI: I’ve played to crowds of about five thousand before and thought that was huge! I can’t imagine being thrown into a live situation knowing that 2.3 million viewers were watching!

BRAD: If I’d have thought about it too much I couldn’t have walked out there. I just told myself; I’m just performing like always. The bands got their part of the deal, I’ve got my part of the deal and we’re going to pull this song off.

EPI: I really think you pulled it off better than most. You seemed pretty relaxed and calm.

BRAD: Believe me, we had a lot of discussions about it. One of the contestants would just freak out. I just kept telling him, man your doing yourself the biggest injustice in the world. You’re going to look back a year from now and wonder why you were so nervous. I guess I really handled it by ignoring it.

EPI: Plus, you were no rookie.

BRAD: There really wasn’t a rookie in the bunch. Most of the others had done big, big shows. Marty had been with George Straight so she had done the biggest. Lance had done way more live stuff than I had because I stayed here in Nashville trying to write songs and kiss ass more than he did. (Laughter) George Canyon has had a career for fourteen years and Matt Lindahl (Laughs), he doesn’t care where he is. The guy is just a character. You could put him in front of three people or three million people and he’d still be the same guy.

By the way, thanks for the support that Epiphone gave us on Nashville Star! Having the Epis in the cast house was really appreciated. Everybody had crappy guitars, mine was beat to hell and it was awesome to have those great instruments at our disposal.

EPI: We know how you got hooked up with John. How did you hook up with Tim?

BRAD: How did we find you man? (Laughter)

TIM: I was working on Nashville Star as a Production Assistant the past two years. One day I got approached to fill in for both Trace Adkins and Terri Clark at rehearsals. So I’m singing Trace Adkins stuff really low and Terri Clark stuff really high (Laughter) and that kind of lead to my band playing one of the after show parties.

BRAD: That’s how I heard about him. People from the crew would say man that Tim’s great. Then he gave me a CD and I said this Cats Good. I didn’t know he was such a great guitarist and harmonica player until we got him on stage. He is a harpin’ fool man! (Laughter)

EPI: How fast after you put the band together did you start playing? Was there a rehearsal period?

BRAD: We were playing before we rehearsed. I was flying by the seat of my pants for eight weeks without management and just about crashed the whole ship. We finally got management on but we were already touring. The Nashville Star tour actually bought me a little time. That band was already together so I could say hey guys I’ve got another gig next week, can you all do that one? It’s a good thing it worked out that way or it wouldn’t have happened at all.

Not bragging on myself but if I didn’t have some experience in the business I think I would have lost my sanity. It was just that screwed up. I had sixteen people telling me what to do every day and didn’t know which one to listen to. I finally got a manager and that cut it down to six. (Laughter) It was crazy!

EPI: John, will you be band leader for Nashville Star again this year?

JOHN: Yeah, and since NBC bought the USA Network they have moved Nashville Star to Tuesday night. That’s cool because I think it will allow me to work my schedule out where I can still work with Brad and do the show at the same time. All the same guys will be back in the band this year.

EPI: How did you each hook up with Epiphone?

JOHN: The first electric guitar I ever bought was an Epiphone Genesis.

EPI: So you were branded from the start! (Laughter)

JOHN: I logged many hours on that thing. If it wasn’t for that guitar I’d have a real job now, probably a good job! (Laughter) Now I have this Revolution and I love it. I also have a DR-300S dreadnaught acoustic that is a great guitar. I used all my Epi’s on the show last year.

TIM: I’ve had mine for several years now. It’s kind of funny how I got it. When I was in my old band we were on the road opening for Aerosmith. Well the band came by here when we were in Nashville and they were supposed to come by the hotel and pick me up on the way. Nobody did it and they ended up getting a couple guitars. I raised so much hell for not picking me up that they finally gave me one of the guitars just to shut me up! (Laughter) I’ve actually played this guitar many, many days in the subway in New York. It has a lot of stories.

EPI: Brad, what about you?

BRAD: I’ll be honest with you, I was always a Gibson man.

EPI: We are too! (Laughter)

BRAD: Duane Propes from Gibson let me use an Epiphone Chet on Nashville Star and it was perfect. I didn’t want something that was real big because I’m a small guy. I tried it out and fell in love with it. After that first rehearsal I thought man, I’ve got to have this guitar. I’m buying it. When the show was over I told Duane, man I want to buy this guitar, how much do you want for it? He said just hold onto it. If you win this thing we might just let you keep it! Well, he ended up letting me keep it and I’ve been an Epiphone man since. A few weeks ago I had it customized. My best friend David New has a company called Duracoat that does this process of putting graphics on things so I had him make it kind of a trophy for me with the camo graphic. I brought it for you guys to check out. I also have an AJ-300S. I use it a lot for acoustic radio station stuff where we’re not plugging in.

EPI: So what is in store for you in the near future?

BRAD: Right now we’re working hard to promote the record and of course there is the new Nashville Star season coming up in February. We know LeAnn Rimes is going to host it and its probably going to be bigger and better so we’ll see what that generates for me. We’ve got dates on the books and we’re pushing the heck out of the new single so hopefully I’ll be doing just what I’m doing right now for the next ten or fifteen years.

JOHN: World domination! (Laughter)

BRAD: Yeah, I want it all! (Laughs) No, I really don’t. I just want to play music and be able to do it without people nit picking and bothering me about other things that don’t matter. If I can ever get to that point, I’ll be happy!


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