Bradley Gaskin is having a Moment several of them, actually.
The runaway success of his song "Mr. Bartender" has brought the Alabama honky-tonk stylist experiences that he never dared dream about just a few months ago. And those experiences have left him overwhelmed with emotion, filled with gratitude and deeply humbled.
On Thursday, March 3, 2011, Bradley performed at the Sony showcase during the influential Country Radio Seminar. He stood alone on stage with just his guitar and sang "Mr. Bartender" to one of the most difficult and powerful audiences a country performer ever faces. When he finished, normally jaded radio programmers were on their feet, cheering.
"The response stunned me," says Bradley. "I'm a humble guy. I just unhooked my guitar and looked down, because I was overwhelmed. I had no words. I walked by the label executives. I walked by [his producers] John Rich and Charlie Pennachio. I walked right out and left those guys. I just had to. I was trying to come down.
"I remember reaching in my coat pocket and calling my wife. I said, 'Adrian, I can't say anything. I am speechless.' There are some Moments like that which I will never be able to put into words."
Within hours, radio stations were flooding the record company with calls, demanding that "Mr. Bartender" be released as a single at once. At the time, Bradley was only just beginning to record his debut album.
"We hadn't even picked it as a single," he recalls. "We didn't have anything ready to go. We thought we'd be putting out a single sometime in May. I didn't even have a publicity photo. Ever since then, it's been a crazy ride."
Bradley Gaskin was at home in Duck Springs, Alabama, with his wife and their two-year-old daughter Madilyn on Tuesday morning, March 8, 2011. He had the radio on, and for the first time, the family heard "Mr. Bartender" being broadcast.
"When they played that song, Madilyn got up, ran over to the radio, put her arm around it and said, 'I love you, Dada.' And she kissed the radio. She started singing. Then she climbed up in my lap and kissed me on my cheek. I thought, 'You know what? If I never sell any records, if I never go out and play for the people on tour, if I never get to be on the Opry again, if nothing ever happens, nothing can top that.' I still can't believe all that happened to me in this one month."
Bradley Gaskin is the only child of parents Thomas and Mary, neither of whom is musical. His dad was a country fan, and had plenty of discs by George Jones, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty around the house. As he grew up, their little boy listened to the Gaskins' records more than they did.
"My mom says I started singing when I was two years old. By the time I was five, six, seven years old, I wanted to be a country singer so bad I couldn't stand it. I think it was kind of scary for my mom and dad, because I had vowed at such a young age that I was going to be a country singer and would write songs.
"I found myself caught up in the sadness of a country song. Something about that sadness did something to me. It puts a smile on my face, as weird as that may seem.
"The first tapes I bought as a kid were Ricky Skaggs and Garth Brooks. I was a big Keith Whitley fan, too. I remember the day Keith died. I was nine years old. My dad and I were riding in the car, and it came on the radio that he had passed. I remember staring out the window, thinking, 'The greatest singer I ever heard is gone, and I want to do that.'"
He began singing in churches and revival meetings at age nine. Already considered something of an oddball by his rock-music-loving peers, Bradley retreated even further into his country-music reverie when he became a teenager.
"I already knew I was 'different,'" he recalls. "My mom and dad split up when I was 13 or 14 years old. I kind of blotted that part of my past out. They were having trouble and probably should have separated years before that. During the fussing, arguments and feuding, I just kind of shut the world out. I closed the door to my bedroom and would surround myself with music, TV, radio, tapes, records, whatever I could. I was in that little world. I didn't care about anything else. I feel like Jesus and country music became my two best friends. And that's all I needed."