Should’ve Been a Star: Bradley Gaskin

I’ve decided to start a short weekly feature in addition to the other pieces that pop into my head at any time. Each week, I’ll pick an artist that I feel should’ve been a star in country music. I’ll take a look at the songs the artist recorded and ponder what prevented the artist from really breaking out. Some of the artists will be more well known than others. Some of the artists I examine may have even recorded a top ten hit, but for whatever reason, were unable to take the next step. Most of the artists will be from this era of country music, but I also hope to explore some artists from the past. The first artist I examine will be Bradley Gaskin.

I honestly remember riding in the car the exact first time I heard Bradley Gaskin come on the radio in 2011. His voice was just that good. He hit the first couple notes, and I thought it was Travis Tritt with a new song on the radio. That first song I heard was “Mr. Bartender.” “Mr. Bartender” is a classic barroom weeper, fit for someone like Alan Jackson or George Strait to record. It rose to number 32 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, but in any other era of country music, “Mr. Bartender” would have been a number one hit.

After “Mr. Bartender,” was sent to radio in 2011, Gaskin released his self-titled EP with Columbia Nashville. The EP is a good collection of songs. “Diamonds Make Babies” is a cool little story song with an obvious lesson. “I’m All About It” is probably the weakest song on the EP with laundry-list type lyrics, but the country instrumentation saves it from being considered a bad song. The best song on the EP is “Satan Knew My Grandma Well.” I don’t want to spoil the song, but the lyrics may not match what you may assume from the title.

But alas, the EP is all we would get from Gaskin. Gaskin moved to Columbia Records to release “Diamonds Make Babies” as his second single. It received no traction, and Gaskin was dropped from the label after Sony did some corporate shuffling.

So beyond the record label shuffling, why did Gaskin fail to really breakout as a star, especially after releasing such a strong song as his debut single? To answer, you have to understand the climate of country radio in 2011–2012. One could point to 2011 as the true beginning of the bro-country era. Take a look at some of the biggest singles of 2011 which include “My Kinda Party” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).” Bro-country can be directly traced to those two songs. By the time the end of 2012 rolled around, “Cruise” was dominating country radio along with all of the other copycat songs. Simply put, there was not a demand at country radio for an artist like Gaskin. In the midst of bro-country mania, country radio listeners weren’t in the mood for someone like Gaskin singing “I’m in need of a stuff drink to make these feelings all go numb/I’m counting on something to ease this pain I’ve got.” There was a demand for happy, feel-good songs, and “Mr. Bartender” was on the opposite end of the country music spectrum. So by the time Gaskin could’ve gained traction, a combination of the climate at country radio and some label reshuffling prevented Gaskin from becoming a star. A true shame, because Bradley Gaskin had the voice and the sound to really make an impact on the genre. To conclude, enjoy this performance of Gaskin covering “Tennessee Whiskey.”

Coming next week: Josh Thompson

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