20 Questions With Brad Cotter

He Talks Nashville Star, Smoking and Steve Wariner

Brad Cotter won the second season of Nashville Star in 2004, earning him a record deal on the spot. As the year winds down, he answers fan questions about his life since he won, provides candid advice for aspiring singer-songwriters and reveals his biggest surprise in the music business so far.

1. When did you get your first guitar?

Let’s see, that would be in 1989. … I remember it well. It was an Alverez, and it was an early ’70s model that my dad had bought to take guitar lessons on and he didn’t follow through and never learned to play the guitar. He had given it to my uncle and my uncle had it up until that point when I decided I wanted to learn to play. So, I got it from him. It had been in the family, if you will, for a long time, so it was a really special guitar, but I wound up having to pawn it to pay the rent later on down the road. (laughs)

2. What was it about your grandfather that made such an impression on you?

He made an impression on anyone that ever knew him actually. He was just a really fine, upstanding human being, WWII veteran. He was elected the county commissioner of Chambers County [Alabama] by his peers, even though he didn’t even have a college education, for two different terms. You know, he was just a well-respected man in the community and just a good influence on me, but like I said, he influenced and affected a lot of people, not just myself.

3. What is something you must take on the road?

(laughs) That’s a good question. There’s not really anything that I have to have. I guess my toothbrush.

4. Did the girl you mentioned on Nashville Star that broke your heart come back around begging your forgiveness?

(laughs) No, not in any way, form or fashion. She’s a great girl and didn’t mean to break my heart, I’m sure, but she just got married this past June. I’ve bumped into some of her family members out on the road. There’s no hard feelings between us in any way, form or fashion, but she definitely moved on to bigger and better things, and I hope she’s happy and I wish her the best.

5. What other life dreams do you hope to accomplish?

There are a lot of things I hope to accomplish. This was just something that was just sort of a blessing, that just sort of happened. Winning Nashville Star 2 wasn’t really my dream come true, it was just neat to get an opportunity to make a record. So, yeah, I guess one other dream that stands out really right now is that I’d like to have a hit record. I’m still a long way from accomplishing my goals, I guess is what I’m saying.

6. How long will it be until we can enjoy a second album from you?

That’s a great question. I’m ready now. I’m just waiting on Sony or some other record label to give me the green light to find a producer and go in. I’ve already got plenty of songs to record. If I had to go in tonight, I could make another record.

7. What advice would you give to other singer-songwriters like me who are auditioning for Nashville Star 3?

Just enjoy yourself, because you can’t control any of it. Try to absorb every moment because it goes by so quickly. For advice to singer-songwriters in general, I would have to say, don’t expect to make a living at it. It’s not the safest way to try to have a pleasant lifestyle. It’s something that I would definitely recommend having a backup plan for. You don’t want to have to live like a gypsy all your life, and so much of it is out of your control. It’s just not something that’s safe to sell out and go blindly into.

8. What are your favorite foods or desserts?

I’m not really much of a dessert guy. I like meat and potatoes mostly for my calorie intakes, so I would have to say I love steak and lobster. … I love any kind of home-cooked meals like mom used to make. My grandmothers, both of them, were excellent cooks, so you know any Southern cooking I love. I really haven’t eaten too many things that I don’t like. I love everything from sushi to Southern-fried chicken.

9. How much input at this stage of your career do you have control of?

(laughs) They let me choose which underwear I want to wear, and that’s about the extent of it.

10. I am a big fan of Steve Wariner, and your singing style reminds me a lot of his. Has he been an influence on your career?

Most definitely and I take that as a huge compliment. He’s one of the greatest singers of our generation, and songwriter and guitar player and all around human being. They don’t come any better than Steve Wariner.

11. Who are your greatest influences in country music, past or present?

Oh, gosh, there are so many. Like I said from day one, Willie Nelson, Don Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, all those guys were huge influences on me. I’d have to say Kris Kristofferson as a songwriter was one of my big influences and still is somebody that I try to pattern myself after from time to time. I don’t know, man, there are just so many. Country music has taken a different turn, so other than Alan Jackson, I can’t really think of anybody in today’s market that I believe in enough to hold as a legendary status. Except for Vince Gill. I think he’s an amazing talent, but other than that, you’d have to go back at least 20 years to find anybody that’s really impressive enough and consistent enough to be in the same league with the Merle Haggards and the Willie Nelsons and the Waylon Jennings of our day.

12. Which country artists would you like to work with?

Oh, wow, there are a bunch of them. I’ve been so fortunate though in the past few months to have gotten to work with a lot of people that I really admire like Gretchen Wilson and Travis Tritt and Buddy Jewell, that I just did shows with this past week. I really don’t know who I could name. I got to meet Willie Nelson on Nashville Star. He was definitely my hero, but there are a lot of people I’d like to do some shows with. I’d love to do some shows with John Mellencamp, and I loved playing with Travis Tritt the other night because he brings a really cool crowd — a young audience and it’s really hip. I’d love to play on the road with Gretchen all the time because she brings out a packed house everywhere she goes. There are just a bunch of them, I hate to name just one.

13. What do you think about having a fan club? Is it kind of surreal?

Yeah, that really is wild. I really haven’t had enough time to dedicate to it as of yet, because things have been so crazy for the first six months after winning a show like that. There are other things you have to do other than just being an artist. I’m finally catching my breath here during the holidays, and hopefully I’ll be able to dedicate more time to my fan club and my fan base after the first of the year. Yeah, it is surreal to say the least.

14. What made you go on Nashville Star? Was it the support of your family and friends, or did you do it on your own?

I totally did it on my own. Not to say that my family and friends didn’t support me, but my family and friends didn’t even know that I was going to be on the show until we filmed the very first episode. It was just something that I did out of desperation. I knew that the doors through A&R in Nashville had been closed for me, and the only way that I could see that I was going to be able to make a record and get it out to the public was being on Nashville Star.

15. What do you think about the changes being made to Nashville Star 3 now that it’s more about drama, youth and “hipness” and less about seasoned professional singing and songwriting talent?

Wow, somebody must know more about it than I do, because I haven’t been contacted by anyone or even invited to perform on Nashville Star 3. Not to say that that may or may not happen, because I don’t know. But I really don’t know anything about it other than LeAnn Rimes is going to be the host, which I think is cool. I don’t really know anything about the format of the show, so I can’t comment.

16. I’ve heard you sing the song about the lighthouse, and it’s the most amazing song I’ve heard in a long time. Are you going to put it on an album or make it accessible to fans?

That’s a good idea. I haven’t really thought about it. It’s a classic Southern gospel song that I heard all my life growing up. It was by the group called the Hinson Family. Kenny and Ronnie Hinson are two great songwriters. Kenny passed away a few years ago with cancer, and they were both terrific songwriters from Hendersonville, Tenn. If you go back and find some old Hinson Family records, you can hear it on there, but I’d love to have an opportunity to put it on a record.

17. Why do you smoke, if you should be trying to keep your voice as pure as possible to sing clearly?

(laughs) Well, I just really don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that question. I’ve always smoked, and I don’t smoke that much. I guess it’s probably something I shouldn’t do, but I don’t know, there are a lot of things that I do that I shouldn’t do. (laughs)

18. What has been the most surprising thing about the music business so far?

How hard it is to get your song on the radio. (laughs) Yep, that’s been the most surprising thing so far. I thought that the public had a lot to say about what songs were played on the radio, and I just assumed with a fan base from Nashville Star that it was going to be easier than it actually is. So that’s why it has been a surprise to me.

19. Are you going to release any more singles off the album?

Not real sure yet, that’s another Sony call. It’s their record, so they can release as many or as few as they want.

20. I did the journey from Indianapolis to Nashville just to see your first visit on the Grand Ole Opry (which was awesome) after you won Nashville Star 2. What was your first thought when your name was announced and you walked on the Opry stage to stand in that famous circle?

Oh, man, I can’t put it into words. I was nervous, of course, and I was honored and proud. Before every show, I always say a little prayer and look up towards heaven and wink at my mom, and I had just done that as always. I guess I was just thinking, wondering if she’s here with me watching this right now, because I know if she were here in person that she’d be really proud.

Read Brad Cotter’s USO/AFE Tour Diary.