When Brandon Fraley showed up at the Nashville audition, he sized up his competition. He scanned down the eight other competitors and saw they were referred by stars such as Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Loggins. He was referred by a couple of his college roommates.
"I thought I was going to get clobbered. I really thought I was just wasting her time," Fraley says.
"Her" is Gretchen Wilson. The same Gretchen Wilson who took country music by storm with her debut single, "Redneck Woman." Two years ago, she was looking for a new keyboard player, and she waited on the other side of the door for Fraley.
"She looked at me and said, 'You're not nervous at all, are you?' She was taken aback by how calm I was, but I was calm because I thought I was just wasting her time and didn't have a chance," Fraley says.
But he played a couple of her songs for her, singing background vocals and using his training from Nashville's Belmont University to blend as well as he could with her voice. Four hours later, Wilson offered the Sylvania native a job with one of the most popular acts in country music.
That was on a Wednesday. Three nights later, he made his debut with Wilson at the Grand Ole Opry.
"It was trial by fire. Vince Gill was walking around backstage. Dolly Parton was there. The history of the venue just overwhelms you. The next day we flew to New York to be on the Regis and Kelly show. I never really had time to get nervous. I got nervous afterward sure, because you realize what you had just done. But as a musician, you're able to get in that zone," Fraley says.
Music has always been part of the plan for Fraley. He grew up in the Sylvania school district, leaving Sylvania Northview after his junior year when his family moved to Cincinnati. After graduating from from Lakota High School near Cincinnati in 1996, he attended Belmont, one of the top-ranked music schools in the country.
"I knew this was going to be home. Music was my life. Being in Nashville, you have to be a huge lover of music or a musician. You can't get away from music in this town. After a few months, I knew this was where I belonged," Fraley says.
Belmont was also the place where he met his future wife, Jamelle, a gospel artist and a background singer for gospel artist Jaci Velasquez. When Fraley isn't on the road with Wilson, he's writing music, producing his wife's record, or working on his own record, which surprisingly has a pop and R&B bent to it. He and his wife are using the Internet to build a fan base for their music. Cuts from his material can be found at www.myspace.com/brandonfraley. His wife's page is www.myspace.com/jamellefraley.
"People ask where I see myself five years down the road. I see myself being a successful writer, producer, or have my wife's record hit or even mine. It doesn't matter. I don't mind at all sharing the spotlight. If I can pay the bills, I won't have any regrets. In my book, that's successful," Fraley says. "I'm at the point where I'm paying the bills doing something I don't even consider a job. I've been really blessed."
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