Jan. 2, 2007 12:00

Back in studio, Crash Craddock burns to perform

The writer bursts in unannounced, notepad and tape recorder in hand, moments after the Nashville star has finished a live radio interview. The radio personality, Dusty Dunn, introduces the writer and, rather than telling him to wait his turn, the star offers his hand and says, "I've got a guitarist in my band by that name. You any kin to Timmy Overman?"

It so happens that the writer remembers the guitarist from a long-defunct group called the Silverliners, and thus a conversation is struck up. The 15 minutes the writer asks for stretches into 90, and by the time they part, a friendship has been formed.

Unassuming, humble, down to earth, personable, energetic, hugely talented and way too good-looking all describe Billy "Crash" Craddock aptly. But the one phrase that doesn't quite fit is the one used above: "Nashville star." Oh, the "star" part is true by any definition. Nine No. 1 hits and fifteen top fives on the Billboard country charts speak for themselves. But it's that "Nashville" part that doesn't exactly work. It didn't work back in the '70s when he was cranking out hit after hit, and it doesn't work now. You see, Crash Craddock is a Greensboro boy, born and bred here, lives here, someday in the distant future going to be buried here. It's just that simple. Nashville refers to the type of music, not the cut of the man.

"They all wanted me to move out there," says Craddock, referring to the Music City moguls, agents, publicists, producers, managers and all the rest who seem to know more about the artist's career than the artist himself, "but I refused to do it. I said, 'If ever there's a way a man can make it without leaving his hometown, I'm going to do it.'"

And, by God and Little Jimmy Dickens, he did it.

Craddock, who, incidentally, got his moniker as a hard-nosed high school running back and not as a slick alliterative Nashville promotional tool, still lives in the Forest Oaks home he bought 30 years ago, is still married to his bride of even longer, and still can be seen on Saturday mornings cracking jokes and eating hot dogs at the local VFW hut, not far from the bridge that was just named in his honor. What's more, rather than basking in retirement and reveling in past glory, he continues to tour and record, if rather sporadically. He keeps a band together and is planning a return tour of Australia, where he had three No. 1 rock 'n' roll hits in 1960, long before he broke in Nashville, and is still a revered figure of Elvisian proportions.

"I just love performing and entertaining folks," he says. "I'm a different person when I'm up on that stage. It's been my life since I was a teenager and it will never change. The urge never leaves you."

But, unlike some of his contemporaries, Craddock is no nostalgia act, no faded rose hanging on out of desperation. His voice is as crisp and melodically perfect as ever, his stage presence overwhelmingly charming, his song selection transcendent and timeless. And that's not counting the fact that he doesn't seem to have aged a lick since "Rub It In." He swears his chops are as keen as they were 40 years ago, and a listen to his recently completed Christmas CD proves the point. Again he defied the stereotypes by recording it here rather than in a Nashville studio.

"I did it at Mitch Snow's studio," he discloses. "He is as talented, both as a producer and a musician, as anybody in Nashville or anywhere else. He played every instrument on it and sang all the backup vocals. I didn't believe anybody could do it until I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears."

So enamored is he of Snow's prowess, Craddock already has plans to record not one but two more albums with him.

"We're going to do a greatest hits album and then another one of original and unreleased songs," he reveals, adding, "I've done a greatest hits before but it's owned by Sony, so we're going to re-cut them. It's going to be fun to see how Mitch tweaks it and embellishes the tunes."

If, however, the day should ever come that the 67-year-old who looks 40 cannot live up to his high expectations as a vocalist and performer, he vows he will pack it in.

"I've told my wife, if I get to the point where I can't hold a note or carry a tune or entertain the people, I want you to tell me," he says. "It's not going to make me mad, just tell me. Just say, 'Have enough sense to know when it's time to hang it up. Just listen to yourself.'"

Happily, that day will not come anytime in the foreseeable future. And if you don't believe it, just listen to him.

Ogi Overman can be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com

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