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Michael Bradford


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Smarter Than Most

by Christopher Buttner


Bassist, producer and recording engineer, Michael Bradford has been busy in his recording studio in the back of one of Kid Rock’s tour buses.  And it’s not merely for demos or chronicling live gigs.  Michael actually does final mixes for CDs – even major motion picture soundtrack songs and stems – while barreling down the highways of the United States of America.  If you want to drop by his studio, you’ll have to catch up to him and run him off the road. 

Michael Bradford was born and raised in Detroit in 1961, he breezes through school, skipping grades, and finishes high school at age sixteen.  Even before he gets his cap and gown, Michael is playing bass for the house band at a local reggae club.  Michael states, “A top group, The Heptones, used us for their evening's performance.  They thought I was Jamaican, and asked if I want to go on tour with them.  Well, I say, SURE!  Summer school vacation was coming up and they were doing a bunch of dates – Reggae Festivals and such, with Bob Marley and the Wailers – so it turned out to be a very cool situation.” 

After two years of touring with the HepTones, Michael states, “My cousin Billy managed Grant Green, a prominent jazz guitarist at the time – and I ended up being his bass player for some gigs.  Again, it was one of those accidents where the group comes to Detroit and the bass player doesn't show up.  Cousin Billy says, 'My cousin Michael can play bass, take my word for it.’  It was a whole different style of music, it was straight-ahead jazz, and it was really hard.  I really had to be on my game all the time.” 

Chops honed, Michael does a series of session gigs and tours with Anita Baker, Earl Klugh, and B. B. King and begins to make a name for himself on the Detroit music scene.  It was during this time that Michael was doing a lot of live performance bass playing for these premier artists, as opposed to recording.  “The recording process was kind of just hit and run.  You were in the studio, you got it on tape and then you were out on tour again,” states Michael.  “When I started out as a professional sideman, a lot of times live performances were recorded as the artist’s next ‘studio album.’  There were the soundmen for the live sound and then there were the recording sound engineers who recorded the performance.” 

As Michael gets years of playing and gigging experience under his belt, bigger ideas are brewing.  “I wanted to make my own music, so I threw myself into the recording and engineering end of things,” states Michael.  “Aside from straight ahead studio work, a lot of my experience came from 'industrial sessions' –writing, recording and mixing jingles.  I freelanced for an advertising agency that did a lot of national commercials.  It was a real steady gig, in between touring with various artists.” 


Michael has been based in Los Angeles since 1991, “Because over the years, it got to the point there were just so many gigs you could do in Detroit in a year,” Michael points out.  “Anita Baker makes a record every three years, Bob Segar makes a record every five years, there just wasn’t enough work if you wanted to make good money playing with the bigger acts.”  Finding himself traveling a lot between New York City and Los Angeles, Michael opted to relocate to Los Angeles, since he believed it would be an easier city to live in, especially with his two small children. 

After the move west, a friend of Michael sets him up with space for a recording studio in a big, three-story TV postproduction facility called Magnolia Studios, now known as Millennium Sound.  “My friend said I could just have it and one day when you’re making enough money, you can pay me.”  That friend was Bruce Nazarian, a big name in the postproduction world, especially in sound design.  Michael states, “Long ago Bruce played with a rock band called ‘Brownsville Station’, and they had the hit, ‘Smoking in the Boy’s Room.’  You might have heard of it...,” Michael quips.

In a short period of time, Michael begins to establish himself as a highly qualified sideman bassist and never finds himself short of work.  Continuing, Michael says, “I think what really got me on the map was playing with Keith Washington, a R & B singer who was on Quincy Jones’ label and also Anita Baker.  With Anita I was her bassist, but also a keyboard programmer/engineer.  It got to the point that a lot of times I’d get hired as a programmer or engineer and wind up playing bass on a project I’m supposed to be engineering.  Or, I’m hired on as a bassist and then the client realizes, ‘Hey, you know something about production’.  So I’d get two paychecks and royalties!”  



Michael met Kid Rock about seven years ago when he had received one of Kid Rock’s independent cassettes from someone who simply said, ‘You gotta’ listen to this guy.’  Michael states, “I was so impressed, I called up Kid Rock from the telephone number that was on the cassette.  I said, ‘You don’t know me, but I love your stuff and we should work together sometime.’”  Michael and Kid Rock became fast friends long before they became musical collaborators. 

Describing the ‘creative process’, Michael reflects, “Whenever Kid would come to LA, he’d stay at my house, we’d go to the beach and just hang out or when I went back to Detroit, I would also stop by and see him.  There was one time when I flew to Detroit to work with him, I brought a whole rack of gear, and we wound up just hanging around for the week.  We hung around so much, that we really didn’t start working on music together until we were four years into our friendship!”  

Michael continued working with artists such as Terrance Trent D’Arby and Modonna, doing programming and playing bass.  When Kid Rock got signed to Atlantic Records, Kid wound up working on his DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE album in Los Angeles.  Michael was working on the new Radicals album at the same time and he points out, “I didn’t play or work on DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE, even though Kid was in LA doing remixes.  I would get the opportunity to listen to what he was doing, but we were both really busy.”   

After DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE was released, Kid Rock went on tour with Limp Bizkit during early 1999.  Kid approached Michael about wanting to set-up a recording studio on one of the tour buses and he wanted Michael on tour with him running the studio.  Michael states, “I set-up this entire ProTools system on one of the buses and hit the road as Kid Rock’s traveling engineer.  Not only were we recording songs for the new Kid Rock record, we were also working on tracks for DJ Cracker, Kid Rock’s DJ, who also has a deal with Atlantic.  We also did a RUN-DMC track and a few Kid Rock song remixes for the new Al Pacino movie, ‘Any Given Sunday’.” 

Michael continues, “I made sure the bus studio was geared up for video editing, too, as Kid Rock videos are edited here, as well.  I have ProTools, a Mackie HUI and a Mackie 3204 mixer.  Everything is very modular.  We can wheel everything on and off the bus very easily.  I can take the entire ProTools rack off the bus to work on other projects without having to affect any other aspect of the studio.  There’s a separate MIDI rack of all the things I love to use, a bunch of samplers, synths and so on.  I remixed hits for the Spice Girls with this gear!” 

Being the perfectionist that he is, how can Michael be sure if the final mixes are flawless?  Michael states, “I always felt that when it was time to mix, I had to take my ProTools system to a really good studio that had really reliable speakers.  Then I got a pair of the Mackie self-powered HR824 Reference Monitors.  The thing about the HR824s is they are so accurate and reliable that I knew I could mix and not have to ever pull into a professional studio.  It’s the only reason I can do all this on the road, and not worry.” 

“On our first headlining tour, as we were leaving Boston and we were working on the song for Any Given Sunday.  The movie studio called and asked us to record stems so they could mix it into the picture.  So, I had to do two mixes for the album, one with and one without all the four letter words– and then I had to do a set of stems so they could mix it into surround sound.  So, on the drive from Boston to New York, I did all three mixes, burned CDs, got off the bus in Manhattan, tossed’em into a FEDEX pick-up box, and that was that.  I never had to worry if they sounded good. I knew they did. That’s how much I rely on the HR824s.  I wouldn’t trust a final mix on the bus without’em.”



While out on the Limp Bizkit tour, Michael was strictly engineering for Kid Rock’s new musical productions, and keyboardist Jimmie Bones was handling all the live performance bass lines on a synthesizer.  When the new tour got underway in the summer of 1999, Kid said to Michael, ‘Why don’t you just play bass on-stage?  Michael points out, “I was playing bass on all the new recordings we were doing on the bus, plus I knew all the tunes in the set.  So I jumped at it.” 

“I love playing bass on-stage, I love the interaction, I love to get in somebody’s face and get a reaction out of them,” Michael states, beaming.  “I also love doing all the show-off stuff too, the double hammer-on soloing and tricks with all the overdrive and distortion.”   

On-stage, Michael is playing his favorite, modified mid-80’s Guild Pilot bass.  It has been configured from a five string to six-string instrument with very tight string spacing.  The other instrument is a custom instrument made by Michael’s friend, Detroit-based luthier Joe Santavicca.  Michael states, “It’s a custom fretless bass, modeled after a Gibson Ripper bass.  The neck is kind of unique in the respect that it’s made from a five piece mahogany sandwich and the fingerboard is a solid piece of ebony from top to bottom.”  Michael also relies on a brand new US made Fender 57 Reissue Precision Bass.   

Michael’s stage bass rig is a bi-amped SWR system consisting of an SM900 head powering a Goliath and a Big Ben cabinet.  Signal processing consists of a Line 6 POD controlled by a Line 6 Floor Board controller and a Boss Bass Synthesizer pedal.  

Describing his on-stage sound, Michael states, “I find I get a great sound without the Goliath’s horn, so I turn the horn off, or at least way, way down.  A lot of funk bass players like the horn, but I do a lot of slapping and I don’t like that high-end attack that can pierce your ears.  With the POD, depending upon the song, I use the clean, chorus, and overdrive settings.  Overdrive is primarily for my solos, and it has a great ‘wah’ sound, as well.  I like, and use, the unit’s limiter a lot.  I also have my ‘not so bassy’ sound that will cut through the loud back-line of the two guitarists, since they play with a lot much distortion.” 



But, when comes to the serious studio work, Michael states there is something very satisfying about being in the studio, because in his particular situation, not only does he get to play and perform on-stage, he also gets to actually shape the music.  “I play guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, and so does Kid Rock.  So between the two of us we can get groove going, get it into the computer and then I’ll start editing it and making a song out of it,” states Michael.  “Kid Rock and DJ Kracker, who is, sort of, Kid’s main song writing partner, will work together writing lyrics for the song.  Kid might decide to have Kenny the guitar player come in and play a bluesy piece.  Keyboardist Jimmie Bones comes up with a lot of the chord changes.  He’s always showing up, saying things like, ‘check this little chord thing out,’ and that might turn into the basic structure of a song.” 

Michael Concludes, “It's interesting how many music related careers are out there as long as you open yourself to the opportunities and educate yourself.  Also, since I’ve worked in so many musical styles over the years, I can bring it all into what I am doing.  If somebody says, 'do a reggae thing', I just don't approximate it – I was there!  If it's a jazz thing that's needed, I was there.  If it's Rock & Roll,” Michael begins laughing, “Hey, I'm from Detroit. Everyone from Detroit knows how to Rock & Roll.”  Michael can now do everything.  But the demands of the business means he has to do everything all at once... and he seems to be able to do all of it quite well.




Christopher Buttner






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