“Brad Mercer represents a part of rock music history. His longevity as a both host and entertainer is a testament to his greatness. He is one of the last great mavericks of rock radio, the likes of which we may never see again.” Al Bowman, Founder LA Music Awards
By Lisa Morgan
Not many dare to forge the path of a musician, artist or entertainer. Many start their journey, pen and instrument in hand, only to have their heart, inspiration and gift brutally assaulted by an industry whose demons are infamous for devouring the faint of heart and will. There is not one single volunteer whose talent has not been made, bent or broken by the challenges of the entertainment business. This is a story, in brief, of one matador of independent music and entertainment, a survivor who has lived through the highest highs and lowest lows that the industry could dish out.
Brad Mercer cut his teeth on KTLA as he sat on his mom and dad’s lap during a live television promo for the Mercer Brothers during Leighton Noble’s Bandstand. As cameras zoomed in on the five year old, Brad was captured timely picking his nose during the close up. He’s been stealing the show ever since.
It was the same year Brad got his first guitar and swiftly learned every Johnny Cash and Roger Miller song. He was five years old. When the 60’s ushered in dramatic changes in contemporary music, Brad saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and said “That’s what I want to be.” Dad fought it, but eventually got Brad his first electric guitar. Brad joined his first band in 8th grade struggling with a voice that had yet to change, making it tough to pull off songs by the Doors. So he formed his first tribute band, called The Ensenada Five, covering songs by the Tijuana Brass. At 16 years old, he found himself sharing the stage with Herb Alpert himself at the Orange show grounds. The band got their first big paying gig after that. They were contracted for $3000 to play at what they soon discovered was a funeral home. The owner paid them to perform while he was preparing the bodies. “We totally killed ‘em,” (insert rim shot here) reminisces Brad with a smile.
In 1968, at 17, Brad finished high school on the road while performing with his folks. His voice finally changed and the Merry Madcap Mercers lounge show had them booked on every stage in Vegas, doing up to 9 shows a day. While learning priceless performance and comedy skills from his dad during this time, the need to rock overwhelmed him. In 1974, Brad formed The Brad Mercer Show, a rocking trio that included Larry Cutler and Kim Beachum. They played virtually every state in the union including Alaska, performing cover tunes and originals. In 1979 at the Riviera main show room in Vegas, Brad felt he was at the highlight of his career. They had just recorded their first album. At the same time a song that he had recorded with his dad, Euell Gibbons for President, a satire on the presidential race, was getting ready to be released as a single. Brad had signed with independent label IRDA in Nashville. There they were at the Riviera with the radio blasting, Champagne bottle in hand ready to celebrate, when over the radio came a voice announcing Euell Gibbons untimely death. “I literally dropped the bottle of Champagne. There was no way the single could be released now.” Dad Mercer, being the quick thinker that he was, came up with the idea to rewrite the song as Don Rickles for President. They flew to Nashville the next day and recorded it. Brad recalls the phone call with Rickles: “’I’m doing the Tonight Show for Johnny Carson while he’s on vacation and I want you to come on the show and perform this song for me.’” For any entertainer, there was nothing bigger than the Tonight Show. “The day before the taping, I get a call from Joe Scandore, Don’s manager. The phone call went like this: ’Don’s going to start shooting C.P.O Sharkey, Johnny’s coming back, you’re out.’ I felt the downer at the time but I’ve always believed things happen for a reason,” stated Mercer.
Shortly after that, Brad was flown back to New York to record the theme song for the series Walking Tall. “The song was going to be released as a single when some genius decided to move the show opposite of ABC’s Heart to Heart and it killed our ratings.” The show was cancelled along with the single. “At this point, the band breaks up. The arrival of disco really slowed the booking of live bands toward the end of 1980.” Brad relocated to Florida where he immediately found work playing solo with his guitar. Six months later he landed a gig at Sassy’s, this time as a standup comedian and club manager. Brad was able to book good friend Jay Leno for a mere $700 a night. Soon Rita Rudner, Pat Paulsen and Jeff Foxworthy and the like were frequenting the club. Amidst the club’s success, Brad wrote his own material and honed his comedy skills. Brad was booked to open for Jay Leno at the same time a local radio station wanted to broadcast their show from the club. One success turned into another and in 1981, Brad became on air personality Radical Bradford soon to be joined by Christopher Rude, ultimately becoming a ratings hit as The Rude Brothers. Meanwhile Brad was continuing his standup on the road, opening for comedy greats Jeff Foxworthy, George Carlin, and Jerry Seinfeld.
When a new program director came in and released The Rude Brothers from their prime time radio show, the major market radio station in Los Angeles, KLOS, called and wanted to sign them. Just when they were set to fly to LA the executive who hired them died. The new executive decided to bring in his own personalities, Mark and Brian instead. By now, Brad, experienced in opportunities vanishing at the tip of his fingers, held to his faith that everything happens for a reason. Ultimately, The Rude Brothers turned down big money to replace Mark and Brian in Birmingham, Alabama to sign with Fresno radio station KKDJ. The Rude Brothers owned Fresno for three years until Atlanta, Georgia called Chris, and with Brad’s blessing, Chris moved on without him until 1991, when Chris called him to produce his show.
“Things were great until they weren’t,” Brad shares in a more serious tone. “I don’t mind talking about it. I crashed and burned in 1994. I almost died. I was looking at a lot of time and ended up doing the whole rehab thing. Haven’t had a drink since…not even an aspirin. It was the 16th of Dec. 1994. I don’t want to break anonymity, but there were some high profile people that helped me in my recovery. We wouldn’t be here talking if it wasn’t for the people in my life. And God ~ God’s number one. Anything I did from that point on, it was Him not me. There was a reason why I didn’t get those deals; I would have become a statistic. It took my ass being kicked really hard, hitting bottom. When you look at death in the face you figure out what you need to do to get out of there. I’m not ready to go through that door yet. Then meeting my wife Connie was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Working for the Heat was the most fun of my career,” Brad stated. There he was allowed to follow his heart by promoting a new independent band every day during prime time. Awesome Dude Videos produced a promo that went viral on YouTube. The video received hits everywhere around the world. Brad was also instrumental in bringing new independent bands to the Rock Yard. That’s when local entertainer and CV Weekly columnist, Lola Rossi, heard about what Brad was doing and wrote about him in an issue that landed in the hands of Al Bowman, CEO of LA music awards. “I get a call from Al and he tells me, ‘Nobody’s doing this! It’s incredible. You’re the only jock in California that is promoting independent music in primetime radio. We want to give you a life time achievement fame award for best rock DJ for your involvement in independent music.’ At first I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. This was the 22nd awards show. In my career, you don’t think about awards. That award really touched me. They didn’t know anything about me other than what I did on the radio.” As seems to be a theme for this celebrated entertainer, Brad shares light heartedly, “I got the award and was simultaneously let go from the Heat when they switched formats.” With sincere disappointment he says, “There is no classic rock in the valley now.” Then with a determined look he told me, ”But Lisa, I’m not done yet.”
As confident, passionate and optimistic as ever, Brad is currently writing a script for a dark comedy along with a sequel to his already released movie CSI Alm Prings. “’I’ve done as much as I can do in radio. I am an entertainer and a performer. I can’t just do the time and the weather and say ‘This is Fleetwood Mac coming up.’ I’ve got to entertain my listening audience. And that’s what I did and I’m proud of it. I miss them though. I want to play the artists that deserve to be heard. I’ve done so much in my career, for me it’s about helping the other bands. I’ve done what I’ve done. Now I need to help someone else.”
Brad Mercer will be performing on New Year’s Eve at The Purple Room in Palm Springs from 9pm-1am with his band including; Tim Kramer guitar, Tim High bass, David Williams drums, and surprise guest vocalists.
Follow Brad Mercer on Facebook or at www.BradMercerLive.tv