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Felice and Boudleaux Bryant

| January 14, 2014 | 9 Comments

In the spring of 1945, 19-year-old Matilda Genevieve Scaduto was working as an elevator operator at the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee. One afternoon, she struck up a conversation with one of the guests, a musician from Georgia with the poetic name of Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant. Five days later, Matilda and Boudleaux ran off together and one of the great songwriting partnerships was born.

Over the next 30 years, the couple would write nearly 6,000 songs together, selling over 200 million records with artists such as Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Buddy Holly, Eddy Arnold, Bobbie Gentry, Gram Parsons, Simon & Garfunkel and most memorably, the Everly Brothers. The Bryants’ list of classics includes “Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Love Hurts” and “Rocky Top.”

Felice (which was Boudleaux’s pet name for his wife) believed that the couple’s meeting was fate. “I had dreamed of Boudleaux when I was 8 years old,” she said. “When this man was walking toward me in the hotel I recognized him right away. The only thing that was wrong was that he didn’t have a beard. Although he grew one for me later. In the dream we were dancing to our song. Only it was our song.”

In the early years of their marriage, the couple settled in Moultrie, Ga. Boudleaux continued to work as a musician and a mechanic, while his wife started dabbling in songwriting. “I always wrote,” Felice said. “I wrote letters and poetry that I would tear up so that they couldn’t be found. I wrote all the time, even if I was only doodling. I had to have someone to talk to, so I talked to myself. I don’t read music. I don’t play an instrument. The words themselves will have a musical value. That’s how I can compose a melody. Then Boudleaux will write the music down, or I’ll turn on the tape machine.”

“We started writing for the hell of it, for fun,” Boudleaux said. “And after about 80 songs we thought, this looks like it could be a good thing. But we originally wrote them for our own amusement, and we’d show them to our friends.”

After months of writing letters to everyone he knew—and didn’t know—in the music business, Boudleaux placed a song called “Country Boy” with Grand Ole Opry singer Little Jimmy Dickens. The song went to No. 7 on the charts in 1949, and by the next year, the Bryants had upped stakes to Nashville.

From left: Phil Everly, record producer Wesley Rose, Boudleaux Bryant and Don Everly in the mid 1950s.

“At the time, in the field that we flopped into, the artists wrote and performed all of their own material,” Felice recalled. “Then, after a while, the road got to them. They couldn’t think, they couldn’t doodle around on the front porch with a guitar, they couldn’t stroll through the woods and get inspired. So Boudleaux and I were the first people who came to Nashville who didn’t do anything but write. We were the factory.”

They were signed by Acuff-Rose Publishing and scored with a few more hits, including “Hey Joe” by Carl Smith and “I’ve Been Thinking” by Eddy Arnold. In the mid-’50s, with rock ’n’ roll on the rise, the Bryants hit their creative stride when they hooked up with two young harmonizing brothers from Kentucky, Phil and Don Everly. Whether it was a doe-eyed ballad (“Devoted to You”), a novelty song (“Bird Dog”) or a rockabilly tune (“Problems”), the Bryants and the Everlys were a match made in hillbilly heaven.

“Their stuff fit us like a glove, because it was designed to fit,” said Don Everly. “Boudleaux would sit down and talk with us. A lot of his songs were written because he was getting inside our heads—trying to find out where we were going, what we wanted, what words were right.”

“They were masters,” added Phil Everly. “Anybody would be a fool not to watch how they did it. That’s the level that you wanted to be at. I learned more from them than from anybody.”

The Bryants’ biggest song of all was one that had been turned down by everyone in the business. “‘Bye Bye Love’ was shown over 30 times before it was ever cut,” Boudleaux recalled. “It was even shown the very morning of the same day the Everly Brothers heard it in the afternoon. When it was turned down, the fella said, ‘Why don’t you show me a good strong song?’ So nobody really knows what a good song is.”

The pair’s chart run continued from the ’60s through the ’80s with hits by Charley Pride, Glen Campbell, Joe Stampley and Moe Bandy. By the time Boudleaux passed away in 1987, they’d had over 1,500 recordings of their songs. Felice continued to collaborate with various writers, and at the time of her death in 2003, was working on a one-woman play. The pair were inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Of their success, Boudleaux once said, “Unless one feels driven to compose and at the same time has all the instincts of a Mississippi riverboat gambler, he should never seek songwriting as a profession. Unless you know in your heart that you’re great, feel in your bones that you’re lucky and think in your soul that God just might let you get away with it, pick something more certain, like chasing the white whale or eradicating the common housefly. We didn’t have the benefit of such sage advice. Now it’s too late to back up. We made it. Sometimes it pays to be ignorant.”

by Bill DeMain

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Category: Legends of Song

Comments (9)

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  1. George Boyer says:

    How can I get permission to write different lyrics to one of the Bryants’ songs?

  2. Jim Kristoff says:

    Lydia,
    Thanks for this! I was heartbroken to hear of Phil Everly’s passing. At my last gig I performed a medly with a few of the Bryant tunes in his honor. Great article. Hope you are well, dear. PEACE – jim

  3. Lin Strauss says:

    Is there a website were we can purchase the CD set
    “All I have to do is Dream”
    story of the Boudleaux and Felice Bryant?

    found this to be fascinating and would love several copies
    as Christmas Gifts.

    Thanks

  4. Lydia says:

    Hi Diana –
    I believe their songs were truly collaborative, but, in general, Felice was the lyricist and Boudleaux the musical composer.

  5. Diana Tang says:

    Could you pls tell me if it was the wife (Felice ) or the husband who wrote the music (melody) for the sony ‘Bye bye Love’?

  6. Lydia says:

    I love that story, Roone! The image of her and the mynah bird is perfect. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I happened to visit Felice at home once in Tennessee in 1971, with my first husband who knew her family. She puttered about the kitchen humming in good spirits like any normal person. She had a pet mynah bird in a cage in the dining room, that sang “Dye dye di DEE dee dye” over and over again. I finally asked her how she worked with him going off, and she said “Oh sometimes I just have to put the cover over his cage, and he quiets down.” So I guess when the bird is going off in your head singing someone else’s song, you just need to put a bag over its head and get back to work on your song. She was a real sweet lady.

  8. Hi Barry, there is a very comprehensive Biography of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant written by music journalist Alan Cackett (editor of Maverick Magazine) that has just been published on his brand new personal website: http://www.alancackett.com. I hope this and the rest of the site will prove to be valuable reading for you!

  9. Barry Wayne Callen says:

    I am fascinated by this songwriting duo, as I have just started writing songs with my new fiancee. I would love to find out more…interviews, documentary footage, anything regarding their processes, thoughts on creating, lifestyle, relationships, beliefs, life choices, song collections, etc. They are role models for me. The internet has surprising little info on them and a book search on Amazon the same. Can anyone suggest some information sources…did they write a biography? Have others commented on their process? Is there anyone around who knew them well I could interview by phone? Please email me at 608.347.8396. Barry Wayne Callen Singer/Songwriter Madison, WI

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