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For Pete's sake
By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Pete Brady was going to be the next Frank Sinatra. His record company had it all planned: He'd be all over the radio and in record stores, and make the teenyboppers faint in excitement at concert halls.
That was Brady's job description at the beginning of the 1960s, back before rock stars were rock stars, when crooners such as Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Perry Como defined pop success.
And then an accident ended his career. For a few decades, anyway.
Brady, a singer and aspiring actor born in Toronto and raised in Indiana and North Carolina, gained glowing notices for How the West Was Swung, released in the mid '60s on RCA. That album, one of the first jazz recordings with a Western theme, featured a big band with luminaries including Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy and several players borrowed from Woody Herman's orchestra. The arrangements were by future Grammy winner Bob Florence.
Sinatra had left Capitol Records in late 1960 to start a company, Reprise. Capitol signed Brady, thinking he might duplicate the success of Ol' Blue Eyes, at least in the music world.
"It was in the (music) trades," recalls Brady, trim and polished at 73, seated at his desk in his waterfront home on Boca Ciega Bay, where he has lived for 27 years. "If you hear my voice on records then and hear it now, you'll understand why. It was similar but not a copy. It had a Dick Haymes-Tony Bennett-Mel Torme sound without sounding exactly like those guys.
"So many guys at that time tried to copy these people. The only thing that I did was, I tried to listen to the good parts of what they were doing: the phrasing. Sinatra was a master of phrasing. Sinatra could sing 16 bars without taking a breath. They were looking for a boy singer, somebody to fill that slot."
Brady, also a drummer inspired by the playing of Buddy Rich, was stoked by Capitol's vote of confidence, if a little uncomfortable with the prospect of attempting to fill Sinatra's shoes.
His first disc for the label, Voice on the Move, was a remixed version of a recording that Brady had made on his own, at a cost of $10,000. Capitol refunded the singer the cost of the album, gave him an additional $5,000 and paid for rerecording of the vocal tracks at famed Studio A. Brady again surrounded himself with blue-chip jazz talent, including arranger Marty Paich; trumpeters Shorty Rogers, Al Porcino and Conte Candoli; trombonist Urbie Green; pianist Jimmy Rowles, and bassist Joe Mondragon.
"I wasn't comfortable (with the pressure)," Brady said. "That's too big for anybody, and I didn't like that situation at all. It's a lot of pressure to put on a young guy. Frank was at his peak at that time. But I felt very fortunate to follow him into Studio A and do that album. He did In the Wee Small Hours and Come Fly With Me there. It's a chamber, and you get a vocal sound in there that you just don't get anyplace else."
Brady, supported by Capitol on radio-station tours, was all over television, too, appearing with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, and he headlined shows at major nightclubs around the country.
In 1970, while he was playing the lounge at the Sahara in Las Vegas, Brady participated in a celebrity tennis tournament. While making a backhanded hit, Brady's left-handed partner accidentally hit him in the throat with an aluminum racket designed by Rene Lacoste and favored by pros such as Jimmy Connors. The blow damaged Brady's larynx so badly, he couldn't sing.
"I went to a couple of doctors, and they said it was badly bruised and I would probably always have a smoky sound," Brady said. "I said, 'Doc, I have no range.' He said, 'Gradually, your voice will come back.' Well, it didn't come back at all."
Just when his single, The Masquerade is Over, was getting good airplay, Capitol and Brady parted ways. "It was a mutual understanding," he said. "I didn't sound like a singer any more."
If Brady's life were an episode of VH1's Behind the Music, that accident would cue the transition to a tragic decline. But the deeply spiritual, optimistic Brady instead moved on without great fanfare. He applied his skills as a communicator to the world of international business, buying and selling commodities. Brady worked all over Europe, and he spent time in Africa. He was largely based in London.
Meanwhile, Brady's mother had retired to St. Petersburg. In 1985, Brady moved to St. Petersburg, conducting his business by telephone.
Four years ago, Brady's life changed again.
"One day I stepped into the shower, and it was back," he said.
What accounts for the return of his voice?
"I know exactly why it happened. The Lord gave me another chance. That's why it happened."
He tried out the voice by sitting in with Pinellas-based singer Paulette Pepper and Fine Thyme at the Wine Cellar on North Redington Beach. Before long, he had secured a series of gigs at Peter Scott's nightclub in Orlando, and he began reconnecting with old friends and making new acquaintances in the music business.
Since his voice returned, Brady has released four albums without the benefit of label support, including three with big-band backing. Radio stations in Orlando, Philadelphia, New York and the Midwest are playing his music. But none, he notes with some wonder, in the Tampa Bay area.
Brady plays weekends at the Clearwater Beach Hotel. His usual accompanists are bassist Mark Neuenschwander and noted pianist Connie Fay-Brady. Pete and Connie have been married two years, but they toured together 46 years ago. They hooked up again in 1999, not long after the death of Connie's first husband, noted saxophonist and Arbors Records artist Rick Fay. Connie, based in Orlando at the time, had heard that the never-married Brady was performing at Peter Scott's and decided to visit her old friend.
Brady occasionally sings at First Baptist of Clearwater (Connie is the pianist there), and recently he gave a concert organized by the Central Florida Jazz Society in Orlando. He hopes to be back in the studio this year to record another CD; a Broadway-themed album is being planned.
Brady's voice, as heard on recent recordings of Come Rain or Come Shine, I'll Be Seeing You, How Deep is the Ocean, Stardust and other standards, sounds stronger than ever. You can hear traces of Sinatra's diction, and Brady's baritone is often strongly reminiscent of Torme.
The overlong career break, he said, had its advantages.
"I think one of the reasons that the chops are still good is because I didn't use them. I didn't burn them out. I didn't go out there and scream and do all that stuff that other guys are doing. You've only got so much mileage on your throat.
"I've been under a tree for 28 years," said Brady, who has diabetes and controls it by watching his diet and maintaining a workout regime that includes bicycling, weights and yoga. "I don't have a lot of time. It's not like I've got another 20 years, so whatever I'm going to do I have to do now."
To hear Pete Brady
Live show: The Pete Brady Trio can be heard 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 8 to 11 p.m. Sunday at the Schooner Lounge at the Clearwater Beach Hotel, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach.
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