Tapping into Polk County's music legacy

A country songwriter opens up in a bittersweet Florida memoir.

Published May 27, 2007

Somewhere, along the sprawling western leg of I-4's "Orlampa" corridor, exists the "Orburndale" of famed songwriter-producer Bobby Braddock's memory. He's referring to the Southern way people used to pronounce his Polk County hometown of Auburndale. Truth be told, it's a euphemism for many agrarian, pre-Disney Central Florida towns now at risk of being overrun with tourists, traffic and strip malls.

As moving as it is chilling, funny, honest and bittersweet, Down in Orburndale shows us how Braddock's yearning for music became his lifeline: "In my memory, the music was everywhere, as if it were being piped in through the trees and coming up from the cracks in the sidewalks. Rock and roll was the music of the young, and we couldn't imagine ourselves or the music ever growing old."

At times, we're not sure the man who would go on to pen such country music classics as He Stopped Loving Her Today and D-I-V-O-R-C-E would ever get to that point. Braddock battles anxiety, depression, Tourette's syndrome and Benzedrine dependence ("drinking buttermilk helped a little").

Along the way, we meet colorful characters: Bobby's dad, former Auburndale Mayor P.E. Braddock; his mother, Lavonia, "the queen of sweet things"; and big brother Paul. We're reminded of tremendous talent that came out of Polk County in the 1960s: Braddock, Gram Parsons, Jim Stafford, guitar great Les Dudek, Kent Lavoie (who recorded under the name Lobo), onetime Auburndale resident Dickey Betts, Carl and Jesse Chambers and a group of other musicians who called themselves the PolKats.

Florida needs more accounts like Braddock's to help the Sunshine State lay claim to its formidable legacy in country and rock. Down in Orburndale also gives us a dose of old Florida as palpable as the scent of P.E. Braddock's orange groves in full bloom.

Bob Kealing is author of "Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends." In 2008, University Press of Florida will release his book "Tupperware, Unsealed."


Down in Orburndale

By Bobby Braddock

Louisiana State University Press, 271 pages, $24.95