I remember how grateful he was, the look on his face, when I’d play the track from the album he gave me. I’d see him parking his car across the street and I’d prepare my ipod – Scroll to “M” – Medeski, Martin & Wood – It’s a Jungle In Here – Shuck It Up.
I’d wait until he’d come in and order something, and then press play. He’d look up with a big grin, already slightly bobbing his head to the beat, and say happily (sometimes groggily), “Thanks man.”
I can recall, over the years, that the car he’d pull up in was ever-changing. First it was the Rambler that he’d been tinkering with for ages. And then I think I saw him tooling around in ANOTHER Rambler. Different colour. Then he was in a white Cadillac. Then the Benz. When he told me that he raced that Benz in Michigan as often as possible, I was initially shocked. I knew he could fix cars, and that he could diagnose a sick car, but he was also making time to race? Okay. The ever-deepening myth of Bradford just kept growing the longer I knew him.
And the guy could flat-out play the drums like no one’s business. This is something we all know. We’ve all known. He played with performers coming to Windsor without bands, but needing back-up. Josh on bass, and Bradford on drums. He’d learn it overnight. Just listening. Name a style or genre, he could play it. Jamie Greer said it best…he made everyone sound better. And musicians all over the place knew it. I remember showing up to the first or second Shores of Erie Wine Festival in Amherstburg early. Not too many people around. The sun was still up. He was the only guy I recognized in the whole place. He was playing with three or four bands that day, at that one event. That’s how he was…as a musician…omnipresent.
As I think about his more unique entrances into Phog, I recall the afternoons that he’d come in before a Detroit drumming gig and ask Frank and I if we’d like any Lafayette Coney Island hot dogs or chili dogs. “C’mon Tom, heavy-heavies? A few?” he’d say. He knew I couldn’t say no to the dogs that snapped when you bit them. But I never really expected that food to show up. He was just so prone to going with the flow, that I just supposed that he’d never bring the food…but I can say for certain that EVERY time he asked if I’d like some food from Detroit, he’d bring it in six hours later when I was needing it most. Braved the border with a brown bag of meat and onions and cheese on the Tunnel Bus.
The guy was just someone you liked to have around. Always. He could situate himself comfortably into a conversation about traversing Central America, discovering abandoned buildings in Detroit, gigging with Thornetta Davis, urban farming, writing sheet music, or building geodesic domes. He had a great sense of humour, which he needed when he was grotesquely late to pick up his drums from the gig the night before, or just tardy for a show that very evening. If I was pacing around Phog, waiting for him to clear the stage for the bands playing that night, he’d just come in like nothing was out of order and lighten the mood instantly by introducing himself to the bands and describing his unusual reasons for being late.
I knew portions of Bradford. I knew the musician, and the ambassador to Detroit. I knew the storyteller. I knew the giver. I knew the guy living the “slow movement” before I’d heard of the “slow movement”. I knew the guy that could give you the punchline to every single musician joke you’ve ever heard by just giving him the set-up. I knew the car buff. I knew he was just settling into a gleaming new job fixing super-high-end cars in Royal Oak. He popped in late on a Saturday night to say hi, look at the new music project we started on the wall (The Windsor Music Tangle) and offer his incredible advice on how to make the next draft flawless. He had a Labatt 50 and a shot of Jägermeister. The only time he had anything else was when we had maraschino cherries, and he could talk me through how to make a proper Manhattan. He also told me all about the new job. He rarely, and I mean rarely, talked about his conquests. But he was excited about this new job, and I was really very happy for him. I realized later that he had visited because Marc Roy ( a musician returning to Windsor for a night) was playing a house party with all the usual suspects. Bradford was going to make an appearance. He was making his rounds. He was likely going to have to move to the Detroit area for this job. He wasn’t going to be seeing us as regularly as he might have otherwise.
The last image I hold of him, late on that Saturday night, was the back of him (his hat) as he traversed the alley en route to say hello to the folks at FM Lounge.
I’m not even sure if we said goodbye.
I got word in the afternoon on Sunday that he had collapsed. A handful of days later, he passed away with family at his side.
The Thursday night he passed, there was a makeshift gathering in our little building that he had played dozens (likely over 100) of shows within. So many people with so little notice. We cried. We shared stories. We were stunned into silence together.
At 39, he had the soul of a great, great grandfather it seemed. I will miss him. We will all miss him.
We cried. We cry, still.