May 19, 2008
With husband Boudleaux, Felice Bryant was part of the greatest songwriting team of her time, so fine at their craft that they wrote themselves into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Felice was born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She grew up singing, but it was her love of writing that drove her passion for music. She met her future husband Boudleaux when he saw her performing at a Milwaukee hotel in 1945. They married soon after and moved to his home in Georgia, where they struggled to make ends meet as Boudleaux did a number of odd jobs.
Felice was bored out of her mind, so she wrote songs in her spare time, and noticed that her husband had the same talent, if not the same discipline. She pushed for him to hone his craft, and soon they were sending out songs they had composed together to country stars through the mail. They were politely but repeatedly rejected, until Little Jimmy Dickens took a shine to “Country Boy” and recorded it in 1949. It became a top ten hit, and the couple hit Music Row looking for a full-time writing job.
Of course, full-time writing jobs weren’t exactly the norm back then, but the couple was able to get a small publisher to pay them $35 a week to write songs for the company. Even though they recorded briefly on MGM as duo Bud & Betty Bryant, their heart was in the songwriting. Dickens continued to record their songs, placing both “I’m Little But I’m Loud” and “Out Behind the Barn” on the charts. They broke into the big time when Cal Smith scored two honky-tonk hits from their pens in 1953, “Just Wait Till I Get You Home” and “Hey Joe.” By 1956, they were signed to the biggest country publisher in town, Acuff-Rose.
They recorded most of their demo tapes as a duo, which would lead to their most fruitful partnership with an artist. Brother duo The Everly Brothers turned their compositions into multi-format smashes, scoring high on both the country and pop charts with “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog”, “Devoted to You” and “Love Hurts.” Buddy Holly had a hit with “Raining in My Heart” and the couple penned what would become a State Song of Tennessee, “Rocky Top,” originally recorded by The Osborne Brothers.
The most impressive thing about their catalog was its timelessness, as their songs were revived by artists long after they’d been written. The most famous version of “Love Hurts” was recorded by Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris, but that song has been done by Roy Orbison, Cher, Keith Richards & Norah Jones, and Nazareth, just to name a few.
Both Parsons and Harris would cut “Sleepless Nights,” another tune originally done by The Everly Brothers. Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell brought back “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Lynn Anderson had a hit with “Rocky Top” and Gail Davies took on “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” originally cut by Carl Smith. When Felice wrote “We Could” as a gift to her husband on their anniversary, Little Jimmy Dickens and Jim Reeves recorded it and Charley Pride later made it a hit.
So wide was their impact that they won nearly 60 BMI awards in three fields: pop, country and R&B. In 1972, they were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1986 the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Boudleaux passed away in 1987, but Felice represented both of them in 1991, when they were jointly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Felice remained a fixture on the Nashville songwriting scene until her death in 2003. Along with her husband, she left behind a legacy that is nearly unmatched by songwriters in country music history, and a catalog that is still being revisited by contemporary artists with exceptional taste.
- “Country Boy” (Little Jimmy Dickens), 1949
- “Bye Bye Love” (The Everly Brothers), 1957
- “Wake Up Little Susie” (The Everly Brothers), 1957
- “Rocky Top” (Lynn Anderson), 1970
- Country Music Hall of Fame, 1991