Radio personality Brad Mercer is known for his long-running Bands ’N’ Fans radio show on local country-music station KXCM. However, his showbiz talents extend well beyond radio.
Mercer’s show can be heard every Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. on KXCM FM 96.3/92.1, and streaming at www.bradmercersbnf.com.
During a recent phone interview, Mercer talked about his true passions.
“I’ve done so much in my life that it boils down to helping other artists get to where they want to go,” Mercer said. “I’ve done so much in my life that I’ve wanted to pass it on to the younger artists who are trying to get somewhere in the business. The only way I know how to do that is to help promote them in some way.”
His showbiz career started rather inauspiciously.
“It started when I got my first guitar, which was back in 1955. I cut my teeth on live television at KTLA,” Mercer said. “My mother and father had a live television show called Bandstand Review. It was actually put together with the Mercer Brothers; it was my father and my uncle. They put me on one night, and it was before tape, and it was all live—and my debut was a close-up on my face, picking my nose. The director fell off his stool in the control room and never forgot that.
“The next thing I knew, I had a guitar at 5 years old and started learning Johnny Cash, guys like Roger Miller, and everything I could. It was the only thing I heard, because I wasn’t around rock ’n’ roll at the time. (As with) every other musician in the world who wants to do something, everything changed that night Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles. Whatever they did, I copied. I wanted to be a Beatle.”
In 1975, Mercer started his own band. He’d go on to record in Nashville, tour America—and just miss another potentially notable television moment, involving a recently departed comedy legend.
“I had six major albums behind me that didn’t do anything, because at that time, you had Fleetwood Mac coming out, along with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Those were bands that had all those labels behind them. The stuff I was doing back then was always a day late and a dollar short.” Mercer said. “I did make it to the Tonight Show green room. I had a song out at that time called ‘Don Rickles for President.’ Don calls me up and says, ‘You gotta come over and perform it. I’m hosting The Tonight Show; Johnny (Carson) is on vacation, and let’s do it!’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, this is it!’ I’m getting ready to go, and I got bumped. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Brad; we’ll do it tomorrow.’ The next day, I’m at the pool in Burbank, and I get a phone call from Don’s manager: ‘Brad, Carson is coming back, Don is going to start shooting C.P.O. Sharkey, and you’re out.’”
Eventually, Mercer found himself in Jacksonville, Fla. That was where Mercer discovered another talent.
“I was at this comedy club called Sassy’s in Jacksonville Beach,” Mercer remembered. “I was sitting at the bar laughing and said, ‘I could do that.’ This guy next to me said, ‘Go ahead. Go on up there!’ I asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he said, ‘I own the club.’ I walked up onstage, and everything I learned from my father came to me: I did five minutes and had them laughing. (The owner) offered me a job to help him run the club. I booked acts who I had worked with like Pat Paulsen, Rita Rudner and a good friend at the time named Jay Leno. As I’m running these acts, I would go up and do five minutes, which would go to 10 minutes, and I was building material at the time. Jay would always call me and say, ‘Hey Brad. I’m coming through town; can you plug me in?’ I’d say, ‘Jay, all I have is $750. I can’t pay you any more than that.’ And he’d say, ‘It’s all right; we’ll go out and ride motorcycles.’ I would open up for him when he would come to town. That happened with George Carlin as well. The comedy led to radio.”
Mercer recently began recording and playing with local band Braun Fraulein—which means “Brown Girl” in German, he pointed out. Watch for an album-release show in the coming months.
“They’ve been here for a while,” Mercer said. “They would play the Palm Canyon Roadhouse; they would play the Joshua Tree Saloon; and they would play free concerts. Everywhere they’d go, it’d be three guys: Jimi Heil on guitar, Mark Fry on bass, and Eric Mouness on drums. When they played, it mesmerized me, because it was different. We got to know each other. … They knew who I was and would bring me up onstage. They didn’t want to do covers and wanted to do originals. I threw a bunch of originals at them, and when they played them, it took on a whole different aura and sounded really good.”
One of the songs they recorded is “Drain the Swamp,” which Mercer said is not particularly partisan. He explained the story behind the song.
“One night at the compound, which is Mark Fry’s studio up in Sky Valley, before the presidential election, we started jamming on a riff I created, and they got into it, and it started to come together,” Mercer said. “During that time period, you heard ‘Drain the Swamp’ and ‘Let’s Make America Great Again.’ We’re thinking, ‘That would be really cool, no matter who did it, no matter who was in office.’ We didn’t put politics into this at all. I just started singing ‘Drain the Swamp.’ I made up lyrics, and Jimi had the tape rolling. We took it back, and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’
“About a week before the inauguration, we released the video for it, and it was approaching 30,000 views. We had people saying, ‘You gotta play the inauguration.’ People really tried to get us to do that. It was nice to know they thought the song was that good. It wasn’t necessarily for Trump or Clinton; it had nothing to do with that. It was all about making America great again and draining the swamp in Washington, D.C., no matter who did it.”