Brother Dave Gardner Biography
A Tennessee native, Gardner studied drumming, beginning at age 13. After a one-semester term as a Southern Baptist ministerial student at Union University in his hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, he began a musical career as a drummer and occasional vocalist. After a pair of demo singles for Decca Records around 1956, he had a 1958 Top-20 hit on OJ Records with White Silver Sands.
It was his comedic routines between songs, however, that brought him to the attention of RCA Records artist & producer Chet Atkins. The eventual result was a comedy album interspersed with a couple of songs - Rejoice, Dear Hearts! (1959 or 1960), which propelled Brother Dave into the national eye, along with the first of several appearances on national television talk/variety shows such as The Tonight Show.
Next to Homer And Jethro, the most successful Southern-derived comedian was undoubtedly Brother Dave Gardner. In the late '50s and into the mid-'60s, Gardner's albums found themselves ensconsed in record collections in far more urbane and Northerly locales than one would suspect, and his style was instantly influential and widely imitated. Variously described as a "Southern Lenny Bruce" or "Billy Graham (2) with a sense of humor," Gardner's best routines still sound fresh and original today, a testament to his off-kilter genius. There was much, much more to this small-statured stand-up comic than your average hillbilly plowboy set of wheezy jokes; Gardner may just very well have been the true innovative genius of classy Southern humor.
An arrest for marijuana possession in 1962 curtailed his visibility on television. Then, it seemed, changing public tastes (i.e., the falling out-of-favor of 'beatnik'-style comedy), coupled with Gardner's holding onto his same performing style, resulted in a similar fading of his recording career. After six albums for RCA Victor Records, he made two for Capitol Records, and then others for lesser labels. He had another legal problem over tax-evasion charges in the 1970s, which his son helped clear up.
Brother Dave had a role as a Southern preacher in the 1978 made-for-TV film Big Bob Johnson's Fantastic Speed Circus. He was cast in a B-grade movie, and was just beginning work on it at the time of his death.
Gardner was twice married: his first wife, Millie, preceded him in death, and he was married to his second wife, Judy, at the time of his death. He had two children from his first marriage—son Dave II (deceased, 1999) and daughter Candace.