Braeden Paul was born into a house of music. Notes filled the Louisiana air from his father’s banjo and the vinyl bluegrass records on the stereo. After moving to Texas, he dreamed of playing the banjo like his father and like one of his bluegrass music heroes, Earl Scruggs. Scruggs played banjo in a three-finger style similar to a classical guitarist’s technique. The “Scruggs Style” has become an integral part of bluegrass over the past 70 years. After practicing and practicing, Braeden gave up on the banjo in his early teens. He could never execute the correct technique, because as far back as he can remember, he has lived with cerebral palsy.
Now 22 and calling Plano home, Braeden honestly doesn’t know if he was born with cerebral palsy. His mother has told him that shortly after his birth, he became very sick and that he had trouble learning to crawl. His mother, an occupational therapist, knew something was wrong. Nonetheless a long line of doctors told her, “He’ll be fine. You’re just trying to find something that’s not there.” It wasn’t until the family relocated to Texas that Braeden was finally diagnosed at the age of two.
When Braeden was 15, a pawn shop in McKinney had a huge impact on his musical future. Hanging in the shop was an $85 A-Style mandolin. He took it home “just to kick around with,” as he says. Then the next year, he had two spinal cord surgeries that helped free up his muscles and enabled him to scuttle his lifelong leg braces. During his recovery he passed the time playing his mandolin. He found that with his increased range of motion, he was becoming an accomplished player. It wasn’t long until he was asked to play with local bluegrass bands.
At 18 Braeden joined Blackland Grass, a band in which his father played banjo. Even though the band already had a mandolin player, Braeden joined as the second one due to his ability to sing baritone. From there he moved on to play and sing lead for the band Blue Valley Tradition, and then on to the band Texas True led by Philip Ferguson.
While playing for Texas True, a convergence of three events sent Braeden on a new musical path: Philip Ferguson decided to retire and move to East Texas, Braeden was being encouraged to start his own band and two legendary bluegrass musicians, Ralph Stanley and Melvin Goins, passed away.
Braeden felt moved to carry on the tradition of Stanley’s and Goins’ intense, hard driving, mountain sound. His last show with Texas True was last October, and Braeden Paul & Wheel Hoss made its debut two months later.
Aside from being the front man for a bluegrass band, Braeden recently graduated from Collin College with a degree in music business. He acts as a booking agent for his own band as well as for Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show. Braeden has been a fan of Karl’s since he was 13, listening to Karl’s albums to polish his mandolin skills. Karl has since become a mentor, encouraging Braeden in the business and with his new musical endeavor.
Braeden has a strong presence on Twitter (@braedenpaul95) where he shares his experiences living with cerebral palsy, sometimes in humorous ways. His first post was not long after his spinal cord surgeries. Inspired by National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, he posted a photo of all the leg braces he had relied on through the years. The “likes” were numerous and the feedback positive. His mission on social media is not only to speak to people living with cerebral palsy, but to encourage all people to live a full life and pursue their dreams.
Braeden’s future goals are to record an album of original songs in the “retro grass style” inspired by Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, as well as to study and learn more about the pioneers of bluegrass. He also hopes to write an autobiography about his experiences in music and living with his condition.
Alan Tompkins, president of the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, finds inspiration in how hard he works to improve his musical knowledge and skill. “There’s no doubt that Braeden Paul is one of the most passionate and dedicated fans of bluegrass music in Texas,” Alan remarked. “I’m confident that Braeden will continue to be a positive force in our Texas bluegrass music community for many years to come.”
Braeden Paul & Wheel Hoss >
Braeden Paul & Wheel Hoss is available for booking in the North Texas area. Check out one of their tunes: