By Les Butler
Jerry Salley is a top-notch singer. Jerry Salley is a top-notch songwriter. Jerry Salley is a top-
notch Bluegrass music producer. Okay, let’s just say Jerry Salley is top-notch.
I’d like to tell you that he does one of those things better than the other, but he doesn’t. He does
them all equally great. I’ve been able to hang out with him many times over the years, including
over a lasagna dinner prepared by my wife at our house. Whether in my home, on stage,
backstage or in a studio, you’re always around greatness when Jerry is near. Here’s a top-notch
music man, Jerry Salley.
Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?
Jerry Salley:My ea rliest musical memory is hearing my dad play his five-string banjo. I
remember when he brought home the Flatt & Scruggs “Live at Carnegie Hall” album. My dad
loved them so much, and he absolutely wore that record out, playing along with it. I even wrote a
song about it on my “Front Porch Philosophy” album. It was a No. 1 Bluegrass song called “The
Night Flatt & Scruggs Played Carnegie Hall. “
Butler: Was it the written lyric, instruments or singing which first got your musical
Salley: That would be instruments and singing. As a little boy, my banjo-playing dad would take
me with him to a lot of pickin’ parties on the weekends. While he and his buddies played, I
would sing and play along. So, while it was my dad's banjo that first got my attention, it wasn’t
long until I was singing at Saturday night jamborees and Sunday morning church services. Soon
after that, I started paying attention to the lyrics and songs of Tom T. Hall, and began to study
how he put stories together. That’s when my interest in songwriting began.
Butler: Which did you do first – write a lyric, play an instrument, or sing a song?
Salley: I got my first guitar when I was 6. I first learned to play the guitar, then started singing
and then writing songs. I won my first talent contest at 10 years old, singing and playing the
Johnny Cash hit, “I Still Miss Someone.” I wrote my first song at 16. It was a Bluegrass song
called, “Even Though Your Love Is Gone.”
Butler: If you could only have one music gift, which would it be – write, play or sing?
Salley: That’s easy, writing.
Butler: Who are your favorites in each category – songwriter, musician and singer?
Salley: My favorite songwriter is Tom T. Hall. Musician … that’s a really hard question. Earl
Scruggs and Glen Campbell would be tied at the top of my list. I have a lot of favorite singers.
In the Bluegrass genre, Mac Wiseman was always one of my favorites. Gene Watson, Mel Street
and Merle Haggard are my very favorite country singers. (While I was) growing up, Jim Hamill
and Eldridge Fox were two of my favorite gospel singers. Lauren Talley and Sonya Isaacs are
two of my very favorite gospel female singers.
Butler: You write country, Bluegrass and gospel music. What is the percentage of your
catalog in each of those three categories?
Salley: In my overall career, it’s been a very even split. One-third country, one-third Bluegrass
and one-third gospel. In the past five to 10 years, as country music has changed, I have probably
written 50 percent bluegrass, 30 percent gospel, and 20 percent country. According to SESAC
(my PRO), I may well be the most successful songwriter to have earned equal recognition from
all three genres of music.
Butler: Which genre do you enjoy writing the most? And, which have you had the greatest
Salley: As far as what I enjoy writing the most, I would have to say gospel of any kind –
Southern gospel, Bluegrass gospel or Country gospel. If you are measuring success in
dollars/income, it appears from all calculations that country music has provided me with the
most income. Again, I have been told that I may be the only songwriter in Nashville to have had
equal success and all three genres.
Butler: What is your favorite song that you wrote?
Salley: That is a very difficult question to answer, because they are all like your children – and
you can’t like one child more than the other. But I will say that “His Strength Is Perfect,” (2
Corinthians 12:9) is definitely one of my favorite songs I have ever been a part of.
Butler: What is your favorite song to sing of those that you wrote?
Salley: I love to sing “The Broken Ones.”
Butler: When you’re not picking and singing, what are you doing?
Salley: Hiking in the Smoky Mountains, fishing any stream, river or body of water, and walking
the beaches of Florida. I also love to read, especially biographies and history.
Butler: Can you give us a brief testimony …
Salley: I asked the Lord to come into my heart when I was 10 years old. That’s when I was
saved. I was raised out in the country, and I used to walk to church, to a little place called the
Hilltop Mission Church. Reverend Danny Young was preaching that day, and I felt convicted
and went down to kneel at the altar where the saints of the church prayed with me. My life was
forever changed that day.
I’ve certainly not been perfect, but I have always confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and
I’m so grateful for the many undeserved blessings I have received throughout my life. I feel like
God gave me the gift of songwriting and music. I have tried to use those gifts to glorify Him in
all that I write and sing. My hope is that his love is felt through the music I create as my small
way of helping spread his word.