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, letâ€™s just say Jerry Salley is top-notch.
Iâ€™d like to tell you that he does one of those things better than the other, but he doesnâ€™t. He does
them all equally great. Iâ€™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, youâ€™re always around greatness when Jerry is near. Hereâ€™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 â€œLive at Carnegie Hallâ€ 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 â€œFront Porch Philosophyâ€ album. It was a No. 1 Bluegrass song called â€œThe
Night Flatt & Scruggs Played Carnegie Hall. â€œ
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 pickinâ€™ 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 wasnâ€™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. Thatâ€™s when my interest in songwriting began.
Butler: Which did you do first â€“ 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, â€œI Still Miss Someone.â€ I wrote my first song at 16. It was a Bluegrass song
called, â€œEven Though Your Love Is Gone.â€
Butler: If you could only have one music gift, which would it be â€“ write, play or sing?
Salley: Thatâ€™s easy, writing.
Butler: Who are your favorites in each category â€“ songwriter, musician and singer?
Salley: My favorite songwriter is Tom T. Hall. Musician â€¦ thatâ€™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, itâ€™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 â€“
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 â€“ and
you canâ€™t like one child more than the other. But I will say that â€œHis Strength Is Perfect,â€ (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 â€œThe Broken Ones.â€
Butler: When youâ€™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 â€¦
Salley: I asked the Lord to come into my heart when I was 10 years old. Thatâ€™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.
Iâ€™ve certainly not been perfect, but I have always confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and
Iâ€™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.