Jerry Salley and Billy Blue Records

Billy Blue Records in Nashville, TN, is fast becoming one of the premiere labels in bluegrass music. In just over three years, Jerry Salley and his team have signed an impressive list of performing artists, and released attention getting projects. Their hard work has resulted in Billy Blue Records receiving a total of 17 nominations in IBMA’s award categories this year. 

“We’re here to play,” are the words, along with the photo of a banjo, that greet visitors to the recording company’s website. Their list of artists include Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Appalachian Road Show, Donna Ulisse, Marty Raybon, and Kristy Cox. Most recently, The Tennessee Bluegrass Band has signed on as the latest artist to join the label. They have also released side solo projects, including  albums from Jason Barie and Barry Abernathy & Friends. In addition, the Grammy nominated Gonna Sing, Gonna Shout, produced by Salley, was released on the label in 2018.

“We are very selective,” stressed Salley, Billy Blue’s Creative/A&R Director. “We have something special here. Every artist, we ask them, ‘what are your goals? Where do you want to take your music – where do you see yourself as an artist a year from now, two years from now,’ etc.  Our purpose is to partner with them to get them to where they want to be, and help them grow to where they want to go.”

Salley believes his primary purpose, and reason for starting a new label, is to provide resources to give artists the support that they need. The record company has a lot going on in 2021.

“Our most recent release is the Country Faith Bluegrass project that will be in all of Cracker Barrel stores beginning September, 17th. The first radio single from the project is a brand new, never-before-released recording of the legendary Dolly Parton singing In The Sweet By and By. She is joined on the song with bluegrass favorites (and close Salley friends) Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Bradley Walker, and Salley himself.  In the last two weeks, Appalachian Road Show has been in the studio recording their third album, as has Donna Ulisse working on her second. We have recently signed the Tennessee Bluegrass Band, who are also currently in the studio recording their debut release. In addition, Kristy Cox has a brand new single, Person of the Year, which is a salute to doctors and nurses who have sacrificed so much over the past eighteen months. All four of these new albums will be released the first quarter of 2022.

Marty Raybon has a second single coming out the second weekend in September. His brother, Tim, wrote the song, Drip Rock, Kentucky. Darin & Brooke’s new album, This Life We’re Living, was released August 6, and Doyle’s latest album, Roundtable, (released in June) is doing really well. Plus, Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers released their first all-Gospel bluegrass CD, Somewhere Beyond the Blue, in May. And Barry Abernathy’s solo, Barry Abernathy & Friends, is receiving a lot of air play and attention.”

Salley is hands-on when it comes to each recording.

“I like to be involved in the song selection (for each project). I’m a song man, and believe when you combine great singers and great songs, you get great entertainment. My philosophy is ‘plan your work, and then work your plan.’ We are working our plan.

I did dream we would be this successful, but the truth is, God has blessed us far beyond my imagination in so many ways! In the beginning, I was just dreaming about signing folks like Doyle and Joe, and now we’ve got them both! What a great opportunity to work with them and ALL of our incredible roster!

I want to publicly acknowledge my staff and team members, the Billy Blue Crew! At first, I basically did everything as I’ve got my own way of doing things. But, as the label has grown, I’ve had to learn how to delegate. Without the expertise of our entire staff, we would not have been able to grow like we have. I couldn’t do any of this without with their talent and dedication.”

Salley is also grateful to Ed Leonard and Dottie Leonard Miller for the opportunity to start the label with them.

“When I first thought about starting a label, I decided to go see Ed Leonard of Daywind Records. In the early 2000s, I had a songwriting/publishing deal with Daywind Music Publishing for just my Gospel songs.  Ed and I really got to know each other. So, fast forward to the beginning of 2018. I approached him about starting a new bluegrass label because I trusted him, and knew that Daywind already had every piece of the music business puzzle you would need to get started and be successful – distribution, first class recording studios, radio promotion, marketing team, a great graphics artist, etc., etc.”

From that collaboration, Billy Blue Records was formed. The name, Billy Blue, was something Leonard and Salley devised.

“Leonard said let’s do something with goats…hence, Billy. And I added Blue for bluegrass. Carla Wehby, graphics master and 2020 and 2021 IBMA nominee for Graphics Artist of the Year, came up with a great logo for the label. We launched on June 18, 2018. It’s hard to believe what we’ve been able to build in just 36 months. My goal, our goal, is to continue to strive to be the very best in the industry.”

Salley concluded, “I sincerely believe we have the best roster in bluegrass music. We are truly like a family.”

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.