The Songwriter – Jerry Salley

Jerry Salley has written songs in Nashville since 1982, long enough to witness major changes in country music, Music Row, and the songwriting business. 

Now, many of his early mentors and friends are gone, and Salley is at an age when retirement beckons for a lot of us. But Salley is still hard at work, writing, producing, mentoring, touring and running a record label. His new CD, The Songwriter, is evidence that he hasn’t lost a step. It’s also proof that he remembers where he came from, while at the same time nodding to the inevitable passage of time.

The Songwriter is Salley’s most introspective work, and perhaps his most honest. If you had never heard of Jerry Salley, many of the dozen songs presented here would give you a pretty good understanding of him. 

Salley is a writer at heart. In workshops and in songwriting sessions, he urges folks to dig deep. While there are no co-writers on these songs, he clearly took his own advice. The project is filled with topics that keep us awake at night. Those inward-looking creations are the most memorable here.

The very best, in this songwriter’s very subjective opinion, is When I Sing My Last Song. It’s human nature to wonder about our legacies, specifically whether any of our work will survive. He does it beautifully, without being maudlin.

He writes:

I don’t know when I’ll make my last appearance
Only God knows when the music ends
So I hope I’ll play at least one you’ll remember
In case we never pass this way again

Long haunting bow strokes from fiddler Jason Roller are the perfect accompaniment. This is one song I wish I had written, and one that many of us will remember.

Also rising to the top are Old Songwriters Like Me, Me and Tom T Hall, and Will Anyone Visit My Grave. Old Songwriters is especially poignant, telling of a writer who made it, slipped off the radar of fickle music executives as tastes changed, then climbed back to the top with a new co-writer who liked his style.

Salley found a lot of success in gospel music over the years. Here that part of his career is represented by Then Jesus Came. He’s also known for hooks and lines that play on words. Thus, he gives us What Kind of Fool (Do You Think You’re Foolin’), a light and bouncy number that has received a fair amount of radio play.

Roller’s fiddle is featured throughout. He was a busy guy in the studio, adding mandolin on some songs, and guitar on others. Justin Moses was a busy guy, too, tracking resonator guitar, mandolin, and banjo.

The melodies are compelling, the vocals comfortable, but when I think of Jerry Salley songs, strong writing and good stories are what come to mind first. The Songwriter delivers on those counts from start to finish.

As a songwriter, I learn something from everyone I write with. I tend to learn a lot when I write with Jerry. Every session is a master class of sorts. Not surprising, I guess, since he is a master of the craft.

When he finally lays down his pen and his guitar – many years from now, I hope – he will be remembered, and his songs will be sung. Maybe someone he worked with along the way will write one called Me and Jerry Salley

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.