Off the Sidelines, Onto the Bluegrass Field
by Susan Marquez
Erin Salley has it down pat in the stand-by-your-man world of country and bluegrass music. She’s a wife, manager, merchandiser, salesperson, scheduler, publicist, and more for her husband, Jerry Salley. Married six years, Erin says she was quickly indoctrinated into the music world, much different from the world she knew before meeting the talented singer/songwriter.
Erin grew up in Thomasville, Georgia, just above the Florida-Georgia line. She attended the University of Georgia, where she got a degree in landscape architecture. While living in Florida, a friend invited her to participate in the Blast on the Bay Songwriters Festival in Port St. Joe, Florida. “I saw Jerry perform and was really impressed,” Erin recalls. “The next day, my friend was supposed to go to a songwriting workshop, and she got cold feet. I told her I would sit with her. Jerry was on the panel, and we met afterward. I had never known anyone like him. Jerry can really craft a song.”
Jerry Salley has been writing and singing in Nashville since 1982. A native of the southern Ohio town of Chillicothe, Jerry has had a wildly successful songwriting career, winning multiple awards, including IBMA Songwriter of the Year in 2018 and 2019 and SESAC Country Music Songwriter of the Year in 2003. He was nominated in 2019 for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and a GRAMMY award. He has had multiple DOVE award nominations and won the DOVE award for the Inspirational Song of the Year in 1990.
During their first few years of marriage, Erin felt she was on the sidelines with no musical background or knowledge of the music industry.
“There are so many moving parts. I stayed confused for a while. Jerry is so knowledgeable, and in time, I learned all I could about the music industry so I could be supportive of him.”
While Erin has always been a music lover, she didn’t know much about bluegrass music. “I have always loved country music and pop, but I think bluegrass is the kind of music that people need to be introduced to by someone else,” she says. “So many bluegrass artists grew up in families that were musicians. It is a musical genre that has been passed down. I knew of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, but that’s about it. I had a lot to learn.”
When the couple married, Erin moved to Jerry’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
“We discussed the importance of me traveling with him. His career isn’t a traditional nine-to-five job; it is a lifestyle that includes touring.”
Erin has kept her toes in landscape architecture by starting her own business in Tennessee.
“I get referrals from builders and architects, and when I’m home, I meet with clients. I’m fortunate that I can also work on projects from the road. It has been working out well for me.”
Being part of the bluegrass family is important to Erin. “I can see how they are all so close, and being a part of that has been fun for me. I sort of live in a bluegrass bubble these days, and I like it. So much of our social life involves being around people from the industry, so I am totally immersed in that world.”
Erin says she helps Jerry as much as she can. She manages booking, radio appearances, and getting his records on streaming platforms.
“There has been a lot to learn, and it’s important to stay current as technologies are constantly changing.” And despite having to learn about another industry in addition to landscape architecture, Erin has enjoyed the challenge. “I do enjoy it. My career as a landscape architect requires me to be a good planner. Those skills carry over to what I am doing with Jerry, and I’m good at it. I make my lists, and I get great satisfaction checking things off. If someone needs a bio or a headshot, I handle it and check that off the list.”
At Jerry’s shows, Erin takes care of the merchandise set-up and sales and details such as making sure Jerry has water on stage. “I have become a professional CD seller,” she laughs.
One of the things she enjoys about being married to Jerry is the family gatherings when they are home in Hendersonville. “Christmas is the best. We do it up big with all the kids and grandkids. I started putting together big scavenger hunts for the grandkids to find their Christmas presents. And we eat – a lot. Everyone is a good cook. We play games, laugh a lot, and of course, there is always lots of great music.”
Jerry Salley has a little fun with Carl Jackson