Sally Jaye is hardly your standard-issue record label executive. “When I was a Belmont student, I had an internship at Giant Records and got fired for mouthing off about how all their music was crappy,” she says, laughing at the memory. “I was a little bit of a firecracker. I knew very early on that working for a label didn’t appeal to me.”
That sentiment is not surprising coming from a singer-songwriter. Music history is littered with artists who took a dim view of the business side of making music — grinning and bearing the economic evils that allow them to pursue their muse. That was the case for Sally Jaye, who until a year ago had placed herself firmly on the creative side of the line of demarcation between making music and marketing. Everything changed with the launching of Cafe Rooster Records, the co-op, independent record label that she founded with her husband, Brian Wright.
A native of Lawrenceville, Ga., Sally Jaye discovered a passion for music at a very early age. She was first drawn to musical theater in high school, but after attending the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for two years, she realized that bar lights held more appeal than Broadway.
“I started playing guitar and I wanted to write songs,” she says. “I dropped out of school and told my dad I was moving to Nashville, but he didn’t like that very much. He found out about Belmont’s music industry program which didn’t impress me, but when I found out they had recording studios that students could use, I was sold.”
After graduating she headed for Los Angeles. Over the course of the next 13 years, she played in bands, recorded her first solo album, got married, and started a family. As Sally Jaye and Wright pursued music careers, the road eventually led back to Nashville in the early months of 2013. “Brian was traveling back and forth from LA to Nashville, and Nashville just seemed like a better place for our family,” Sally Jaye explains.
Eventually settling in Donelson, the couple followed a grand Nashville tradition, turning a garden shed in their backyard into a recording studio that soon gained a distinctive name. “Brian had a song, ‘Red Rooster Social Club,’ ” she recalls. “People were always giving him roosters for the studio. I was at a Deal$ store in Donelson and found this doormat that said ‘Cafe Rooster.’ I bought it for the shed and that became its name.”
The name stuck when the couple bought their neighbor’s house, and the studio expanded into a larger backyard building. “Friends would come by and write and record things with us,” Sally Jaye says. “One night Darrin Bradbury said, not very seriously, ‘Why don’t you guys put my record out?’ So we started a label.”
Debuting at the 2016 Americanafest, Cafe Rooster Records has stirred up the barnyard with releases from Bradbury, Wright, Jon Latham, Ladies Gun Club (a collaborative effort of Sally Jaye and singer-songwriter Sarah Roberts), as well as the various artists collection Strange Freedom: Songs of Love and Protest — a benefit album for Planned Parenthood.
“Because we’re not a conventional label, we’ve taken on a lot of projects that we find personally satisfying, including benefit projects like Strange Freedom,” Sally Jaye says. “Our primary focus is still the main four artists. We’re all co-owners along with Gabe Masterson, our resident sound engineer, who runs the studio. We’re eager to add new artists, but they’ll need to share the spirit of the label. Everyone is rooting for each other. We’re all so different there is no reason to feel you’re in competition with the others. We write together, we collaborate in the studio — it’s a real family.”
Sally Jaye’s management style is a large part of that familial feeling. “Being a businessperson is something that doesn’t come naturally to me,” she says. “I barely got through my business classes at Belmont. What I’ve drawn from instead is my experience as a mother. Every baby is a unique personality and you figure out very quickly that your parenting strategy has to adapt to each child’s unique personality. I felt the same way with our artists. They all have very different things to offer their fans, and it’s been fun tailoring marketing strategies around who they are. I never thought I’d be running a label, but when it comes to Cafe Rooster, nothing about it is a drag.”