DIY in Donelson: Cafe Rooster Records

Jan 9, 2017

Credit Craig Havighurst

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Craig Havighurst)  --  Since the digital music revolution of the 2000s, we've heard a lot about the rise of DIY. Do It Yourself artists record and release music as entrepreneurs instead of pinning hopes on signing with a record company.

In the case of Nashville's Cafe Rooster Records, some DIY artists got together to create a DIY label.

In December I visited Cafe Rooster headquarters, behind a ranch style home on a winding residential road in the Donelson neighborhood, not far from the airport.

Sally Jaye welcomes me into a small out building. Her husband and label co-owner Brian Wright is at work. He's a respected artist and songwriter who's put out albums on labels and on his own. Today he's in the role of producer, working on a project for a colleague.

The cozy space is dominated by a mixing board a big computer screen and monitors.

"Well we took a shed that was filled with mess and turned it into a place to make art," Wright says. "We've got a drum set off in the corner. We've got a closet where we put amps and people singing and whatever. Various keyboards and about 200,000 guitars." 

The true number may be more like a dozen but they festoon the walls along with photos of heroes including heroes Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Pete Townsend of the Who.

And how did they find the Cafe Rooster doormat?

“That’s Sally's pull," says Brian.

"Well that's kind of how the name came," Sally explains. “Brian has this song 'Red Rooster Social Club' that was on one of his more recent records”

Credit Cafe Rooster

Brian says, "It was about a little makeshift bar in my home town that this guy threw up so he and his friends could have a place to listen to music and shoot pool and literally drink beer out of an old cooler."

Sally picks up the story: “And I was just at this store Deal$ - with a dollar sign as the S - and I saw that in there I bought it for the old shed. Then we started calling it Cafe Rooster.”

That spirit of friends hanging out is going to be one hallmark of Sally and Brian's business. Brian Wright: "I guess we were already doing it without realizing it because we were putting out our records independently for the last couple years. But we weren’t calling it a label. It only became a label because of the other guy who we partnered with, Darrin Bradbury."

Bradbury calls himself a left of center folk singer and an American satirist. He’s acerbic and dark, with songs about the people he’s encountered during endless travels in the slow lane.

Sally Jaye says, “And he’s really embraced a lot of that and it has lent itself to his poetry and the stories he has to tell because they’re about real people – real America. When you go to his shows you see it happen. You see people moved by these very real and honest stories that he's telling.”

Bradbury made his latest album on his own and titled it Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Audio Book. He shopped it around its off-beat approach didn’t find a home. Until he talked to his friend and fan Brian Wright.

“So he sort of floated the idea can I put this out on your label," Wright says. "And it was like ‘Well I don’t have a label. But I guess I have a label. Sure let’s do this.’ And it literally happened in about a minute.”

While there are plans for other signings, the other artists officially on Cafe Rooster at this time are Sally and Brian themselves.

He’s originally from Waco TX where he grew up playing punk rock and organizing shows. It was scrappy and direct to fan, ideal training for the DIY record business. Wright says, "It was just guys who had a little bit of recording equipment and access to a bunch of bands and you just put the music out there and go as grassroots as you can and literally sell it out of the trunk of your car."

Sally's a native of Georgia who moved to Los Angeles for the music scene. That's where she met Brian, as well as her duo partner Sarah Roberts. Their band is called Ladies Gun Club. Their Cafe Rooster album Take My Love Away came out last year.

In the works, a new album from Brian that should appear in the first half of 2017.

Credit Cafe Rooster

"So I’m going to see what we can do out here in the shed or around the fire. We’ve got a little fire pit. It feels like home... And it’s really exciting to kind of tap into the same hunger from my youth. I feel more alive than I have in a long time.”

That’s even better than making a living, but Brian and Sally are pulling that off too.

Visit Cafe Rooster at their Facebook page.