Interview | FFS 5 with John Salaway

Photo by Blake Russell

Frontman. Acclaimed songwriter. Sideman. Nationally-endorsed multi-instrumentalist. Producer. Since moving to Nashville in the early 2000s, John Salaway has become one of the city’s most accomplished musicians, holding down a weekly residency at the world-class BB King’s Blues Club while also playing shows with acts like Peter Frampton, Ben Folds, Anderson East, Zach Williams, and Denny Laine from the Moody Blues and Paul McCartney’s Wings. He’s a drummer. A guitarist. A pianist. And with albums like 2019’s Americana Dreams, he shows the full range of his abilities, mixing a lifelong appreciation for the Beatles’ classic pop melodies with the southern-fried sounds of his adopted hometown. 

“With every album I make, you’ll always hear a touch of the Beatles,” says Salaway, who worked with the Fab Four’s iconic sound engineer, Geoff Emerick. “With Americana Dreams, though, I wanted to show off my Americana influences, which come mostly from Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, The Band, and Tom Petty.”

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
I was born in Long Island NY but grew up in Southwest FL. I have been in Nashville for 16 years. Tennessee has been my home for a long time. My dad is a drummer so he had drum sticks in my hands since I was a baby. He would have me on his lap while sitting behind the kit and he’d hold the sticks in my little hands and move my hands to the beat. When I was old enough to crawl, I would crawl inside his bass drum and take a nap on the pillow that was in there to muffle the sound. My entire life has literally been surrounded by music and rhythm. It’s in my blood, DNA, heart, brain and soul.

When I was around 10, I started practicing the drums every day and it came very naturally. At 15, I learned guitar and the next year started learning piano. I was playing professional gigs by the time I was 15 and had already played I’m front of thousands of people before leaving high school.

As an artist, how do you define success?

Success is doing what you love to do for a living. People that do what they love are the happiest people in the world. I’ve been blessed to have been able to make a living with music for a long time. I’m incredibly grateful for that. In college, I studied music business at Middle Tennessee State University because I wanted to learn every facet of the industry so I could create revue streams from other things besides just performing. I highly recommend that to anyone who’s serious about doing music full time.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

The music business is not easy for anyone these days. I think most artists struggle with the fact that recorded music is basically free now. Artists invest so much time and money into creating and promoting their music and it ends up being a digital file that is paid a fraction of a cent per stream or many times not paid at all. There’s definitely a lot of positive things about the music business today but I think most artists struggle with that same problem. Most listeners don’t want to pay for recorded music anymore and they don’t have to. Thankfully, the live performance market is stronger than ever. People need that connection to live music that is can’t be replicated by anything. It’s music therapy. That will always have value thankfully.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

Once again, to make a living doing what you love to do. When I was a teenager I had dreams of being famous, but once I got older and became a Dad, and learned more about the music business, I learned that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My goal for my adult life has been to be a good dad, be my own boss, be creative and earn a living from music and the music business. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve managed to do that. Besides performing weekly at one of Nashville’s best venues downtown, B.B. King’s Club, I have also earned my living by producing other artists, being a session player, a booking agent, a songwriter, and touring musician. My main goal now is to have more people hear this new music that I’m writing because I’m extremely proud of it and I think it will resonate with many people if they just hear it. I appreciate you guys for interviewing me! I hope that you and anyone reading this will listen and dig my new music.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I love nature, traveling, good people and going to concerts. These things inspire me. I need to be near the water often too. Whether it’s the ocean, river, creek or lake, it always grounds me and makes me feel more peaceful and creative. Profound movies and insightful conversations inspire me too. Sometimes one word or idea can spark an entire song. There is beauty and inspiration all around us if we are open to it!

Words by: Jonathan Frahm