When I meet Bryan Wain at a café on West End Ave., he looks as though he was born in the wrong decade. Either that, or he looks like he was a background character from a traveling cast of Grease, complete with black leather bomber jacket, black v-neck t-shirt—which I’d like to imagine has a pack of cigarettes folded neatly into one of the sleeves for convenient carrying—and a pompadour befitting Johnny Cash himself. He’s an obvious fan of times past and the Man in Black, and the Rockabilly music he plays on Lower Broadway reflects of that.
“The old school guys, man, those were the guys I grew up with,” Wain says.
Not surprisingly, Wain got into music the way any kid would have in the 50s—the radio. “One of the most important things I remember,” he says, “was the Saturday night oldies program called ‘Super Gold.’ I remember just sitting back every Saturday, punching record, and recording the music as it came off the radio.”
He was 14 when he first picked up a guitar and started playing the songs he loved from the radio, but it was some time before he decided to follow his passion for music. Until four years ago, Wain worked as a technician for a phone company in his home state of Florida. “I sold wireless; I serviced it. I started that in 2004, like a year after Johnny [Cash] died, a year to the day. Needless to say, after a while it wasn’t very fulfilling. The money was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
In January 2007, he came to Nashville to see a live taping of Nashville Star (“I wanted to come see who beat me,” he says; Wain made it to the second round of regional auditions in Florida). It was shortly afterward that he decided to move to Music City.
Without knowing anyone, he transferred his job with the phone company to Nashville. Unsure of his prospects and never wanting to be homeless, he bought a 38-foot R.V.—in which he still lives, though it’s a little worse for wear, thanks to last year’s flood—and made the move. “I always admired them as a kid,” he says of the R.V. “I’d think, ‘Man, that’d be kind of cool to be at home and be gone at the same time.”
Soon after arriving in Nashville, he found himself on Lower Broadway. “When I first came to town,” Wain says, “one of the first places I went was Broadway. I just knew I wanted to go find some music. I didn’t know where to go but I knew that when I went there, I found a couple of bands that were playing the kind of stuff that I liked.” It was on Lower Broadway that Wain got his first chance to perform for a Nashville audience when friend Heath Haynes got him up on stage a few Sundays at The Wheel. A short time later he got the first shift of his own, a Thursday afternoon acoustic shift from 2 to 6. “It was like pulling teeth to get that off of work,” he laughs, only half joking.
In the years since, Wain has gained popularity playing the songs he learned from the radio, songs from George Jones, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and obviously, Johnny Cash, as well as original songs from his 2008 debut album, Taller On Radio. His popularity on Lower Broadway afforded him with more opportunities to play, and allowed him to quit his job at the phone company in 2009. He has been a full-time professional musician ever since.
“I consider it a full-time job,” he says. He plays as many as five nights a week, and when he’s not on stage, he’s at home writing and practicing, usually for four hours or more. He soon hopes to take his act on the road. Until then you can see him with his band Mondays at The Wheel and Wednesdays at Paradise Park, and with an acoustic shift every Friday at Paradise Park.
For music and more information, check out www.bryanwain.com
By Andrew Miller