By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – For nearly 14 years, the guitar that Jenny Wainwright gave her husband Adam for his birthday when he was pitching in the minor leagues mostly went unused.
Remembering what had happened in 2001 when he was presented the gift while in A ball with the Macon, Ga., Braves, Wainwright never got serious about playing it, picking it up only two or three times each winter, as his baseball career flourished with the Cardinals.
‘I had one lesson to kind of teach me the chords, but I didn’t have the good strumming technique down,” Wainwright recalled. “It wasn’t jiving with my pitching schedule. It was kind of making my elbow sore. My wrist was sore, my fingers were sore from pressing the strings, so I put it down until the offseason.”
That changed in 2015. After Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon a month into the season, he needed something to occupy his time and take his mind off the injury.
“I wasn’t very mobile,” Wainwright said. “I had to sit still. I didn’t want to go crazy. The guitar was sitting right there.”
Wanting to get better at something while he was recovering from his injury, Wainwright played the guitar for “hours” a day.
All that practice led Wainwright to become serious about playing the guitar, singing and writing his own songs. Seven years later, he is preparing to take that new love to the next level. Whether or not this will be the final year for Wainwright with the Cardinals, he already knows one of the first things he is going to do when the season ends.
With 14 original songs ready to go, Wainwright is going to head to Muscle Shoals, Ala., and record an album.
“It’s just kind of how it worked out,” Wainwright said. “It was one of God’s little blessings, how He kind of surprises us sometimes.”
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Wainwright gave serious thought to putting songs together for an album. He thought he was just playing, and singing, for fun.
Wainwright has been known to make appearances singing at charity events, for his own Big League Impact charity outings, and at karaoke events, but didn’t think his singing was more than just a hobby.
“I started really working on singing and playing at the same time and not just singing and not just playing,” he said. “I was working through songs I liked to hear. If you can play some songs that you like to hear, and like to sing, then you’ve got a good campfire experience and that’s kind of what I got into it for.
“I was always jealous of the guys who could just pick up a guitar while you were sitting around and start playing a bunch of songs.”
Through Matt Holliday, Wainwright became friends with Gary Baker, who wrote “I Swear” along with several other hits. Holliday is a good friend of Baker’s son.
“Gary and I were sitting in front of a fire a couple of years ago and he and I were playing,” Wainwright said. “He played some of his hits, all number ones. I was playing some of my favorite ones to play – some Clint Black stuff, some Garth Brooks stuff and Alan Jackson, George Strait.
“He said, ‘You and I could do a fun project together.’ I didn’t put any stock in that at all. I thought, ‘This guy is pulling my leg’ or whatever.”
Soon after that, during the Covid-filled year of 2020, Wainwright woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for a song. He wrote it down, and woke up the next morning and as he read it thought, “this is a pretty cool track.”
“So I sent it to Gary, just to get his opinion on it,” Wainwright said. “He said, ‘This is some good stuff. This is going to be a good song. We’re really going to work on this.’ Since then we have written 14 other songs.”
That song, “Hold the Line,” will be on the album. All of the songs will be country songs, even though Wainwright also is a big fan of ‘90s alternative rock music.
“All of those (rock) musicians, the notes they hit, that’s hard for me and my voice,” he said.
Wainwright also is working with Greg Barnhill, who wrote “Walkaway Joe” and several other hits. When he has an idea, Wainwright will send them the words he has written.
“They kind of clean them up, make them presentable and make them song worthy,” Wainwright said. “They may tweak a melody here or there or put a different melody to it. It’s been a really fun off-seaon for me doing that. I’ve just had so much fun.”
Baker and Barnhill helped with “One Day They Won’t,” another song on the album, which Wainwright recently performed at a Big League Impact charity event in Springfield, Ill.
“That whole song is about stuff that was going on in my life,” Wainwright said. “I was writing that song sitting on the couch, looking at the marks on the walls and the scratches on the back of the chairs and dealing with a daughter who was maybe getting into boys for the first time. A lot of the songs are coming out of every day life.”
Wainwright also has leaned on one of his neighbors in Georgia for help and advice, Dallas Davidson, who has written 27 number one hits.
“These songs are about real stuff, about real experiences of mine,” Wainwright said. “I started thinking about ‘what would I write songs about?’ and I realized I’ve got plenty of stuff to write about. I’m having fun doing it. What these guys are telling me is that it seems like when it’s true it comes from the heart and a deeper song comes out of that.
“What’s been cool for me since I’ve gotten into the process is understanding what makes up a song; some of the complexities of a song that seem simple but are just really deep and well-written. It’s kind of cool to understand the artistry behind the music.”
One of Wainwright’s songs even begins with the line, “Did you tear your elbow while you were pitching?”
“I know a little something about that,” he said. “I don’t want to be a gimmick. I don’t want to just write baseball songs. I’d like to be able to relate to lots of different people and lots of different situations and I feel like I do.
“Those stories that I am trying to write, we’re trying to make music that hopefully will inspire other people to go out and chase their dreams.”
Wainwright said he is going into the next stage of recording the album without worrying about how many copies he will sell or whether it will be a commercial success. The only reason he is doing it is because it’s fun.
“We’re going to see what happens with it,” he said. “We don’t know where it will go. Is it marketing it for people to pick those songs up, or is it me singing my own songs? All I know is it’s fun. Whether people are going to like it or not, I think they will, but I don’t know.
“I feel like I will sell a few albums back home in Georgia and a few in St. Louis, whether it’s horrible or not. I feel like people are so loving and loyal in both of those places, they will pick me up … What I am hearing from those guys is this really has the potential to be cool. We’ll see.”
Wainwright often doesn’t have to get up from his couch to start receiving reactions to one of his songs.
“The cool moment for me is when I’m sitting on the couch playing and my kids know every word of the song,” he said. “That’s cool. I was playing the other day and my wife walked in the room and picked up right in the chorus and started singing with me. That’s a great feeling.
“The other great thing about having the family around is they will let you know. My daughters have no qualms going, ‘Uh, I’d tweak that one a little bit Dad.’ They will let you know if it’s good or not.”
While he tweaks the current songs, Wainwright also is constantly on the lookout for the next song idea.
“The stories keep coming in my mind,” he said. “I keep writing them down. If the well dries up, the well dries up. Until it does I’m going to keep taking buckets out.
“I can’t force it. I’m not talented enough to sit down and just invent something out of the blue. And I don’t want to invent something out of the blue. I want it to be real life experiences.
“I’m having a great time doing it. If it ever gets to a point where I’m not having a great time or it becomes more of a business than I want it to be, I’ll stop. I will just play the songs in front of the campfire with the boys, playing it for my family.
“I didn’t have this dream until it kind of was presented to me. We’ll see how it works out.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo courtesy of Big League Impact