From Hee Haw to Miss Linda's Diner and all the Georgia honky-tonks in between, A. Jaye O'Bryant has led a colorful career that recently landed the Grovetown resident in the Georgia Country Music Hall of Fame.
"That was fantastic," O'Bryant said about his induction into the hall in November. "It was quite an honor, especially since I've been retired from the music business for 12 years."
The son of a Baptist preacher, O'Bryant's musical roots are in gospel. He was doing session work on a gospel album when he made the jump to country.
"I was doing a studio gospel recording and was working in the studio as a drummer and a singer, and I got hired to play a Saturday night dance at the American Legion," he said. "Needless to say, I was hooked to the party life."
Eventually, O'Bryant's chops on the drums scored him a 13-month stint on the long-running, country-music variety show Hee Haw.
"That was a gas. It really was," he said. "Everybody on there in real life was just as big a nut as they were on the set. It was quite an experience for me."
After his contract expired, O'Bryant struck out on his own, started his own band, moved up to lead vocalist and became a club fixture in Atlanta.
For 20 years, A. Jaye and Swamp Creek were a mainstay country band in the city's nightclubs, having been named Entertainer of the Year and Band of Year by the Atlanta Society for Entertainers and Musicians.
"I've fronted for Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, nearly all of the major acts," O'Bryant said.
Eventually, he tired of the nightclub scene. O'Bryant, 65, stepped off the stage and into the kitchen.
For six years he and his wife, Linda, owned and managed Mom's Country Kitchen on Gordon Highway.
He sold that business in September to start Miss Linda's Diner in Grovetown. Specializing in Southern cuisine, Miss Linda's Diner features breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Although he is happy with his life now, and he has no regrets about leaving the club circuit behind, O'Bryant just couldn't give up on the music.
"Thirty-five years was enough," he said. "I had other things I wanted to do. You might say I was burnt out. At that time I was. Now, I'm doing gospel."
O'Bryant calls his new music career his old music career since he is simply going back to his roots. He is currently recording a yet-to-be-titled album, his first, that is due to be released in January or early February.
"I believed in living fast, going hard and dying young, but I didn't die," he said. "The life that I live now is what makes me happiest. I'm well blessed."
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