Wade Hayes Finds A Place To Turn Around
On the surface, it might look like country music success is in Wade Hayes’ rear view mirror. In all reality, however, he’s doing exactly what he had hoped for when he came to Nashville in the early 1990s.
The son of a professional country music musician, Hayes grew up around music. By age 11, he was a phenomenally talented mandolin player and guitarist, and unlike most hopeful artists who go to Nashville dreaming of a major record deal and radio hits, Hayes dreamed of the life of a studio and road musician after seeing Ricky Skaggs perform live. Picking the strings has always been his first love.
But his original Nashville goals were all set aside when he signed a deal with Columbia Records in late 1994. Over the next handful of years, few artists could match the success that Hayes was creating across the radio airwaves. Songs like 1994’s “Old Enough To Know Better,” “Don’t Stop,” “What I Meant To Say,” and “On A Good Night,” are just some of the 14 charted singles he’s released. In 1995, he was nominated for Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.
But after his most recent solo album (Highways & Heartaches) was released in 2000 on Monument records, Hayes spent the next few years dabbling in a band called McHayes with Alan Jackson’s fiddler Mark McClurg, and recorded an unreleased album for Universal South Records. Afterwards, he returned to Oklahoma–and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.
Then a funny thing happened. In 2008–17 years after he came to Nashville looking to become a musician–he rejoined the Nashville ranks by taking a job as the lead guitarist in former Alabama lead singer’s Randy Owen’s band. “It’s really the perfect job for me,” says Hayes. With the musical spark alive with the perfect gig the last two years, Hayes decided it was time to record some of the songs he had written since his last album. He released his fifth album (A Place To Turn Around) independently in July, 2009.
“It’s the album I always wanted to make,” he says.
KEN MORTON, JR.: Your career got off to an interesting start right off the bat in Nashville, didn’t it?
WADE HAYES: I moved to Nashville and ended up getting a writing deal and a record deal within nine months. It’s an odd story. I was playing lead guitar for another artist and ended up meeting Chick Rains, who was my primary co-writer back in those days. We ended up writing a couple of songs that were number one songs–“Old Enough To Know Better” and “I’m Still Dancing With You.” Everything was moving at blazing speed. I was just a country boy and I hadn’t seen anything like was happening to me. It was an incredible time.
KMJ: It’s been nine years since your last album. Why 2009 for this release?
WH: I just got to thinking. I’d had a lot of songs lying around that I’d written. I actually started to do this project two years ago and for a few reasons I decided to put it on the back burner to do other stuff. I got to listening to those songs again on my computer and I thought that I was going to do this project on my own. I wasn’t going to worry about anybody else. I paid for everything by myself. I produced it myself. And good or bad, that’s what came out of it. And I’m really proud of how the project turned out.
KMJ: From an artist’s perspective, what was the mission behind the new album?
WH: I just got tired of people wondering what happened to me. (Laughing) I worked on a couple of deals that took a lot of time that ended up not working out. Both deals took over a year. And they had both gotten down to the point of hiring lawyers and stuff and something weird happened and they ended up not happening. I got tired of that. So I decided to do this on my own and see what came out of it. And luckily, I’ve had lots of positive response from it.
KMJ: You wrote or co-wrote nearly the entire album. How was that as a new process for you?
WH: When I was on Sony, they wanted commercial hit songs. I didn’t care if I wrote them or if someone else did. I would usually write two or three songs on the entire album. But this time, I had a lot of time between projects and had written with a ton of really good writers. And I had lots of really good songs around and I just wanted to record them. There were so many songs that I just really liked.
KMJ: Compare this album to some of your earlier work and some of the differences fans will hear.
WH: This time around I didn’t have anybody around to tell me what to record or how to do it or anything like that. Which I’ll be honest with you, there were times during this project that I would have welcomed the help–especially on the production end of it. Fortunately, there were some really good engineers that I worked with and they helped me out with stuff. That’s probably the primary difference between this project and my previous ones.
KMJ: Do you have any favorite songs on this album?
WH: Yes I do. I really love “What’s A Broken Heart For You.” I’d had that idea for a long time. I was talking to my mom one time and she planted that seed for me. She’s a very religious person and she’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of gal. And she planted that seed in me to plead that way to God. And I thought, that’s a great idea for a song. And it knocked around in my brain for almost a year and a half before I finally wrote the song. When it finally came out, I was really proud of the way it turned out.
KMJ: When you look back at your Sony and Columbia days, do you think that your time on that label just ran its course? Or, if you had a time machine, would you go back and do something differently?
WH: Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty. And, of course, I’d go back and do some things differently. When we came to a parting of the ways, they gave me the opportunity to redo the last album–or at least some of the songs on the last album–and at the time, I thought it was just better for me to leave. It was because there had been a lot of changes there at the label and everyone that had been there when my deal broke, all the people that had championed my project and my songs, were all gone. All my friends were gone from that label. All the people that had made things happen for me. They had all gone to other labels and I felt like it would be best to leave and try to pursue another deal somewhere else. But in hindsight, and this is a very personal and candid answer, I would have stayed and redone the project. I would have tried to do whatever was necessary. It’s really hard to get a record deal. And even the record labels are having troubles these days. I certainly see their side to it. I probably would have stayed and done a different project with them.
KMJ: With “Old Enough To Know Better” hitting number one with your very first single, was it difficult climbing that mountain again and recreating that same success?
WH: It’s always difficult to catch lightning in a bottle. And we did it that first time. That was a wonderful time in my life and I’m so thankful to have gotten to experience that. And it’s difficult to stay on that ride. That peak. Especially when you start out that quickly. I consider myself very fortunate and very thankful for that time. There were a lot of good people on that label and we did some good work and I’m proud of it.
KMJ: I know the last two years, you’ve been playing guitar with Alabama’s Randy Owen. What has that time been like?
WH: It’s been an amazing blessing. Randy Owen is a great guy and he treats us like gold. I’ve learned a lot from him and it’s been a wonderful time. I just got home from doing a job with him this weekend. We had a great time. It was really a pretty easy job to learn because I grew up listening to all of his stuff. I had heard it so many times on the radio, that there wasn’t a lot to learn. I just think it’s really cool to play with a legend and for them to appreciate my guitar playing. That’s always been a big part of my deal. That’s originally what I moved to Nashville to do. That’s what brought me here to begin with. Being an artist and having hit records on my own was just icing on the cake. My dreams were just to be a lead guitar player and a songwriter. So I’ve kind of come full circle and gotten back to my original dreams and roots with this thing. More importantly, it’s been a blast.
KMJ: It’s funny how a journey that has taken you on a wild ride of a career can bring you back to the destination you set out to find nearly 20 years ago.
WH: It’s odd that I’ve come full circle like that. But I fully expect to do an artist deal one more time. I think there are some songs on this project that are really good. I don’t know how commercial they are to be honest. But I don’t really know what that means anymore. I do know that there are some good songs on there. I would like to have a hit record again. But if that doesn’t happen, there are lots of people still buying this CD and I’m just really thankful for that. There are still people that still like my music. It’s an odd thing. You get so wrapped up in what’s happening around here [in Nashville] you kind of miss what’s happening around the country. You forget the fact that there are people who bought your records before and really like it. I’m so thankful for those people who have bought this new project. That’s where I’m sitting today.
KMJ: Is music as big a thrill today as it was when you got started?
WH: I’d say it’s different. To be honest with you, I had never even been on an airplane when I came to Nashville. So there were a lot of firsts in my life. I had rarely even been out of the state of Oklahoma when I moved to Nashville. There were so many first time things and big things for me. I got to meet a lot of my idols. In fact, I’ve met all of my idols. I got to hang around a lot of famous people. It was a magical and wonderful time. But at this time in my life, I get to share a lot of great stuff with people who have become great friends of mine. Musicians. Guys I get to pick with are my best friends. And we do a lot of fun stuff–neat stuff–together. I’m so thankful. It’s really a great way to make a living.
KMJ: What is country music to Wade Hayes?
WH: Country music is always changing. I think people’s opinions of what country music is are changing. There are a lot of different opinions. There are artists like Taylor Swift right now that are making a fortune right now and doing well. And I think she’s great. I’m proud of the fact that she writes all her own songs and she does a great job. But then you’ve got people like the legends that I think are overlooked. Guys like Merle, Waylon and Willie. Guys like Gene Watson. Guys that made this my music of choice. I wish that people could go back and rediscover them. I think a lot of those guys that paved the way for guys like me are all too often overlooked. Like George Strait’s early stuff. People today just don’t know anything about that and that music is just awesome. I’ve loved him since I was a kid. I don’t know how to wrap this up. Today, country music is a pretty broad spectrum. I’m just thankful that I still get to be a part of it.
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