Names in Lights: Walker Hayes

What drives someone to walk up on the stage for the first time, to lay it all out in front of strangers?  In Walker Hayes’ case, “It was my dad.”

Hayes, a graduate of St. Paul’s Episcopal School, says “I had planned on a business career in real estate, when my dad started bugging me to perform.”

After much prodding, his father convinced Hayes, above, to play at the Mobile Yacht Club. “Even though I really didn’t want to do it, I finally agreed on the condition that my dad would drop the subject afterwards, ” he laughs.

“It was a life-changing moment. From then on, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do except play music. It’s not that I felt like I had to. I just couldn’t not do it.”

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 “I grew up listening to all kinds of music on Mobile radio. I think that influence comes out in my music, ” Hayes confesses. Capitol Records found that unique sound in line with their goal of signing fresh new artists, and Hayes’ foot was firmly planted in the door.

Marshall Altman, an L.A.–based studio guru, who also produced tracks for swamp music artist Marc Broussard, worked on Hayes’ debut album “Reason To Rhyme.” The combination of Hayes’ music and Altman’s acumen gives the project a vibe that’s different from typical country tunes.

Landing a major record deal was only the beginning. “The music business is so ruthless. I sometimes struggle to keep it in perspective. Sometimes success isn’t about magic and talent; it’s politics and timing. Getting into the business was like finding out where rainbows really come from. It’s an atmospheric process — not magic. Even so, touching people with what you do makes it all worthwhile.”

From a tour bus in Missouri, Hayes says the hardest part of the job is being away from his family. He is married and the father of three children. A fourth is on the way. He says he hopes his children will also find a path as satisfying as the road he has chosen. “I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. Once I realized this was what I wanted to do, I became focused on making it happen.”

Yes, the Bay-area music scene is spreading its wings. Perhaps, the next big superstar is playing on a sidewalk downtown, in church on Sunday morning, or even on the front porch next door.  For now, hear Hayes right here singing “Pants.”

Catt Sirten

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