Ask any longtime country music fan or young artist currently riding the charts and they’ll be quick to tell you there was something about 90s country music. The combination of memorable melodies and meaningful lyrics that dominated country radio in the 90s continues to entertain fans and impact the songs being created in Nashville today. With an enduring string of hits, Wade Haynes is one of the architects of that beloved 90s country sound, but he’s not reveling in past glory. The Oklahoma Music Hall of Famer is working on a new album and his tour schedule has never been busier.
“I was a huge fan of it before my music came out,” Hayes says of ’90s country. “I think we had the perfect storm of musicians, studio engineers, artists and songwriters colliding at once and making some of the best music that was ever made.”
Hayes should know because he was front and center with such hits as “What I Meant to Say,” “Don’t Stop,” “On a Good Night,” “I’m Still Dancing with You,” “The Day She Left Tulsa (In a Chevy)” and “Old Enough to Know Better,” the debut single that rocketed to No. 1 and established the young singer/songwriter as a force to be reckoned with on the competitive 90s country scene.
Hayes penned the song shortly after moving to Nashville when he was staying out late playing guitar for Urban Cowboy legend Johnny Lee then having to get up early and be at a construction job. Sure, it was long days and even longer nights, but it was living the dream to the Bethel Acres, OK native who grew up watching his father play in local bands and dreamed of being on stage himself. “I’d been through four years of college and just still was not getting anywhere. I was unhappy and I had changed my major twice,” he recalls. “Then one night I was watching the CMA Awards and Ricky Skaggs said, ‘All you young artists who are struggling with your art, you need to stick with it because that’s what you are called to do.’ It was like a light went off in the room because I knew immediately at that moment that I was moving to Nashville. I started making preparations the next day. It literally was the moment that changed my life.”
After moving to Music City, Hayes was mentored by songwriter/producer Don Cook and legendary songwriter Chick Rains. Hayes’ warm distinctive voice, skilled musicianship and insightful songwriting earned him a publishing deal and paved the way for him to sign with Columbia Records in 1994. By early 1995 “Old Enough to Know Better” was reigning at the top of the chart and became the title of his debut album, which was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. He also received a nomination from the Country Music Association for Top New Male Vocalist.
“It was the best time in my life,” he recalls with a smile. “I was a poor kid from a very small town in Oklahoma that had never done anything. I moved here and immediately things started happening. I was meeting new people and getting to see my heroes live and meet them. Everything moved extremely fast.”
Hayes recorded two more albums for Columbia before making the move to Monument Records. He maintained a busy schedule on the road entertaining fans with such hits as the achingly powerful “How Do You Sleep at Night” and the raucous dance tune “Tore Up from the Floor Up.” He developed a reputation for having once of the best live shows in the business, delivering song after song that kept people on their feet singing along in arenas or packing the dance floor at major clubs across the country.
In 2022, he was officially inducted into the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame. “To be recognized among people that I consider to be the best in the business felt a bit overwhelming at first,” Hayes humbly admits. “There are so many great singer/songwriters and musicians from Oklahoma, and to be in that group with them is quite an honor. I’m very, very grateful for it.”
Over the years, Hayes has continued to tour and churn out critically acclaimed albums. He was temporarily sidelined as he fought stage four colon cancer twice, but the experience left him with renewed faith in God and a deeper well from which to draw as a songwriter. The title track from his 2015 album Go Live Your Life was inspired by the advice his oncologist gave him when he became cancer free for the second time.
That inspiring anthem has become a fan favorite as is Hayes’ poignant ballad “Who Saved Who?” It’s a tribute to his beloved dog Jack, and even the toughest cowboys in the audience can be seen with tears in their eyes when Wade sings “He’s been with me through hell and back again. And I know it’s often said, but he has been my best friend. They call him a rescue, but I’m not sure that’s true. Cause there’s times I wonder, who saved who?”
In addition to writing, recording and touring, Hayes has recently developed some other pursuits that keep him busy when he’s on his Tennessee farm. He’s raising cattle, an Angus/Hereford mix and loves to spend time in the pasture watching the calves. He also loves making guitars and recently crafted a beautiful instrument from a 100-year-old Ash tree that had fallen on a friend’s property. “I was having trouble finding exactly what I wanted, and I had been shopping forever so I decided to just build it,” he says of his first foray into the luthiery craft. “I have a background in woodworking and grew up building houses with my dad so I figured I could take it on. I built the guitar that I’m playing now, and I love it. I had so much fun that there was another guitar that I was kind of wanting that I couldn’t find anywhere so I decided to just build it. I did and it turned, and it sounds great.”
Born with working man’s hands, a poet’s heart and an undeniably powerful voice, Wade Hayes continues to entertain fans and his passion for country music has never dimmed. He’s currently recording a new album and his tour schedule has never been busier. “I still have something to say, and I still have something to prove. I still write songs and I can’t stop. I can’t shut that off. They are coming out and I have to do something with them. And I still love to make people happy,” he smiles. “If I can bring some joy to somebody’s life, that’s my goal. This is a stressful world we live in and if I can take somebody’s mind off something that they are dealing with for a minute, it makes me extremely happy. I love to do it and I cannot wait to do it more.”