Wade Hayes

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The mark of a true artist is how they take the best from the influences that inspired them and forge their own unique path. On such enduring hits as “Old Enough to Know Better,” “Don’t Stop” and “I’m Still Dancing with You,” Wade Hayes paid homage to the traditional country music of his roots while establishing his own legacy in the genre. Now the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Famer takes his admiration for classic country music a step further with Old Country Still Rocks, an 11-song set that celebrates his heroes, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Merle Haggard and other icons.

“I’ve always wanted to make a record covering some of my favorite country songs,” Hayes says. “You couldn't find a better batch of songs to find out where I came from, what influenced me and why I do the style of music that I do. Honestly, I could do another covers album tomorrow of songs that didn't make the cut. There are so many great country songs that sound just as relevant today as they did when they were first hits.”

Hayes says writing the title track became the catalyst for the new album. “I was going to do a covers album and do actually some rock and pop songs that I like a lot, but do them country style,” he says. “But then ‘Old Country Still Rocks’ just popped in my head, and the song wrote itself. I thought, ‘I know what I've got to do. I need to do a country covers album with ‘Old Country Still Rocks’ being only original on there.’ I wanted to prove to people why I believe that old country does indeed still rock.”

A relatable anthem for anyone who grew up on classic country music, “Old Country Still Rocks” finds Hayes name-checking Waylon, Willie, Haggard, Joe Diffie and other favorites while celebrating the swagger those honk tonk heroes brought to their incredible catalog of hits. These songs were part of his musical education as he grew up playing in Oklahoma clubs with his father Don, a well-respected local musician.

Hayes puts his distinctive touch on such beloved hits as Willie’s “Whiskey River,” Keith Whitley’s “I’m Over You” and George Strait’s “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” but he was also mindful to serve up some more obscure gems like Haggard’s “Can’t Break the Habit.” He also delivers a poignant cover of the Patty Loveless hit “Here I Am” that breathes new life into the emotional Tony Arata-penned ballad. He concludes the collection with an uplifting take on the gospel singalong “I’ll Fly Away.”

Hayes also serves up a potent rendition of his pal Johnny Lee’s hit “One in a Million,” a song that is especially meaningful to him because it was written by his mentor Chick Rains. The song takes Hayes back to his early days in Nashville when he played in Lee’s band until the wee hours and then would get up early to be at his construction job. Those long days of burning the candle at both ends inspired his debut hit “Old Enough to Know Better.” 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 writing songs for his next 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.”