Lights dim, shadows move on-stage. The crowd’s attention focuses,noise fades, cheers build. Anticipation fills the honky tonk and just as the vibe reaches a fervor, a fiddle electrifies the night. The crowd erupts with cheers, screams, hollers, and whistles; colored lights illuminate the band, Wheel Hoss. Finally, on to the stage runs the Oklahoman everyone has come to see. Wade Hayes’ rich baritone-drawl sets the evening in to motion with the first lines to his number one hit, “Neon lights draw me like a moth to a flame. Momma raised me right that just leaves me to blame.” The crowd joins Wade in his anthem and raises the roof with the words, “I’m old enough to know better, but I’m still too young to care.”
After seeing Wade Hayes the “country star,” it’s hard to reconcile that image with Wade Hayes the “man.” However, it is Wade Hayes the man that has endeared a legion of devoted fans. The soft-spoken Oklahoman has his roots deeply entrenched in country music; and it’s those roots that took him to Music City in November 1992.
Wade was surrounded by country music even as a child; his father, Don Hayes, an aspiring country artist, played the honky tonks in Oklahoma. When Wade was 13, his family made the move to Nashville to pursue the recording dreams of his father. But, after a series of misfortunes, Don Hayes took his family back to Oklahoma and returned to playing bars and honky tonks while building his construction business. Fortunately, the music continued and at The age of 14 Wade was playing lead guitar alongside his father. “I started playing lead guitar on stage when I was 14, playing the clubs with my dad. I saw that there was such a pleasure that he got from playing.”
In 1991, Wade was toying with the idea of moving to Nashville when he watched Ricky Skaggs give an emotional and motivational speech at the CMA Awards encouraging young artists to move to Nashville, pay their dues, and follow their dreams. With the lessons learned by his father in the back of his mind, Wade moved to Nashville Thanksgiving 1992. His goal was to play lead guitar and be a right-hand man for some well-known country star.
Wade’s talent soon eclipsed his original goal. Shortly after moving to Nashville, he wowed the owners of Gilly’s nightclub and was offered a job singing nightly at the club. In 1993, he was hired to play lead guitar for country artist Johnny Lee. Music Row soon took notice; songwriter Chick Rains introduced Wade to producer Don Cook, who also happened to be vice president for Sony/ATV Tree Publishing. A mere 72 hours later, Wade had landed a publishing deal and an amazing seven-album recording contract with Sony/Columbia. At 25, Wade recorded “Old Enough” and the rest is country music history.
In today’s pop-country market, it seems that many artists only pay lip-service to their country music roots. Wade leaves no doubt that traditional country continues to be a strong influence on his music. During live shows he pays homage to his roots with classics such as Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River,” Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” Merle Haggard’s “It’s Been a Great Afternoon, and the ever-popular “Wichita Lineman” originally recorded by Glen Campbell. In fact, Wade’s list of musical influences is long: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings; all of these living legends have autographed Wade’s 1952 reissue Fender Telecaster guitar; he also adds artists Lefty Frizzell, Gene Watson, and Gary Stewart to the list.
The latter, Gary Stewart, is enjoying a re-discovery of his music thanks to Wade. Wade chose to cover Stewart’s number one single, “She’s Acting Single, I’m Drinking Doubles” for Sony’s “Tribute to Tradition” CD. Time and time again, critics mentioned Wade’s cut as one of the strongest on the CD.
Country music traditionalists can rest assured, this is one artist who will keep tradition alive and well in country music.