One day Wade Hayes is wearing a tool belt and putting up drywall, and the next he’s building a solid future in country music.
Only in Nashville.
If this is a dream, the 25-year-old Bethel Acres, Okla., singer-songwriter doesn’t want to wake up: his just-released debut album, “Old Enough to Know Better” (Columbia), is attracting rave reviews; the title track is in the Top 20 and climbing on Billboard’s country singles chart; he was produced by one of the hottest talents on Music Row, Don Cook (Brooks & Dunn, the Mavericks); his low, restrained voice is distinctive enough to draw few comparisons (a ood sign for a newcomer, signaling potential longevity), and he’s the opening act on the Tracy Lawrence-Aaron Tippin tour.
“You’ll never meet anyone more thankful for this than me,” Hayes said recently. “There are just so many good people out right now, and so many good people trying to get a record deal.
“Sometimes you wonder, ‘Why me?’ … but I’m sure glad it is me.”
After dropping out of college a few years ago, Hayes moved to Nashville and supplemented his budding music career with a job at a realty and construction company. By day, he would help build houses; at night he would play in demo sessions or at Gilley’s nightclub in downtown Nashville.
“Like clockwork, I’d be at the construction site the next day at 7 in the morning,” he said. “In fact, that’s where the song ‘Old Enough to Know Better’ came from, as I was staying up pickin’ all night and getting about three hours of sleep, and then getting up to go to work. Hence the line, ‘Monday morning I wake up with a hammer in my hand.’
“I’ll tell you what, it was real hard work, but that was one of the best times in my life. I was never bored. I was having a great time and making money. I felt really good about myself.”
He was recommended to play a session with songwriter Chick Rains, and they eventually formed a partnership that led to a publishing deal and later a recording contract with Columbia.
“It happened real quick,” Hayes said. “My head is still spinning.”
Hayes is following in the footsteps of his father, Don, who is a carpenter and leads a country band in Oklahoma. The elder Hayes once had a deal with an independent label and moved the family to Nashville, but after the deal went bust, they returned home broke.
“I think about that every waking moment,” Hayes said. “That’s why I was getting three hours of sleep every night because honestly I was just worried about keeping the lights on and having something to eat. I guess it was a little overkill, but I really didn’t feel that at the time because I was just so afraid of failing that I just did everything.”
There’s no need to worry: the little boy who carried a toy guitar with him everywhere he went has now hit the big time.
“Call it rags to riches. Any name you want to put on it, that’s what it is,” Hayes said. “It’s one of those fairytale things. It’s funny how it’s all worked out this way.”
BWF (before we forget): “Old Enough to Know Better” sold more than 500,000 copies, while Hayes’ second LP, “On a Good Night,” charted briefly in 1996.