Catching Up with Wade Hayes – Both a Loyal Star & Fan of The Country Music Cruise

Only three very special celebrities have been on every sailing of our Country Music Cruises: Lorianne Crook, Chuck Mead, and Wade Hayes. Lorianne seems to know every country artist, Chuck seems to know every country song, and Wade not only headlines his own shows on the Country Music Cruise but works with the artists who join us without a band. Getting ready to sail for the fourth time, Wade took a few moments to share some thoughts.


How were your holidays?

Very quiet. Just the way I like it.


Thank you for bringing your talents to every sailing of The Country Music Cruise.

I’m happy and grateful to be joining The Country Music Cruise again. We sail around the Caribbean in January. Life could be worse, right? I know for a fact it could be worse because I’ve had it worse! The Cruise is always a welcome break, and I always have a great time. Every year, the StarVista LIVE folks ask to me do a little more. Last year, I got to do some workshops. It’s become way more than I ever dreamed when I first started.


You back other artists who come on the cruise without a band. How much prep is involved? Do you email set lists? Let us in on how it works.

That’s exactly what we do. Email back-and-forth, then we get together in Nashville for a rehearsal before we head down to Florida. It’s a real honor to play with these guys because in a lot of cases, I grew up on their music. Johnnie Lee gave me my first music job when I arrived in Nashville. This was back in 1993. He asked if I’d work with him when he joined us the first time. Of course, I said “Yes.” I still love Johnnie Lee. He’ll text me a dirty joke every couple of weeks!


When you were growing up, was there one guitarist above all others who made you think, “Man, I wish I could play like THAT!”

There were two British guys, Ray Flacke and Albert Lee. Ray played with Ricky Skaggs on “Heartbroke” and a bunch of other songs. Albert played with Emmylou Harris and made solo records that still make your head spin. I got him to autograph one of my guitars. And then of course there’s Vince Gill. People forget what an exceptional musician he is on guitar and several other instruments. When he first came to Nashville, he was playing sessions. Vince has it all.


Did your dad bring the family to Nashville in pursuit of his own career?

He did. I was just a kid when we came here. My dad had a deal with an indie label, but it didn’t pan out, so we moved back to Oklahoma.

If you had to categorize your dad’s style of music, what would it be?

Traditional country. He was in the style of Merle Haggard, Waylon, and Gene Watson. I still love that music, too.


After your dad struck out in Nashville, was it a tough decision to come back?

Not really, and dad totally supported my decision. He knew I had to try it. I was in college, and I’d had enough. I thought, “Now’s the time.” I moved here with an old twin bed, a nightstand, two guitars, and four hundred and fifty bucks. I had a friend in town and stayed with him. Built houses in the daytime because that’s what dad did, and that’s how I knew to make money. Then I started playing guitar for other people. But my life was 110 percent better the day I moved to Nashville. Unlike my dad, I didn’t have a family to support here. I had nothing holding me down. It became the best decision I ever made.


So it must have been a great moment in the family when you hit Number One with “Old Enough to Know Better.”

It was a very, very exciting time for me and all my family. Certainly the best time in my life. I got a chance to take mom and dad places they’d never been. It was scary and exciting all at the same time.


You’ve been very public about your battle with cancer, down to describing your symptoms and treatments. How do you feel now with several years’ remission behind you?

I’ve been cancer-free for three-and-a-half years. It’s truly a miracle, and I truly try every day not to waste this second chance at life. I try to make every day count. I made it through two bouts of Stage Four cancer. Not many people come back from that, and I thank God every day for helping me through it.


Has anyone come up to you and told you that your experience encouraged them to go see a doctor, or told you how inspirational your story is?

I talk to a lot of cancer patients in the autograph line after a show. Pretty much every show. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through, but a lot of people do, and there’s probably not one show that I don’t cry with someone or pray with them. I know it’s a horrible time in their lives, and I just try in one very small way to make it better.


Country music has become a young person’s business, but do you think a bunch of years under your belt is a good thing for a country singer?

Right now on country radio, there’s a lot of lighter stuff where it used it to be heavier. The dyin’, cheatin’, and drinkin’ songs are now four-wheel-drive, beer, and bonfire songs. Those newer songs don’t have a lot of relevance to me personally, but there are a few singers on the radio I really like. And the newer guys are doing what it takes to make it, so kudos to ‘em.


Today and every day, there will be a bunch of guys driving into Nashville to try to make it. What would you tell them?

I’d tell them what everyone tried to tell me: write your own stuff. That’s how you get in. That’s your ticket. A great song is everything.


Is there one song more than any other than has deep personal relevance for you?

There’s a couple. “Old Enough to Know Better” of course. I wrote it when I was working with Johnnie Lee at night and slinging a hammer during the day. It was my Number One hit, so it’ll always be special. And then there’s “What’s a Broken Heart for You” that I wrote as a conversation with God. I worked real hard on that song. It was an album track, but it has just been included on a new compilation, Country Faith Volume 2. I’m shocked and grateful that someone heard it and loved it.


We hope you’re looking forward to coming back to join us on the Country Music Cruise as much as we’re looking forward to seeing you again.

I’m SO looking forward to it. I just want to thank everyone at StarVista LIVE. I’ve met so many incredible people, fans and StarVista folks, on The Country Music Cruise. Met a lot of folks I still talk to all the time. From the bottom of my heart, I thank everyone and look forward meeting old friends and making new ones.


- Colin Escott © 2016