It's not unusual for artists to get revved-up about their latest projects, but for this soft-spoken singer-guitarist, such comfortable pleasure is something else. Because despite his down-home Western courtesy and easy-going charm, the man is ferocious when it comes to his music. He tours relentlessly. Agonizes over gigs and studio performances. He takes the whole thing SERIOUSLY. "Yeah, I'm afraid I'm a perfectionist. If it were up to me, I'd keep singing and singing until I got it just right. I want everything pitch-perfect."
Well, hard work pays off. And the proof is in the listener's ears. From the trademark twang-guitar intro of "Up and Down" to the infectious surge of "Up North," to the compassionate understanding of "Goodbye Is the Wrong Way to Go," Highways & Heartaches is Wade Hayes at his finest - authentic country, skillfully rendered, and delivered straight from the heart.
Such excellence comes at no surprise to Wade's growing legion of fans. Ever since his debut record "Old Enough to Know Better" hit #1 in 1994, they've become accustomed to expert, roots-based fare from an Oklahoma native proudly committed not only to country's classic past (Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson) but to the music's future -- the kind of future he sees in the eyes of fans who crowd his performances today. "I still love playing honky tonks," he says, "but I've grown up a bit. I like outdoor fairs especially now, the family atmosphere, the size of the audiences."
The Wade Hayes audience is certain even more greatly to expand with the release of Highways & Heartaches. Longtime ally Don Cook brilliantly produces three of the cuts. With the other material, there's another kind of fire generated by Wade's alliance with Ronnie Dunn - of Brooks & Dunn fame - and Terry McBride. With the production team in place, Wade went in for a real "live" approach. "It was great." he says. "Ronnie was able to find some really excellent songs, and he was terrific helping with the overall feel of the recording. He understands spontaneity - and that's what we went for. And Terry was just as great to work with. For one thing, he's maybe the funniest guy I've ever met - and I also couldn't believe his musical intelligence."
Wade's own considerable musical intelligence is probably something he was born with. Raise in Bethel Acres, Oklahoma (pop. 2000), he grew up loving country. "A lot of the other kids we're into mainstream pop," he says. "But country always moved me. I've never liked any kind of 'lite' music. It's nice, sure, and it may put people at ease. But I like a little tension - I've got to feel something in music." He got that feeling from die-hard guitars, pedal-steels and soulful singing. His grandfather a fiddle-player, Wade was given his instrument by his own father, a carpenter and a professional musician. At ten, Wade played mandolin; a year later, he switched to his life-long love, guitar. By 14, he was performing with his dad's band in the traditional venues of a journeyman picker - honky tonks, VFWs, grocery store openings. And yes, he worked construction, too - an experience that no doubt helped instill in him his noteworthy work ethic.
Moving to Nashville in the early 90s in hopes of playing lead guitar with an established star, Wade soon got more than he bargained for. Hooking up with veteran songwriter Chick Rains, he immediately co-penned two songs that would soon become #1 chart toppers, "Old Enough to Know Better" and "I'm Still Dancing with You." With a writing deal and a record contract under his belt, he was ready to hit the big time.
But even a died-in-the-wool dreamer like Wade Hayes might've been unprepared for such a swift ride starward. The album Old Enough to Know Better soared, going gold and establishing him as a force to be reckoned with. "It all happened so fast," he says, "I didn't even have a chance to look up." But early success, he remembers, sure was sweet. "I remember the first time I heard myself on the radio. I'd gone home to see my mom and dad. We heard my song on the car radio. The station was having a remote at a car dealership, and we headed straight over there to thank them." With 1996's On a Good Night and 1998's When the Wrong One Loves You Right, Hayes continued to broaden his musical horizons, honing his craft and sharpening his chops. By 1997 he'd been voted Male Star of Tomorrow at the TNN/Music City News Country Awards, earned five Top-10 singles and drawn attention, by way of benefit concerts, to his favorite charity, Habitat for Humanity. The next year he scored again with the unforgettable "The Day She Left Tulsa (in a Chevy)," all the time increasing his fan base with live concerts and TV appearances.
With Highways & Heartaches, all of Wade's gifts are showcased in high relief - the powerful voice, capable both of tenderness and rowdy spirit, the high-quality song selection, the top-notch standard of musicianship. Marvel at yearning and regret of "I'm Lonesome Too" and "She Used to Say," the swagger of "What's It Gonna Take," the rollicking heat of the swinging-doors anthem, "That's What Honky Tonks Are For." And, Telecaster in hand, Wade Hayes touring again, having reconfigured his road-band to its tightest strength year. "I just keep singing and playing lead guitar -- that's what I love to do. I don't worry about expectations, I just keep moving ahead," he says. But he does take a moment to reflect on the creation of Highways & Heartaches "It was just so much fun, I never wanted it to end."
Playing the album again and again, listeners are bound to feel exactly the same way