Walker Hayes story might, to an outsider, seem like a fairytale. Happily married with six children, and another one on the way, Hayes' debut single, "You Broke Up With Me," from his freshman boom. album, landed in the Top 10, with the record also hitting the Top 10 shortly after its release. And, he scored an opening spot on one of the hottest tours of the year, hitting the road next month with Kelsea Ballerini on her Unapologetically Tour.
While it may seem that Hayes became an overnight success, the path to where he is today was filled with road blocks, setbacks, a few bad choices, and countless times where he almost gave up. And indeed, he might have, if not for his daughter, Lela, and a fortuitous pack of thumbtacks.
After giving up a planned-on career in real estate to pursue his passion, the Alabama native found himself an alcoholic in Nashville, trying to support his family while working at Costco, with only one car -- an old Honda Accord that couldn't transport his whole family -- and slim hopes of anything promising down the road. He had to borrow a pack of thumbtacks from Lela, and the family made a game of trying to reattach the liner to the ceiling in the Accord with the tacks -- a memory that went from paining him to becoming the impetus for his entire career, all while sitting in that Accord, waiting to start his Costco shift.
"Lela was like, 'Awww, they're stars," Hayes recalled to the Tennessean. "I thought about her smile and her perspective on those stars. I looked at them and thought, 'One more thing broken about my life.' And, she looked at it like it was amazing."
On a piece of Styrofoam in his car, Hayes wrote "The sky ain't falling, it's just the roof of my car," for a song called "Lela's Stars."
"It's a great example of how I write," Hayes said. "I have to have lived it. A lot of those struggles, a lot of people can relate. I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say, 'Man, I'm there now.' It gives me goose bumps."
The song struck a chord with Shane McAnally, songwriter and co-President of Monument Records, Hayes' current label.
"It was like someone hit me over the head, 'What are you waiting for,'" said McAnally, adding that Hayes had already sent him plenty of songs proving his abilities before this one compelled him to action. "His talent comes along maybe once in a career, but he … had to hit rock bottom to decide that he was going to write the kind of songs that he wanted to write."
Now, Hayes can look back almost fondly at his years of struggle, because he knows that without them, he likely wouldn't be where he is today.
"I feel like the most dangerous people – in a good way – on earth have endured the most," Hayes said. "And those people scare other people. There's not a lot someone can say about my craft to make me change. In a way, that makes me a little bit fearless and a little bit crazy. I'm free — everybody can know who I am."
Photo Credit: Instagram/WalkerHayes