The Untold Truth Of Walker Hayes

By now, most country music fan have heard of Walker Hayes, the chart-topping, playful musician whose songs seem to be on every time you turn on the radio. The man is, without a doubt, a star. But Hayes' path to success has been rocky to say the least, and behind his catchy lyrics are both the many difficulties he has endured along the way and the many joys he has found, too.

Hayes is not your average country singer, but he loves the genre and the genre loves him right back (although that wasn't always the case). But beyond his music, who really is Walker Hayes? Let us introduce you to the "Fancy Like" and "You Broke Up With Me" hitmaker — a loving son, father and husband, and a big fan of the simple things in life. You won't believe how incredibly relatable he is, even now that he is enjoying resounding success in Nashville.

Walker Hayes owes his career to his late father

In another life, Walker Hayes might have sold you your house. That's right, although it's hard to imagine him as anything but a country artist these days, once upon a time he had no interest in a musician's life. He was working as an assistant real estate agent with his dad, Charles Hayes, but the elder Hayes (pictured above) knew something the "You Broke Up With Me" singer didn't. "He called me from the Mobile Yacht Club and said, 'The restaurant waitress says you can play some songs in a corner,'" Walker told of his father. Although he didn't want to do it, Walker dragged himself to the gig, and loved performing so much that he called his then-fiancée Laney to tell her that there was a change of plans: "Hey, I want to sing," he told her (via Tennessean). "Let's move to Nashville."

Walker and Charles didn't have the easiest relationship, but Walker was able to find a deeper sense of understanding for Charles as he got older and saw parallels between how the two of them had led their lives. When his dad died in 2021, Walker released the song "Briefcase" about their relationship. "I really hope the world gets to hear that song, only because I want fathers to feel an arm around them in some way," the singer told People. "I don't want another son to lose a dad and think, man, was he proud of me?"

Walker Hayes met his wife in elementary school

You may be wondering: Who's that alongside Walker Hayes on pretty much every red carpet event he attends? Glad you asked. That's Laney Beville Hayes, the singer's wife and longtime love. The two met as tiny kids in elementary school, but started dating in high school, after starring in a school play together. "He started singing, I thought it was awesome," Laney told Country Now.

But things weren't always smooth-sailing for the couple, who took a break from each other at one point. "I didn't know I wanted to marry Laney until we actually broke up for about nine or ten months right after college, and it was the hardest, it was almost like a divorce," Walker told Sounds Like Nashville. "We had been together for six, seven years, [but] that volatility that made us so beautiful also made us explosive... I wouldn't have said a lot of peers or families thought we were the greatest match, but we knew there was something we couldn't duplicate."

The Hayes' wedding finally happened on June 12, 2004, according to The Boot. Straight after their honeymoon, they packed up and drove to Nashville in the hopes of kickstarting Walker's music career. Look how that turned out!

The tearjerking story behind Lela's Stars

For a while, Nashville looked like it was going to work out pretty well for Walker Hayes. First, he landed a publishing deal, followed by a record deal with Mercury, but the label gave up on him, per The Washington Post. Later, Hayes got a deal with Capitol Records in Nashville, and released two songs in the early 2010s, but they didn't do well enough to placate the record execs, and he lost that deal too.

Feeling defeated and needing to provide for his family, Hayes knew he had to do something, so he took a late-night shift at a local Costco in 2015 — an experience which he told Billboard was "humbling." Hayes thought about giving up on his dreams because of the situation he'd found himself in, but he received a much-needed dose of perspective from his daughter Lela instead. When the headliner of his car threatened to cave, he asked Lela for some thumbtacks to help it stay up. While Hayes could only see the negative in this instance, Lela thought the thumbtacks looked like stars. This story inspired Hayes' song "Lela's Stars." On the track, he sets the scene: "It's 3:42 a.m., eyes blood shot / Yawning in my, Honda in a Costco parking lot / Waiting on the door to unlock so I can clock in early / And stock the cooler 'til I swear I need back surgery." But then he looks up at the stars and understands: "The sky ain't fallin', it's just the roof of my car."

Walker Hayes has struggled with alcoholism

Walker Hayes hasn't always had it easy — far from it. When he was struggling to make ends meet, working at Costco in addition to doing everything in his power to achieve the musical career he knew he was destined for, Hayes turned to alcohol to get him through. "It was a tough time for me," he told Billboard.

Hayes was experiencing alcoholism. "I was definitely leaning on it to perform and as a crutch in my daily life," Hayes told Tennessean. "I knew at the time I had a problem, but I would be lost without that problem." But one game day in 2016, Hayes just decided not to drink, and this stuck. At one point, a beer stayed in his refrigerator for weeks without him touching it, a fact that later became the aptly named song "Beer in the Fridge."

The singer has continued to be incredibly open about his alcoholism, and has developed self-compassion for his own struggles. "I'm only two years sober," he told in 2018. "If you take a look around, there's a lot of people leaning on alcohol these days, or substances in general. Life sucks and it's heavy. Alcohol is an immediate courage giver. It's an immediate relief, band-aid. Sometimes we all seek those things to help us along." In January 2020, Hayes celebrated four years of sobriety on Twitter, and by September 2021, he'd confirmed to People that he was still going strong, with five sober years under his belt.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Songwriting gets Walker Hayes through the tough times

Walker Hayes had one publishing deal or another throughout most of his time in Nashville before he found success, but this didn't lead him far until he started working with producer Shane McAnally, according to Billboard. Now, he writes or co-writes the songs he performs, and his fans love the honesty of his songwriting, whether he's singing about his daughter or about a couple-next-door date night. "They don't want me to write a song about a Saturday night unless it's a Saturday night that actually went down," Hayes told the Washington Post. "To me, that makes the music so much better — I think that's standing out."

Songwriting, for Hayes, is also a portal to something fun and light — regardless of what's going on in the world around him. "I don't know about you, but I've always been really positively influenced by joyful people despite their circumstances," Hayes told Forbes. "And that's all I want to be with songwriting and singing." But above all, his songs have to come from the heart — and from experience. "I have to have lived it," he told Tennessean. "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 goosebumps." And that's the Walker Hayes brand: always the most relatable songwriter in the room.

Walker Hayes got his big break in a Smoothie King

In 2021, the morning after the CMT Awards, Walker Hayes got himself a nice beverage from Smoothie King, a simple act that brought up some very emotional memories. The singer promptly hopped onto Instagram Live to tell his fans about the story of how he got his big break. "I was leaving Costco like six or seven years ago and walked into Smoothie King and Shane McAnally [Hayes' now-producer] was there, and I just was so desperate ... Shane was so nice, and I was like, 'Dude, I'm desperate,' and he let me send him some songs, and that's what led to 'You Broke Up With Me.'" So next time you walk into a popular smoothie chain, remember that this might just be the moment your life changes forever.

For Hayes, after being dropped by two record labels and having to work the graveyard shift at Costco, failing was not an option when McAnally gave him a chance. "I don't have another choice, because if this doesn't work, I go home," Hayes thought at the time, as he told Billboard. "That's it. I'm not going to drag my family any longer through those Costco days. And [Jason's and Shane's] reputations are on the line." But McAnally deeply believed in Hayes, telling the Tennessean, "His talent comes along maybe once in a career," and together they created something huge. In 2021, McAnally became the most successful producer in country music at the time, according to Billboard.

You Broke Up With Me is not about what you think

If you're a longtime country fan, "You Broke Up With Me" is probably the song that introduced you to Walker Hayes. But even though on a first read of the lyrics, it seems pretty straightforward what the song is about, it might surprise you to hear that it actually has nothing to do with romantic relationships. "It's honestly about Nashville," Hayes explained to Billboard, adding that while he was signed to a label, important people in country music were fighting for his attention, and that they just abandoned him when he got dropped. "These were friends, and they vanish when nothing's going on," he said. "[It's] the nature of the music business."

As awful as this experience must have been, Hayes sure got a great hit out of it. The artist co-wrote "You Broke Up With Me" with Thomas Archer and Kylie Sackley, and the latter told American Songwriter about what it was like working with the two men on it. "Firstly, they're wonderful human beings, which is the most important for me when I'm sitting in a room bearing my soul as a writer," Sackley told the outlet. "They are both so witty lyrically ... they understand the importance of phrasing and pushing boundaries and all round they just 'get it.'"

No, Walker Hayes doesn't hate Kenny Chesney

If you know Walker Hayes, you probably know he sings a catchy little song called "Shut Up Kenny" — and yes, that is Kenny Chesney he's talking about, but no, Hayes doesn't in fact hate Chesney. He and his wife are actually big fans! What happened is that one day, the couple got into an argument and were giving each other the silent treatment in the car, so Hayes turned on the radio to drown out the silence.

"I flippantly just turn on the radio and 'Anything But Mine' came on," Hayes told CMT. "And that song makes me happy, but I wanted to stay pissed in that moment. So I thought 'Shut up, Kenny!' and I changed the station, and the same song was on another station." Once he'd had time to cool off, Hayes realized that that was a pretty great idea for a song, and a hit was born. But Hayes is quick to remind us all that at the end of the day, he absolutely loves Chesney and his music. Exhibit A: "Fact: @kennychesney. is. the. Man," Hayes once tweeted.

Walker and Laney Hayes lost their seventh baby during childbirth

Walker Hayes' seventh child tragically died during childbirth, and he didn't know whether his wife Laney would make it through alive either: He just had to sit in the hospital hoping that she would wake up, even though it meant he'd have to tell her that their daughter — whom they had named Oakleigh Klover — had died. "Laney and I have cried a lot, but one thing that makes me the happiest is how much love there has been around us," Hayes told People. "We've had the most remarkable questions answered and advice given from people around our neighborhood and in meet-and-greet lines. People walk up to me and tell me their life, and it's like, geez, thank you for sharing. I don't even know these people."

But Walker and Laney Hayes have also been blessed with six healthy kids, who "are more than enough to me," as their mom told People. As for their dad, he has an admirable philosophy when it comes to raising his kids, and he's not afraid to let them know that he might mess up sometimes, too. For him, that's OK as long as they know he's there for them, however imperfectly. "It's important that your father loves you and that you know it," he tells Fatherly. "I know it's important from being a son. I know my dad loves me. It has helped me to grow into a man. I always want them to know I'm in their corner."

Hazel brought brought joy to the grieving Hayes family

After baby Oakleigh passed, Walker Hayes' children decided they wanted a new puppy. Hayes agreed, but on one condition: that they walk the dog they already had, Magnolia, "every day for eight weeks." When the kids completed the challenge, Hayes had no choice but to let the family adopt a cavoodle puppy. "Hazel has been the best dog," he told People. "The kids absolutely can't get enough of her, and she gets along with Magnolia. Hazel's whole butt wags when you walk in. It's just the cutest. She has really lit up our house." Hazel has also helped the sweet family of eight grieve their little sister, even though they will always miss her.

Little Hazel now regularly features on Walker Hayes' social media pages. He first introduced her with two photos of him holding her (one shown above) in a 2018 tweet that read, "Welcome to the fam Hazel Hayes!!" Then there's a video of Hayes dancing with his daughter Lela while Hazel tries desperately (and adorably) to be involved in the action. This pup seems like pure joy.

Walker Hayes went viral thanks to... Applebee's?

If you didn't know Walker Hayes in his "You Broke Up With Me" era, then you surely know him from "Fancy Like." The song became a huge hit thanks to Hayes' daughter Lela, who helped him put together a TikTok dance for the track, and graciously performed it with him. People everywhere began to recreate the dance, while others (hundreds of thousands of them) simply used the sound for their own videos.

So how did a song about a date night at Applebee's not only make Hayes exponentially more famous than he was, but also land him a crossover song with Kesha? He called her, of course, simple as that. "The first time we talked on the phone, she said, 'My best girlfriend got in a fist fight at Applebee's,'" Hayes told People of Kesha, who already knew the song. "And I was like, 'Kesha, you just sealed the deal. That's it. You're perfect for this.'"

The über-relatable song has sparked something of a phenomenon, and even landed Hayes a "paid partnership" with the neighborhood restaurant chain that apparently includes sharing Instagram posts. But Hayes always keeps it real, and for him, that's the secret to the song's success. People are "surprised that I drive a Nissan and we just live in a neighborhood," he tells Forbes. "They think most artists who do this for a living live in a mansion and drive Lamborghini yachts." Walker Hayes, (country mega-celebrity) guy next door.