Happy birthday to Walker Hayes! The singer, who turns 44 on December 27, has had an interesting life, marked by plenty of highs and lows. Keep reading to learn more about the viral superstar.
1. He has eight older half-siblings.
Thanks to his parents getting divorced, Hayes managed to have a lot of older siblings — eight in all. Hayes has four older half-siblings from his mother’s former marriage, and four from his father’s former marriage.
2. He met his wife, Laney, in a high school play.
Laney was a grade ahead of Hayes when they met in a high school play. Even though they were young, it was love at first sight, at least for Hayes.
“I met in a Little Shop of Horrors high school play. I was Seymour Krelborn and she was Ronette,” Hayes told Us Weekly.
The couple married in 2004.
3. He has a degree in music, with an emphasis on piano.
It’s because of Laney that Hayes went to Birmingham Southern College, where she was already attending. Hayes started studying biology, before realizing it was music that he wanted to pursue.
“That couldn’t have been further from my calling,” Hayes told Southern Living, speaking of pursuing a degree in biology, adding that it was a piano class that changed everything for him.
“I just fell in love with this teacher, Mr. DeVan,” he recalled. “I remember standing in the quad and saying, ‘Hey, if I change my major, can I finish on time?’ And he said yes. That was a life-changing conversation. You never know when one of those is going to pop up.”
4. He is a former atheist who is now a devout Christian.
Laney was already a Christian, while Hayes was an atheist, even attending church to appease her while intoxicated. When the couple faced a devastating tragedy with the loss of their seventh child, Oakleigh, in 2018, Hayes still considered himself an atheist. But thanks to his good friend, Craig Cooper, who pastored the church Laney and their children attended, Hayes became a Christian — a decision he now knows he would not have made if he hadn’t lost Oakleigh.
“I know for some reason losing Oakleigh led me to Christ,” Hayes told Southern Living. “I would not know Jesus if I had not known the loss of my daughter. That’s what it took for me.”
5. He was going to be a real estate agent.
Hayes’ father, Charles (who passed away in 2021), was a successful real estate agent, a path Hayes almost followed, except the pull to music became too strong.
“My wife and I were engaged and I was planning on being a real estate agent in Mobile, [Alabama], kind of working for my dad,” Hayes told Fox News. “All my life, I had loved music and been in choir and I have a degree in music, but I never planned on doing it as a job. I had a realistic perspective on that. I thought maybe work at a church or be a teacher if you wanted to work in music. I would pick up the guitar and mess around and mimic people, and [my dad] was like, ‘You’re really good. You should try to do that at a bar.’
“I was like, ‘Nah dad, leave me alone,'” he added. “But, one Friday, I said, ‘Dad, I’ll try it but leave me alone after that.’ And boom! That was it. I called my fiancee and I said, ‘Hey, you want to change our plans and move to Nashville.?'”
6. He didn’t use AA to quit drinking.
Hayes began drinking when he was just 13 years old, and as an adult, became addicted to alcohol. Although he now attends AA, when he initially quit drinking, it was because he knew his life was at a crossroads.
“I woke up one Saturday, and I just felt like I was going to die,” Hayes recalled. “I felt like physically if I did one more day, something was wrong. And so I stopped, and then one day turned into two and then two turned into a week. And then a week turned into a month. And then I did the whole high on sobriety thing and got into working out and stuff. Kind of traded a bad addiction for some good ones. But then the good ones, they become bad also, so I went through that process.”
7. He’s a fitness fanatic.
Hayes has always been an athlete, once even running a 4:16 mile in high school. But after he quit drinking, he focused his time on working out instead.
“It was a natural transition,” Hayes told Nashville Fit magazine. “Fitness is like a church to me. I am a different human when I have those endorphins. I’m sensitive to whatever that provides me. I quickly became addicted to it. Looking back, early on, whatever it was that working out created in me, was addictive, but it was a healthy addiction. That time alone to think is something I enjoy and something I need.”
8. He has a Gold Card from Applebee’s.
Hayes almost single-handedly made Applebee’s cool again, thanks to the lines in the song that say, “Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s on a date night / Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake.” The song inspired Applebee’s to return the Oreo milkshake to their menu, and earned Hayes one of their famous Gold Cards, allowing him to eat at any Applebee’s in the world, for free.
“I was awarded an Applebee’s Gold Card,” Hayes said. “From now on, for the rest of my life, I can eat free at any Applebee’s, and at any time. They’ve been so grateful for what [my song, “Fancy Like”] has done for them. I never used to care if I lost my wallet. But now I worry because the Gold Card is in it”
9. Hayes’ daughter Lela deserves a lot of the credit for the success of “Fancy Like.”
Hayes had a lot of highs and lows in his music career before the release of “Fancy Like” in 2021, but nothing compared to the success of the viral hit. The multi-week No. 1 song earned Hayes his first Grammy Awards nomination, all thanks to his eldest daughter, Lela. It was Lela’s idea to do a dance to the uptempo track and post it on TikTok. The song racked up four million views in four days, with people posting their own TokTok dances to “Fancy Like” as well.
“I was home longer than I’ve ever been home in my life and that’s what this song is about, it is what we do as a household, as a couple, and I doubt I would have written that song if I had been gone doing shows,’ Hayes told Ad Age. “It came out of a special place and a special headspace. The song is a great distraction from all the division going on in the world.”
10. He travels with his wife and six children on the road.
Hayes and Laney homeschool their six children so they can all tour together.
“I love it, I just love it,” Hayes told People. “I mean, truly, if this is how it goes, I can do this all the rest of my life. I can do this till my legs don’t work. Send us everywhere, I don’t care.”
Hayes also said that, after spending time touring without his family, and missing them, having them with him on the road felt like the right decision.
“It felt so natural,” he added. “It was almost like everything we’ve done till now kind of prepared us to just adapt to bus life.”
11. His “You Broke Up With Me” single was a message to his former record label.
In 2017, Hayes had another hit at radio, his first and only Top 10 hit until “Fancy Like,” with “You Broke Up With Me.” While the song, which says in part, “Ha, guess you don’t know what you want / ‘Til you see you’re movin’ on / Makin’ lonely look like freedom / Baby, don’t even act like I’m doin’ somethin’ wrong / If my song comes on, and I get lost on that dance floor / In somebody’s arms that ain’t yours,” might seem like it’s a break-up anthem, it actually was his goodbye to record labels that dropped him from their roster.
“I’ve had deals and lost them,’ Hayes told People. “So I know what it’s like to be hot and how everybody wants to collaborate with you … It’s not even saying, ‘I told you so.’ When people vanished, it’s not like I was saying, ‘Hey, y’all will be sorry.’ I didn’t know if I was ever gonna get another chance, either, but it definitely feels good to see these people around and think, y’all missed out.”