Walker Hayes smiles a lot when he talks about his late father, even if the sting of his death hasn’t faded. Charles Edgar Hayes — a successful realtor and father to Walker and his eight siblings — died last March, just months before the singer tied a rope to a rocket ship with “Fancy Like.”
“We just got nominated for a Grammy, and I told my wife on the drive home [that] I was really sad ’cause I wanted to tell my dad,” Hayes says. “It was like, ‘Wow. I did not see this coming.'”
The elder Hayes makes a cameo through old photographs in a video for a song called “Briefcase” on the new Country Stuff the Album album. The song is equal parts tribute, equal part note to the country singer’s own six kids as he follows in his father’s footsteps.
“Now I get it Dad, it’s a juggling act / Between feeding the kids and feeding the dreams we chase,” he sings. “I guess a guitar doesn’t fall too far from a briefcase.”
Longtime fans of the 42-year-old singer-songwriter have heard about his dad before. Two songs on the 8Tracks Vol. 3 EP: Black Sheep refer to him: “Dad’s Sailboat” is about his shaky hands — a combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s shortened Charles Hayes’ life — and “Love / Hate” (a tribute of sorts to his Mobile, Ala. hometown) flatly admits that all of his lyrics, “got a lot of you and dad in ’em.”
“Saying ‘I love you’ to him is just weird,” Hayes shares, “So to me that’s what that song was. Obviously, it’s dark too. It’s kind of an, ‘I’m mad at you for some childhood stuff but I get it now and I’m proud anytime someone says I’m like you.'”
Lori McKenna helped Hayes write “Briefcase.” She’s also featured prominently throughout the acoustic vocal.
“It’s also a song to my kids,” he says, continuing. “It’s kind of an apology, like, ‘Yeah, I have an affair with my job. I love my job. And I hope they do too one day, and I hope they’ll understand and forgive me for how hard it is to juggle it all as a man.”
Talking to the Tennessean in 2018, Hayes remembered how his father pushed him up on stage for the very first time at age 23. The soon-to-be married, wannabe realtor’s life changed that night, even though virtually nobody witnessed it. After their honeymoon, Hayes and wife Lainey moved to Nashville, meaning that over the last 20 years, he missed a lot of important family moments.
“You know, I felt some guilt,” he admits, “But then at the same time, Lainey reminds me that my dad was my biggest fan. So I know he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
“Briefcase” was written as Hayes’ father was dying, something the whole family saw coming. Still, his immediate emotional response was anger, and that took time and plenty of honest conversations with his wife to work through. Ten months later, he’ll admit that his family isn’t through it all yet, but he’s at least able smile more and lead with memories — albeit bittersweet ones.
“God was merciful,” Hayes says. “We did not see him in pain. I was next to him singing with him when he died. He stopped breathing and I was sitting next to him with a guitar. It sounds dark and morbid and weird, but it was honestly one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life.”