With the success of “Fancy Like,” a larger fanbase than ever has gotten to know Walker Hayes. They know him as the family guy with country swagger and a working class budget, who splurges at Applebee’s on a date night and who loves that his wife is happier in the Wendy’s drive-thru than she would be at a fancy steakhouse.
And that’s an honest portrayal of Hayes, but it’s not all he is as an artist — not by a long shot. As longtime devotees of the singer’s work know, his projects are dotted with songs about his dad, his kids, his battles with alcoholism and his complicated relationship with his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
On his revamped and expanded Country Stuff the Album, Hayes includes a new version of “Craig,” a song he first included on his 2017 album, Boom. The song — which is so central to Hayes’ musical identity that it even inspired his charitable Be a Craig Fund — tells the true story of a man, Craig Cooper, who helped Hayes’ family when they were struggling, even gifting them a minivan big enough for all of Hayes’ six kids to be able to wear a seatbelt.
“I was not a believer at the time, though. I was just saying thanks to a bro, you know?” Hayes tells Taste of Country Nights, ”And now he and I are neighbors, and since then I’ve met Jesus myself.”
That song and a subsequent book Cooper would begin inspired Hayes’ new book, Glad You’re Here, which recounts the singer’s friendship with Cooper and how it changed him. In the book — and in the version of “Craig” that appears on the new Country Stuff, recast as a duet with Christian group MercyMe — Hayes also broaches his faith, something that “Fancy Like” fans may not have heard him speak about yet. Despite that, Hayes tells Everything Nash, faith is deeply important to him — so much so that it’s the most important message he has to share.
“Honestly, I don’t care about sharing anything else,” he confesses. “To be quite frank with you, I don’t think there’s anything [more] worth sharing than what Jesus has done with me and the redemption I’ve experienced here on earth, and will continue to experience from knowing Him. That’s it. That’s why I wanna share my story.”
Hayes’ faith isn’t directly discussed in many of the songs on Country Stuff, but he’s hoping that as fans listen to the album, they’ll recognize how central his beliefs are to all aspects of his life.
“My hope is that even if they don’t read the book, or listen to ‘Craig,’ I hope people hear ‘Fancy Like,’ and they go, ‘What does that dude have? I want some of whatever that is.’ And hopefully, they recognize it’s Jesus,” Hayes adds.
If Hayes gets his way, the odds of country fans not hearing “Craig” are slim. “I’m telling you, I think that song is going to make ‘Fancy Like’ look small,” he tells ToC.
Country Stuff the Album arrived on Jan. 21.