Charlie Hayes: ‘Music has always been my best friend’

By Matt Koester / The Register-Mail
Posted Mar 7, 2018 at 11:39 AM

GALESBURG — Charlie Hayes has become an institution of Galesburg live music and music education. While capable of playing a variety of styles, Hayes is best known for his solo blues performances in person and over videos posted on Facebook and YouTube. He also teaches lessons on a variety of stringed instruments at Music Makers. Last year, he released two albums: “Barnyard Blue” and “Outside Da Cigar Box.” He plans to release a third this year, titled “Good Luck Charm.”

Hayes plays at 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the Knights of Columbus. On Friday, March 9, he’ll be playing at 5 p.m. at Market Alley Wines in Monmouth; and on Friday, March 16, he’ll be playing at 5 p.m. at Vintages Tasting Room in Galesburg. He’s also part of a bluegrass outfit called the Podunk Posse.

We met Hayes at Music Makers to talk about his music, songwriting and what it means to “pay your dues.”

RM: How did you get started as a musician?

CH: When I was young, my father played guitar, so I’d seen him. I said, “I wanna try that.” (At) 14 with my paper route money I bought my first guitar, and I was self-taught by the time I was 16. I was playing bass in a country band, which was my main instrument. By the time I started teaching in 1977, I’d gone to Carl Sandburg College and learned music theory. I’m pretty much self-taught in guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle, mandolin. The latest thing I play is the cigar box guitar. I lived in Peoria until I was 22, and I’ve lived in Galesburg ever since. I’m gonna be 65, so I’ve been here about 42 years.

RM: Were you always writing material?

CH: I dabbled in it years ago. Back in 1990 I won the WWCT 106 Peoria Basement Tapes contest. They had a contest where everyone sent in original tracks. I sent in one called “Black Halo Lady,” which I had recorded with a studio band called Chazz. We won a spot, so I was writing back then, but I never pursued it other than that. From that point on, I really didn’t do a lot of writing, but I got influenced in the mid-’90s by the blues. Once I heard a player named Catfish Keith play a resonator guitar, I found the old-school acoustic blues. Delta blues, that style of playing, the rest is history. Pop music was really hard for me to play after that. I did it, and it paid the bills, but I’ve learned enough now. It’s my time. I think I sell myself now instead of tracing over everyone else’s music. You’ve heard people say it, but I’ve most definitely paid my dues.

RM: How did you start putting out CDs?

CH: I’ve got a couple of CDs out. Basically in 2015 I retired from playing in multiple bands, multiple instruments, multiple genres, and sent all my energy into my acoustic singer-songwriter career playing acoustic blues and roots music. Since then, I’ve kicked out two CDs. They’re on my website, I’m getting ready to record my third CD.

RM: What makes the blues so great to you?

CH: Here’s a classic line: You don’t find the blues. The blues finds you. When I found Catfish Keith, he was playing a slide guitar with this resonator, and from that point on I did my research. I started buying all the old blues men. If they were black and blind and dead, I bought their CDs. That was before YouTube. I just started researching the stuff, being a one-man band starting with Robert Johnson on up. I’ve loved music my whole life. Once you find something you really love, at the very least, it becomes your best friend. Music has always been my best friend.

RM: You’ve got a website, a YouTube page and a Facebook account where you share your music. Your day job is teaching music. How do you balance this schedule?

CH: I was up at 5:30 this morning having my breakfast so I could go into the studio. I recorded a whole song this morning. This morning, I was working on my website’s calendar. When I get home, I’ll ship my songs to YouTube, and then I’ll come to work and teach. If you love your work, you never work a day in your life. It’s a labor of love for me, and when you’re a one-man band, you’re in nobody else’s hands. Nobody’s destiny but your own.

RM: I haven’t heard many musicians your age talk up their digital presence the way you do.

CH: I’m not very savvy with it. I have help getting that done, but it just brings you to a bigger audience without a doubt, and it’s great research to contact other people and hear them. It’s such a small world now. It’s great. But as far as like making me any money or paying bills, I’m hoping so, but who knows where it goes. I’m in it for the music, man. But it does make life easier in a lot of ways, and recording is a lot easier now.

RM: Why should people listen to you?

CH: You listen to my stuff, you’re gonna say, “that’s original.” An original is worth more than a copy. An original is always worth more, and I find my own original sound that doesn’t sound like anybody else. I’m sorry, but a lot of the music you hear today is what I call cookie-cutter music. They just pump it out, and it’s the same thing over and over, singing about the same thing. One band could sound like the whole radio station. They might have original lyrics, but other than that the sound doesn’t stick like it did in the ’60s and the ’70s. I like the old R&B singers. The voices have soul and the music has some groove.



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