Press Demo Article 3/30/09

Former Huey Lewis guitarist enjoys slower Santa Rosa pace



Published: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.

Last Modified: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 10:47 p.m.

Photo by CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat

Photo by CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat

There’s a lot going on in Chris Hayes’ life: The dog has rolled in something. Daughter Sarah, 7, can’t find her homework. The fruit trees out in the serious backyard garden are starting to bud.Musician Chris Hayes is a songwriter and former guitarist for Huey Lewis and the News.It’s a different sort of busy for Hayes, who ranks near the top of the list of Sonoma County’s most successful ex-rock stars. For 22 wild years, he toured and recorded as lead guitarist and songwriter for Huey Lewis and the News, a huge Top 40 band of the 1980s.

“I remember one year we did more than 200 shows,” Hayes said over sandwiches at his family’s home west of Santa Rosa. He stood to kiss his wife, Sonoma County native and Piner High alum Cheree Dunbar Hayes, as she headed to a soccer practice.

Lewis and his San Francisco-based band still are touring, and Hayes, who plays a guitar like Tiger Woods plays a 7-iron, could be on the road with them. But at 51, he’s enjoying his pillow time.

“Twenty-two years of sleep deprivation was enough,” he laughed.

He’s lean and at-ease and a rarity, in that the only work he’s ever done is playing music.

In his late teens and early 20s, before he joined Lewis, Hayes was a jazz guitarist who played with keyboard master Merl Saunders and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis. Hayes was just 21 when he backed up famed blues singer Esther Phillips at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1978.

Hayes was living in San Francisco when, later in ’78, he made the switch from jazz to pop rock and signed on with Huey Lewis. The band broke into the big time with its first hit, “Do You Believe in Love,” in 1980.

Hayes didn’t write that tune, but he did pen the music — often to Lewis’ lyrics — for 20 of the songs the band recorded. Among them were three No.1 singles: “Power of Love”, “I Want a New Drug” and “Happy to be Stuck with You.”

“Power of Love,” written for the soundtrack to the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” earned Hayes and Lewis an Oscar nomination. “I Want a New Drug” was the biggest hit on the band’s third album, “Sports,” one of the best-selling pop records of all time.

When Huey Lewis and the News hit the road for the 1984-1985 Sports tour, the band was the highest grossing tour act in the country.

It was great fun and good money. But there in the heyday, in the mid-1980s, Hayes had a son with his first wife and in time realized he wasn’t around the way a father should be.

Becoming a dad himself made him more aware that when he was boy he’d regretted that his father didn’t have more time for him. His dad was a Navy physician and researcher who moved his large family around the country before retiring and going into private practice in Visalia.

“I’d never lived in a place for more than five years until I moved into this house,” Hayes said at the kitchen table of his Santa Rosa home.

He grew up sorry that his father wasn’t around more, but also grateful that when his dad was home there was usually music in the house. After dinner his father would sit at the piano, and Hayes and his six brothers and sisters would come running, and they’d sing.

“I think he would have been a musician if he hadn’t been a doctor,” said Hayes, who wasn’t the only child of Dr. Hayes who became a musician.

His sister, Bay Area bandleader and songwriter Bonnie Hayes, wrote the Bonnie Raitt hits “Love Letter” and “Have a Heart.” One brother, Kevin Hayes, plays drums with the Robert Cray Band. A second, Jonathan Hayes, is a guitarist with the Los Angeles band Walking Giant.

Chris Hayes loved being a big-time rock musician, but he knew not long after the birth of his and Cheree’s first child, Ben, that it was time leave the road, stay home and be a father. He bowed out from Huey Lewis and the News in 2000.

“I walked away from a pretty good job,” he said. “But there’s no amount of money that’s worth it.”

Today, nearly nine years after he retired, he’s busy with youth soccer and family gardening and such. And he’s still playing and writing music — for fun.

He and drummer Tom Hayashi, keyboardist Tim Haggerty and bass player Mike Lutkin mix a bit of everything — jazz standards, funk, reggae, movie tunes — from 5 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of each month at Old Courthouse Square’s Upper Fourth lounge.

Hayes shares his new music for free on his Web site, The other day the former rocker planted some garlic in the new raised beds that pretty soon will keep his family and half the neighborhood in fresh vegetables and fruits.

“I’ve been from nowhere to one of the biggest bands in the world and back,” he said. “And I like back.”


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14 Responses to “Press Demo Article 3/30/09”

  1. Tracy says:

    Hi Chris~
    I loved the article!! I’m glad you are enjoying life off the road. You deserve it! Take care and have a good day!

  2. Andy King says:

    Chris.. You are all time favorite guitar player.(Next to Larry Carlton of course) and inspiration behind my 25 odd years of playing.You were the real heart and soul of HLN (Excuse the Pun) Keep up the great work.


  3. Lovelle Yano says:

    Hey Chris, hope your well, I think of you and your family often, say hi to Shelley for me!
    Lovelle (how many people could you know with this name? But just in case, Michelle and I were class mates from many moons ago….).

  4. luigi says:

    Power of Love

  5. Patty says:

    What a surprise to stumble upon this article.Chris was my favorite member of the News,and while I miss his presence there,I also am glad that he ultimately put family first.Glad to see him happy and contented!

  6. chris says:

    In 1984 I turned sixteen. When I finally picked up a cassete deck to replace the 8 track that was in my Nova. Sports was by far the most played. Thank you so much for all the memories that flood back when I hear a song from that album.

  7. Rick says:

    Hi Chris!

    I just saw Huey Lewis & the News this past Sunday in Costa Mesa and they were awesome! But, I missed you being part of the band! Too bad you’re not still with them, but life goes on!

  8. Beckie Jones says:

    Hi Chris,

    I live in Springfield, Oregon. My daughter came home from school today and said, “Mom, I go to school with a kid whose dad used to play for Huey Lewis.”

    I said, “Oh my gosh! MY mom used to work with the mom of Chris Hayes, who used to play for Huey Lewis. Her name was Doris, and I cleaned her office every Saturday for 7 years.” I think I met you back in the day in Tulare.

    We started comparing notes and realized you know our friends, Sheri and Kayla Johnston.

    So good to hear you’re in Oregon!

  9. Lupe V. - Austin, Tx. says:

    Hi, just wanted to say I still enjoy your music now as much as when it first came out. Thanks for the tunes and enjoy your now!

  10. Dusti says:

    I love you Chris Hayes,

  11. Chris says:

    I love you too dusti. Thanks for caring.chris

  12. Chris says:

    thanks Lupe,
    I am very honored and I feel blessed that I was able to have such a fun job!Thank you for loving the music! Chris

  13. Stephen O'Flynn says:

    Hey Chris, I’m From Ireland and back when I was growing up in the mid 80’s as a 3-4 year old child, my dad had me hooked on Huey Lewis and I was jumping around our Living room with his Tennis Racket thinking I was you.
    I finally got my wish to see the band in 2002 when the band came to Dublin and I was there in the front row, You had just left sometime before.
    I think of you often when I’m listeing to the old Huey classics and say I wonder where that young prodigy went to when you retired, and what you’d be up too.
    And now I’ve seen this site, Good to see you’ve settled nicely, I have my own family too and my boys love listening to your riffs.
    Much love and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to say something to one of my Fav rock guitar players.

    Love from Ireland

  14. Hello Chris,

    I listen to your music all the time when I’m building guitars.
    You’re an inspiration to me – huge in fact. I’ve got a guitar design that might be just the right thing to inspire your music now. I’m not lookin for money but would like to see what you think – I can send you one to check out. Christian love of the Beach Boys plays one and they’ve been all over backing Brad Paisley, and there’s more to the name drop story. Please, give this a shot.

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