Triple-threat country singer-songwriter-guitarists don't come along often. The '80s saw the emergence of Vince Gill; so far in the '90s, the Mavericks' Raul Malo and Junior Brown constitute the alpha and omega of that class.
Oklahoma newcomer Wade Hayes isn't in the same league as those three, but his performance on Tuesday at the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana hinted that he might get there in a few years.
He's 27 and has just two albums--both uneven--under his belt. While the first few songs of his sold-out early show offered little to distinguish him from the slew of young hat acts that have come rolling out of Nashville lately, things improved as the show progressed.
Some of the best songs were ones he has co-written. The highlight was "This Is the Life for Me," an autobiographical country rocker that reeks more of amazement at his good fortune in music than of ego-based chest-thumping.
The unmistakable model, from the sparse, propulsive guitar leads to his pliant baritone, was prime Waylon Jennings, whom Hayes cites among his key influences. And there are worse crimes being committed in country these days than aping ol' Waylon.
His act still includes too many run-of-the-mill tunes to allow him to go to bat just yet alongside such country big-guns as Gill, Malo and Brown. But on a good night, which is mostly what Hayes had Tuesday, he's in the on-deck circle.