Entertainment Music Country Walker Hayes Teams with the Man Behind the Song to Write an Inspiring Book: 'I Don't Like to Dream Alone' With "Glad You're Here," the "Fancy Like" singer and friend Craig Allen Cooper describe the faith-filled friendship that inspired the song "Craig" By Nancy Kruh Published on June 17, 2022 07:30 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Walker Hayes; Craig Cooper. Photo: Robert Chavers; Jeremy Cowart Friendships all start somewhere, and country star Walker Hayes and Craig Allen Cooper can trace theirs to just these simple words: "I'm glad you're here." Eight years ago, when Cooper spoke them to Hayes, an avowed atheist who'd been dragged by his wife, Laney, to Cooper's church, that was all it took to set off a life-changing sequence of chain reactions: an improbable brotherly bond, a memorable country song, a coming to faith, and now the release of their new book that wears those words as its title. Glad You're Here is a true-life story written by two men who believe God brought them together, but who also can still hardly believe that it's happened to them. "It's evident that this relationship is just divine — there's no way else to describe it — and it continues," says Hayes, 42. "It's just crazy on a daily basis how it grows. I mean, it's insane." Since the book's release last month, sales have experienced a steady upward trajectory, not unlike the path of Hayes' 2021 hit "Fancy Like" and current top 5 single "AA." It's just another sign of the public's captivation with Hayes' vulnerable storytelling, which he has long been putting in his songs. And no song is more vulnerable than Hayes' 2017 single, "Craig," which first introduced fans to his friend who — as Hayes' lyrics describe — "can't walk on water, turn the Napa Valley red, but he just might be tight with a man that did." Though it made barely a ripple on the radio chart when it was released, the song has since been embraced by fans, become a high point in Hayes' live shows, and been re-recorded (with Christian band "Mercy Me") for Hayes' latest album Country Stuff. Walker Hayes Earns His Rite of Passage at Country's Mother Church: 'This Is a Huge Deal for Me' Yet it offers only a single puzzle piece of Hayes and Cooper's friendship. Now the book offers the whole picture. The two men met in 2014 at a small Nashville-area church where Cooper worked part-time on the worship staff. Hayes' wife, Laney, had received an invitation from Cooper's wife, Laura, after they'd become friends. At the time, Hayes says, he was "broken," a struggling singer-songwriter with a drinking problem who was barely supporting his family. He also had an acute distaste for religion. Growing up in a church in Mobile, Alabama, Hayes says, "I'd been injured by a bunch of people who claimed one thing yet they hurt me, and it hurt worse because I felt like I should trust these people, of all people." To grapple with the pain, he says, he ultimately rejected God: "Honestly, I experienced some freedom by one day saying I don't think I believe this. And the more I told myself that, the more certain I was." Glad You're Here. Hayes admits he was drunk when Cooper greeted him that Saturday evening in church. He also recalls he felt fully seen — and fully accepted. It was a warmth Hayes was unaccustomed to. "That's not a natural human instinct to be drawn to differences, to brokenness," he says. "We can find any excuse to go, oh, I'm gonna give that person some space. But that wasn't Craig's attitude to me at all." Cooper says he recognized Hayes' brokenness because he knew it in himself, as well. He, too, struggled with his own sense of self-worth. "We really bonded over that," says Cooper, 45. "We became companions in our shared brokenness and in a broken world in a way that was really beautiful." The two families — Walker and Laney had five children at the time and Craig and Laura have four — soon became fast friends. As the two men got to know each other, they talked about God, and Cooper answered questions but he never preached. Hayes remained resistant even as Cooper's affirming presence was nudging at his heart. A year after they'd met, Hayes got sober, and the sixth Hayes child was born. Cooper, who makes a living in technology sales, couldn't help but notice the family had more than outgrown their only car, a sedan, so he and his wife gave their friends their used minivan. Hayes resisted at first, then finally relented when Cooper said, "Hey, somebody did this for me once. Just let me do this for you." (In fact, several years before, Cooper had been the recipient of a much-needed car from his grandfather-in-law.) The Coopers with the Hayes'. courtesy Walker Hayes Humbled and inspired, Hayes spent several months working to tell the story in song of how Cooper had changed his life. Laney Hayes texted a demo to the Coopers — Walker didn't have the nerve — and it arrived in a moment when Cooper was feeling especially discouraged about his purpose. "I lost it," Cooper says, recalling the first time he heard "Craig." "It felt like God was singing over me through Walker's voice — an unbeliever. It was one of those moments where you're like, what is happening here?" By then Hayes had a new recording contract, and he made a last-minute decision to put "Craig" on his 2017 album, boom — but he felt like no messenger from God. Proud he'd written the song without even mentioning Jesus' name, he didn't understand how fans were interpreting it as a faith song. Out on tour, Hayes recalls, "people would come up and say, 'I love Jesus, too,' and I'd be infuriated." Still, the song further cemented the friendship with the Coopers. Months later, they were there through perhaps Walker and Laney's worst trial, when they lost their seventh child, daughter Oakleigh, in childbirth. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Hayes questioned everything about life, death, his worth and purpose, particularly in a career that put him on the road and away from his family. Walker Hayes' Jubilant CMT Awards Debut Is Also Bittersweet: 'That Twinge of a Little PTSD' "I just felt empty and restless and gross," he says, and he began to wonder if he'd been rejecting his lifeline. Without telling a soul, he began to devour Christian readings and explore the Bible, and gradually, he allowed faith to enter his heart. He broke the news to Cooper one evening when the two couples were out sharing a restaurant meal. "I believe," he simply told his friend. "I believe all of it." "I stood up," Cooper recalls, "and I was like, 'Bro, I gotta give you a hug.' And with everything that I had, I squeezed as much life in and out of him." The couples become neighbors. courtesy Walker Hayes Since that day, the joy of their shared faith has only tightened their bond. In late 2019, Laney and Walker began hunting for a new home at the same time the house next door to the Coopers' came up for sale. It was an easy decision for the families to become next-door neighbors. The two men ceremoniously tore down the fence between the two houses, helping to create their own bubble during the pandemic quarantine. In all of that downtime, Hayes and Cooper began writing Christian songs together, and Cooper took his first steps toward realizing his long-held dream to write a book on faith. "Walker and I would talk about it, and then he was really excited about it," Cooper says. "At one point, I remember putting it, 'Well, we're co-writing songs. What if we co-wrote a book?' And he was like, 'Yeah, man.'" Hayes says he couldn't help himself. As someone who'd followed his own dream with music, he says, "I'm attracted to other people who have a dream and are standing on that ledge, and they just need a thump. I'm like, man, I will kick you off that ledge. I don't like to dream alone." The budding authors were able to attract a publisher, and in the course of writing the story of their faith-filled friendship, Hayes' career blew up with "Fancy Like." Of course, the timing couldn't have been better for the book. "This past year," says Hayes, "gave us this massive stage to share this incredible story." Cooper is just happy to see so much success come his friend's way. "I see a lot of answers to prayers," he says. "We marvel when we talk about it, because it's so clear that there's something divine going on. It's lit me up, and I just stand in awe. Only God could do what has been done." Walker Hayes Goes on Tour with His Family of Eight: 'We Are Drinking from a Fire Hose of Joy!' Hayes is about to spend the summer on the fair and festival circuit — with Laney and the kids along on their own family bus — and then he'll be headlining arenas for the first time, beginning in late September. It's called the "Glad You're Here" Tour. He and Cooper are already talking about writing a "banger of an anthem" with the same name to go with it. "Honestly, it's what Jesus wants to say," Hayes says. "To every single person who would ever come into contact with me, I just want them to hear Jesus say, 'I'm glad you're here.'"