'Don't Let Her' is a breezy love song about his wife, Laney, but its theme was inspired by the life lessons he's learned since the death last year of their infant daughter

By Nancy Kruh
June 13, 2019 02:10 PM
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Walker Hayes’ new single, “Don’t Let Her,” is a breezy romp through the qualities and quirks that make his wife, Laney, so lovable to him. But don’t be fooled by its fun. There’s a life-and-death side to this song that Hayes says he couldn’t have come up with a year ago.

What changed? Just about everything.

Last June the couple lost their seventh child, a daughter named Oakleigh, from a rare and catastrophic uterine rupture during childbirth, and Laney almost died from blood loss.

Hayes, 39, is known for his deeply personal songs, so it was only a matter of time for the tragedy to begin emerging in his lyrics. But even he couldn’t have predicted the theme of “Don’t Let Her,” which is framed as a beyond-the-grave message to his wife’s new love if Hayes were to die.

Walker Hayes
Walker Hayes
| Credit: Matthew Berinato

The idea for it sprung late one night last winter while the “You Broke Up With Me” singer was on a United Kingdom tour, a long stretch that left him pining for his family. To while away the time, he began listing traits he’s grown to love about Laney in the 22 years since they began as high school sweethearts. His mind turned to what he would want for her if something were to happen to him.

“I don’t want her to miss me,” Hayes says. “I mean, selfishly I do, but honestly, the last thing I want to do after earth is watch from wherever I am and see Laney be paralyzed by grief. I want to watch her smile, even though I’m not the one making her smile.”

Walker Hayes
Walker Hayes’ “Don’t Let Her”
| Credit: Courtesy Monument Records

Back home in Nashville, he fleshed out the song with the help of co-writers Shane McAnally and Andrew DeRoberts.

On the surface, “Don’t Let Her” seems to have nothing to do with the Hayes’ recent trauma, and yet, he says, it has everything to do with it: “This is definitely one that has a lot of experience and tragedy and hurt poured into it, and not in such an obvious way, but it is there.”

That’s because Oakleigh’s death and Laney’s near-death have made him realize, more than ever, that “we don’t have control over those things.” Facing into that sobering truth, Hayes says, he and his wife have chosen to treasure every day as if it were the last. “When things are good,” he says, “we know to just enjoy it because we know it’s not going to be like that, maybe not tomorrow.”

The 52nd Annual CMA Awards - Arrivals
Walker and Laney Hayes
| Credit: John Shearer/WireImage

These days, he assures, things are indeed good for the Hayes family. He and Laney have weathered “the hardest year of our lives,” and their relationship has emerged “10 times stronger.”

“We’ve gotten mad, we’ve gotten sad,” he says. “We’ve just experienced so much over the past year, and thank goodness, because of communication and fighting — just fighting out loud and then coming back together — it has brought us closer together.”

His wife of 15 years “loves” being the subject of the new song, he says, even though it reveals some of her foibles, such as her sensitivity to how her legs look. (Hayes, of course, declares them “beautiful.”)

“I think she’s super-courageous to allow me to have that line,” he says, noting that Laney did anticipate what she was in for: “She was like, ‘Now everybody’s gonna ask me about my legs.’”

Walker Hayes
Walker and Laney Hayes
| Credit: Courtesy Walker Hayes

Their six children, three daughters and three sons, ages 3 to 13, also have given their thumbs-up to the song. “It’s kind of a sappier tune, and it’s about their mom, so I guess I thought they would be just completely disinterested,” Hayes says. “But they love it. I mean, they want to hear that — and ‘Old Town Road’ — all the time.”

Since the song’s release May 17, Hayes says he has heard from a number of widows who were touched by the lyrics. “They say, ‘I lost my husband, and this is him singing to me,’” Hayes recounts. “Goodness gracious, those responses make this job worth getting on a bus and rolling away from my family. I’m grateful that my life led me to that pen and paper that day, and now I get to share the song with everybody.”