After multiple decades of crafting and sharing his music in Northern Nevada, it’s safe to say that Rick Hays is doing something right—and RN&R readers agree: They’ve selected him as both the Best Local Musician and Best Local Songwriter in the 2023 Best of Northern Nevada poll. Additionally, his band, Rick Hays and American Steel, finished third in the Best Local Band category.
Hays brings honesty and twang to his songwriting, creating meaningful country tunes about topics like the state of Nevada (“Nevadatude”) and emotional moments (“The Day It Rained”). His music includes elements of ballads, pop and rock.
During a recent phone interview, Hays said he was “honored and flattered” to hear about the vote.
“It’s great to have something like that happen,” Hays said. “I’ve been writing and performing as Rick Hays and American Steel since 1994. I was doing that while I was active-duty military and going to school, working on my degree, all the way up to my doctoral degree, and (during) a deployment back east for seven years.
“I’ve been home now for two years and got the band back together. I would come home on leave and do shows to just kind of keep it going, and visit with family and friends. It’s very honoring and very flattering that they remembered who we were and supported us. I’m really looking forward to sharing more and writing about Nevada, and our hometown of Reno.”
Hays has a history with many genres of music.
“I’m classically trained as a vocalist, and then did rock ’n’ roll for a while, and then moved on to country in ’94,” Hays said. “For country, (fans) have always been very supportive. I don’t want to brag about our fans, but in all the genres I’ve performed in, they’ve treated me the best in country, and they’ve always stood behind us, remembered who we are, and came out and supported us, right down to purchasing the music that we wrote. That says a lot of people, when they put their money where their mouth is. … You wouldn’t expect that, because Reno’s a working town. You look around at how industrial Reno is, and all you have to do is take a look at the roadways and what’s driving on them. There are a lot of trucks, a lot of four-wheel drives and a lot of 18-wheelers. There are a lot of warehouses where people are out there working with their hands, and they’ve got their name on their shirt, and those are the hard-working folks who come and support us.”
It’s been said that a songwriter needs a life to live to have something to write about—and Hays has plenty to write about.
“Art isn’t a reflection; it’s an imitation of life,” Hays said. “I’ve always said, ‘If you’re not living a beautiful life, you really can’t write beautiful music.’ Life’s not always beautiful, though, and sometimes it’s sad, like it was for me when I got home just two years ago. I was home for four weeks. Both of my parents got COVID, and two weeks after that, my mom had passed. She was my best friend and my true compass north. They had to nurse my dad back to health, and tough times like that definitely helped me to have something to write about—because you’ve got to write about the stuff that’s real.
“That’s the great thing about country music: It’s real, and it’s a way of passing life’s lessons on, and what we’ve learned, to give advice to other people, and let them know, ‘Hey, you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through. There are better times ahead.’ For me, I’m a Christian, so I write about that as well. I write about my faith, but I don’t try to force it on anybody. Those pillars that we have in life about family and country and religion and who we are as people and respect for ourselves and others is really important, and when you can write about that and share that with folks, it gives them a perspective that sometimes they may not have.”
While some country artists dip into the world of politics, Hays has no desire to do so.
“I don’t ever play politics from the stage—because I only know one color, and it’s green,” Hays said. “That’s the color of money. It’s a business first, as they say, and you don’t want to alienate 50% of your money because you pick one color or another. Just stay with green, and keep the politics out of it. There’s the common-sense thing that I think most people reside with who are in my audience—logic and reason.”
Hays said he’s learned that being the same person on and off the stage is “paramount.”
“If you’re not being real, trust me, they’re going to see right through it,” he said. “They’re not going to buy it, and they’re not going to go. They’ll just realize it’s B.S.”
Fans will soon have new music to enjoy, as he’s working on a fourth Rick Hays and American Steel album—featuring songs for Nevada, by Nevadans.
“Coming back home, I really wanted to write something about Nevada, so I tried to write about things that are Nevada, like cottonwood trees, and how you say the name of our state, and all the quotes that you hear around the area, like, ‘It’s Ne-VAD-uh, not Ne-VAH-duh,’” Hays said. “We take offense at that, because if you’re going to come be a part of us, at least get our name right. … In fact, we’re working on a version now of ‘Home Means Nevada,’ so we can have our own spin on that and just identify as, ‘Hey, we’re from here; this is what we’re about, and we share that same thing.’”
If you go to see a Rick Hays show, there’s a chance it may be a collaborative effort with another Best of Northern Nevada winner.
“I was talking to Vaquera Vikki, who won Best Dance Instructor last year in the Reno News and Review,” he said. “And I go, ‘What do you think about you opening my show? I’ll play after you do your line-dance instruction, then on breaks, you take it back over, and we’ll just toss the bone back and forth all night?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, I like it.’ We tried it at Rail City, and it worked so well there that we started making it a standard part of our show. I don’t know anybody else who is doing that. … It’s a package deal when we go out and do these shows, and, man, does it win like gangbusters every single time. I’d like to thank the fans who supported us doing that, and for recognizing Vaquera Vikki’s input, what she brings to the table, and the band as well.”
For more information, visit rickhays.com.