The boxer mix’s friendly demeanor and crooked smile instantly won Hayes over. “He just looked horrible, but I took him home, got him fattened up, and he’s been the best dog I’ve ever had in my life,” says Hayes, known for such hits as “I'm Still Dancin' With You,” “The Day That She Left Tulsa,” “What I Meant to Say” and his chart-topping debut “Old Enough to Know Better." “I love Jack very, very much. When I wrote this song, he had come up to me in the early morning light and I could really see how white his face had gotten. I started tearing up thinking he’s getting old. I can’t imagine a day without that dog, and so this song just started coming out thinking about everything we’d been through together.”
Hayes and Jack’s bond was cemented when Hayes battled stage 4 colon cancer twice, and nearly lost his life. He was first diagnosed in October 2011. Surgery and chemotherapy seemed to eradicate the disease, but the cancer returned in the fall of 2012. Jack was by his side through it all.
The Oklahoma native has now been cancer free for five years, but will always be grateful to his best friend for seeing him through those tough days. “I had Jack a couple of years before I got cancer,” says Hayes. “He was always there. When I was going through chemotherapy we would go walking, and us walking morning and night really, really helped me. It was good for him and good for me as well. Getting out there, I think, it had a lot to do with me healing up. We still love to go walking morning and night to this day.”
Hayes wrote the song in late 2017 and and first performed it during a songwriter’s round on Star Vista’s Country Music Cruise in early 2018. “That’s where we got the idea to record it because everybody reacted so strongly to it,” he says. “I wrote that for me. It was just how I was feeling the day. I feel so strongly about Jack and it was just a personal thing. I did it at the songwriters show and saw people with tears running down their cheek, even grown men. I thought, ‘Well maybe we’d better record this.’”
The song continued to be part of Hayes’ set list as he toured this year and always received such a strong reaction, he decided to film a video. Hayes recruited indie artist/video director Korby Lenker to direct the clip. (Lenker also directed Hayes’ video for “Go Live Your Life,” the title track of his 2015 album. That clip also features Jack.)
Some of the “Who Saved Who” video was filmed at Hayes’ home in Lebanon, Tennessee, as well as at an organic farm near Lewisburg, Tennessee. “Korby knew of this place, and he knew they had all these rescue dogs,” Hayes says of his canine co-stars in the clip. “We shot probably over half the video out there and we came out here and did some shots running around in the truck, and Jack and I are sitting on my roof when we are watching the sun go down.”
The video also includes photos of people with their rescue dogs, solicited through Hayes’ Facebook fan page. “When I had first written the song, there was a picture of Jack and me on the fan page on Facebook and a lot of people had sent me pictures of them and their dogs. Because I loved looking at them so much -- there were a lot of funny and sweet pictures -- that’s where we got the idea to include some in the video.”
Hayes is anxious for people to see the video, particularly to meet Jack and see him smile. “I want people to know that that dog actually does do that,” he says of Jack’s crooked grin. “Over the years, I’ve gotten him to do that on command. You tell him to smile -- and I’ll hold a treat up -- and that dog will smile every time. It’s hilarious. I still laugh out loud when he does it. I was holding up a Lays potato chip when he did that in the video.”
Hayes thinks other dog lovers will relate to the song. “I’m hoping that people understand that they are not crazy to love their dog like they do,” he says. “I’ve certainly been teased about having to get home and check on Jack. I really feel very protective of him and I hope that they know that somebody identifies with them. They know that’s a very, very strong connection.”
Hayes’ family is growing. In addition to Jack, he added another rescue dog about two years ago named Holly. But the biggest news is his recent engagement. He and fiancé Lea Bayer are planning to marry early next year.
Musically, Hayes is contemplating his next move. His last album, Old Country Song, was released in 2017, before he wrote “Who Saved Who.” He has enough material written for a new country album, but says he’s always wanted to record a gospel album so that might be next on the agenda.
In the meantime, he wrapped a busy touring year and is taking December off the road, except for a series of special performances that are near and dear to his heart. “Around Christmas time I like to go sing at homeless shelters or retirement centers just for fun,” he says. “So I’ve learned a few Christmas tunes and I’m playing with one of my best friends in Kentucky at a homeless shelter and a few days before that I’m playing a retirement center here affiliated with my church. It’s just a lot of fun and it kind of fills you up.”