In Harmony
Through a mix of talent and tenacity, the versatile Eric Hayes—businessman by day, musician by night—finds balance
by Debra Wallace

When Eric Hayes dons a button-down shirt and dress pants and heads to work as director of creative marketing for Wales-Darby Inc., he knows how Clark Kent feels when he goes to work at the Daily Planet. It’s just one of his identities.

By day, the 33-year-old Hayes is intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of Wales-Darby, a successful family business representing high-quality and technologically advanced manufacturers of HVAC products for residential and commercial markets. By night, he discards his business attire, changes into a T-shirt and jeans, and heads to a nightclub, concert hall or other music venue, where he assumes his other identity, the performer.

“Sometimes I even feel like Superman going to work in nice dress clothes, while on the weekends I dress more casually to play these really big shows with well-known artists,” he says. “These are two drastically different careers. … I was born with a fierce love of music inside of me, and it is as basic to me as breathing. At the same time I need a daily purpose and some security. So, for me it is a perfect balance.”

At the heart of everything he does is a strong work ethic nurtured by his mother, Paula, and stepfather, Stephen Darby, who co-owns Wales-Darby. Darby credits his stepson’s success to his goal-oriented nature and intense focus. “I am proud of the person Eric is, regardless of the endeavor that he is involved in,” he says. “Whether in his music career or in joining our business, he keeps pushing forward until he succeeds. That’s the key.”

‘Strong and Sweet’
Hayes remembers when he first fell in love with music. He was no more than 7 years old, listening to records with his family. “My friends growing up had pianos that gathered dust in the corner while they played video games,” he says. “I wanted to learn to play piano, guitar and percussion—and I did.”

He studied music and communications at William Paterson University of New Jersey, and he had his sights set on making a career out of his passion. Because he was a short commute from Manhattan he gravitated toward the jazz- and soul-rich nightclub scene in Greenwich Village, while also playing at weddings and other gigs on the side.

One time at the storied blues saloon known as Terra Blues, Hayes went to hear Moe Holmes, a legendary soul singer and blues musician who had performed with the likes of Roberta Flack, Jimi Hendrix and Ike and Tina Turner. Hayes went up to Holmes on stage, boldly introduced himself and said, “I’m a soul singer and I’ve sat here 15 times, and I would love to perform with you one day.” Holmes said he would give Hayes “one shot,” and Hayes knew he had to be prepared.

Two months later Holmes invited Hayes on stage. The two hit it off, thereby marking the beginning of a great collaboration and a deepening friendship. Holmes became Hayes’ mentor, and the two would play together every weekend for the next year and a half.

In 2008, at the age of 59, Holmes died suddenly. Hayes deeply mourned the loss of his friend, who was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Afterward, Hayes kept in close contact with other musicians he had met at the Greenwich Village clubs, and he continued to make connections. Over time he secured gigs with Gavin DeGraw, Jr. Mack of the Allman Brothers Band, Ziggy Marley, Rachel Platten and Joss Stone, to name a few.

By the end of 2007, Hayes was earning a living doing what he loved and, in the process, earning the respect of notable musicians such as Martin Sexton.

“Eric Hayes is one of the most soulful men I’ve met, both musically and personally,” says Sexton, a prominent singer-songwriter whose latest album, “Mixtape of the Open Road,” was released earlier this year on Kitchen Table Records. “His voice is as strong and sweet as his heart is big and kind.”

Another fellow musician, Chris Carhart, has known Hayes since junior high school. Carhart, who is currently the drummer for the band Phantogram, believes he has a keen understanding of Hayes’ inner drive.

“Despite any setbacks or other opportunities, regardless of whatever life has put in our way, neither one of us ever stopped playing,” says Carhart, whose band will embark on a North American tour with Muse that starts in December. “He loves to play music so much, and it helps that he’s so good at it. … He’s such a good piano player and a good singer, and it makes you want to play music with him. His voice and his musical ability are magnetic; even if he’s covering someone else’s songs, it makes you want to stop and listen.”

Upside Down
One night in November 2007 changed the course of Hayes’ life. While at a concert, he ended up injuring his neck in a freak accident. He needed to have spinal surgery, and afterward he required several years of physical rehabilitation. He was also contending with severe pain. Even worse, he had to re-hone his dexterity at playing music.

“The recovery was brutal,” he recalls. “I couldn’t feel my pinky or ring finger. There was numbness on the whole left side of my body. I had been playing [music] for so many years, but when I tried to play I hit the wrong notes. It was a really tough, angry and depressing time for me.”

With strong family support, as well as physical therapy, acupuncture, cupping therapy and massage, he persevered. He took a long, hard look at his life and decided it was time to start over. The first step came in 2009, when he took his stepfather’s offer to join Wales-Darby, which has offices in Warren, N.J., and the village of Islandia, N.Y. The job enabled him to gain some financial security, compared with the up-and-down nature of the music business. It also helped him reignite his creativity.

At first he worked in customer service and sales. Although he found it a perfect fit with his outgoing nature, after two years he yearned for something more dynamic. This led to an eventual promotion to his current position, director of creative marketing, under the mentorship of senior vice president Greg Talbot. In this role, he uses social media, video messaging, marketing and other tools to spread the word about the family business.

“This is a creative job, and I like that it’s different every day,” he says. “It’s like having a blank piece of paper. I found a place where I can be productive and help the company going forward.”

Hayes acknowledges that his current life is dramatically different than his days working purely as a musician. Today, whenever he is not working in the family business, he’s writing songs, booking gigs or otherwise finding ways to immerse himself in music. He performs frequently, mostly in Manhattan but also in other cultural destinations throughout the region, such as New Hope in Bucks County. Whenever possible, he pulls “double duty”—handling business by day, basking in the spotlight on a stage by night.

His music career is more vibrant than ever. In fact, Hayes recently recorded a new song, “Let It Go,” which has enjoyed approximately 80,000 hits on YouTube. It was also adopted by Animal Aid USA, a nonprofit group devoted to saving the lives of at-risk companion animals, for a new documentary available through Netflix.

“Everything’s going great,” he says. “I can still communicate emotions—happiness, joy, pain and love—whether it’s with my music or in the family business. I have opened myself up to be successful and overcome things by being comfortable with where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go.” 

For more information on Eric Hayes’ music, visit For more information on Wales-Darby Inc., visit

Photograph by Allure West Studios