Cas Haley is Where He Wants to Be
After the spotlight of “America’s Got Talent” and that show’s afterglow, Cas Haley finally has the music career that suits him best. He recently took a break from working the land at his Paris home to talk about art rather than commerce. And, oh, by the way, he’s got a new album; he does need to make a living.
Haley finished second to ventriloquist-singer Terry Fator on “America’s Got Talent” in 2007, just missing out on the $1,000,000 prize and the show’s “best new act in America” title. That led to a brief stint inside the big business of the music industry.
His third studio album, La Si Dah, came out May 28 through Easy Star Records, a leading reggae label that is stretching into other areas, and decided Haley’s “unique, accessible” sound is a good way to expand its audience.
The album is special to Haley.
“I kept thinking if I died tomorrow and my kids had only one musical statement through which to know me,” he said, “what would I want that record to be?”
Haley raised money for the 13-song album — with three instrumentals — from his fans and produced the project himself with help from Grammy-winning producer-engineer Rob Fraboni, who is known for his work with Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Keith Richards, and The Rolling Stones.
It’s a grassroots album, too.
“Being in a world so heavily influenced by commercialism and the expectations of perfection paired with the technology and tools to synthesize that perfection, in my opinion, has zapped the very essence out of the majority of music today. The last two years I have been searching for the solution to this problem,” he said. “With the guidance of my great friend and mentor Rob Fraboni, this album is my attempt to find the spirit of music.
“The first thing we did was take away all elements of separation. All the instruments and most of the vocals were recorded in the same room at the same time with no isolation and no headphones. Fraboni is from the day when capturing the sound of the performance was the goal versus manipulating them.”
That’s a change from his earlier albums, which were so polished, for commercial success, with technology that he wasn’t satisfied with them as art.
“A lot of music today seems to have lost its soul,” he said. “Too much of it loses the art.”
The new album will be followed by Haley’s first European tour.
In July, he’s doing solo acoustic shows in Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic between domestic gigs in Dallas, Fort Worth, California, Arizona, Iowa, and, recently, at That Guy’s Coffee in his hometown of Paris, Texas.
More personally, Haley, who grew up in the construction business with his father and brother, has been working on the 28 acres his family owns north of Paris near the Red River. He rented a small Bobcat bulldozer to terrace a hill behind the house, to put in a deck.
“I pretty much try to do it all myself. It means more,” he said.
He remains grateful for the exposure on “America’s Got Talent.”
“It definitely affected me. The biggest thing, besides the obvious of getting my name out there and giving me a boost moneywise, was that it catapulted me into a position to really pursue music,” he said. “I was already gigging, but getting only $300-$400 a week which was not enough to raise a family.” He is married to Cassie Black and has a son named Eben and a daughter named Nolah.
Haley said that eventually the biggest benefit was helping him realize how he wanted to manage his own career. At one time, he thought he wanted a major-label record deal and stardom.
“When I got a taste of that, it showed me what I really wanted,” he said. “I got into playing music because I like calling my own shots. I like being my own boss, making my own schedule, doing it my way. That’s a big part of it to me.”
With the independent Easy Star label, he also owns his own music and masters and can make a good living selling 20,000 albums a year instead of clawing for elusive gold (half a million albums) and platinum (one million) sales.
Haley plays once or twice a year in Dallas, a couple of times a year in Austin, and three or so times a year in Paris at That Guy’s Coffee, a listening room which holds 60 or so people and which he helped Gerald Hutchings get started after seeing — and liking — the success of Crossroads Music Company in Winnsboro.
Although Haley is often described as a reggae singer — he was nominated as best reggae rock entertainer for the 32nd annual International Reggae and World Music Awards — his roots remain in Southern soul and the music is diverse.
“I just go song by song, everything from reggae to swing, and it’s all sorta got that Southern soul vibe.”
He makes music to express himself.
“There’s something great about going out into the unknown with a dream, and pursuing it,” he said. “I feel like I’m really lucky. The first time I got a guitar I knew I was going to play music, and I’ve never really done anything else. I’m lucky to know what I wanted to do, and to have the freedom and security to do it.”
Haley’s parents both were into music. His dad, Bear, and his mom, Virginia, listened to “hippie biker country” blues and 1960s -1970s rock and put his first guitar in his hands when he was 12.
“I was sorta taught by the bar bands from all around Northeast Texas, by them and all their friends, the tribe that brought me up,” he said, in particular citing guitarist Mike “B.J.” Hillard. Twenty-five years later, Haley said, a friend found Hillard’s 1967 Guild Starfire guitar in a pawn shop; Haley plays it today.
After his brush with stardom, however temporary, and with major-label music, Cas Haley is right where he wants to be: keeping it real.