Sixteen-year old Cole Hayes comes from the little Louisiana town of Roseland (pop. 1,162), and like Jerry Lee Lewis and Tim McGraw, two of his fellow Louisianans and heroes, Cole has remarkable natural talents to create country and blues music.
“When I was little, I fell in love with the way Elvis Presley sang and shook his leg, and how all the girls went wild,” Cole says in a late August phone call from Roseland. “I also like Jerry Lee Lewis, I like the way he plays piano and that’s one reason I started writing blues songs. I play piano and I play guitar.”
We mentioned that we thought Jerry Lee was in his mid-70s and still playing shows.
“Jerry Lee Lewis will be 76 on Sept. 28,” the very bright teen said.
Cole, who is the cousin of the Louisiana riverboat captain, songwriter, and music publisher Captain Joe Kent, has had to overcome a physical challenge none of his musical heroes faced, a very rare skin disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosa (XP).
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Xeroderma Pigmentosa is a rare condition passed down through families in which the skin and tissue covering the eye are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light – such as that found in sunlight – damage the genetic material (DNA) in skin cells. Normally, the body repairs this damage. But in persons with Xeroderma Pigmentosa, the body does not fix the damage.”
The very courageous Cole has written songs like “Walk Out The Door” which have attracted the attention of Captain Joe, who hopes to have some of Cole’s songs recorded. Another of Cole’s biggest fans is the country superstar Brad Paisley, who Cole has met twice.
Paisley has been a major supporter of folks with XP.
“Country singer Brad Paisley and actress wife Kimberly,” PRWeb reported in 2008, “showed continuing support by donating $10,000 to Camp Sundown, a summer night program by the XP Society. Founded in 1995 by the parents of a child with the rare disorder, Camp Sundown has been an international haven for children suffering all light-sensitivity disorders and is run entirely on donations.”
Cole lives with his grandparents. His grandmother Cathy says: “Cole’s seen Brad Paisley twice. Cole said that he would sing one of the songs he wrote for Brad, and Brad took time with him backstage. When Cole got to meet him again, Brad actually said he remembered him.”
Captain Joe was thrilled. “Cole pitched Brad Paisley a song backstage,” the Captain says.
Sadly, some folks are not so kind or supportive.
“Cole gets picked on a lot by other kids,” Cathy says. “Going out in public, we’ve been asked to leave a couple places. It is heartbreaking. It was worse when Cole was younger.”
But music has always provided pure happiness and joy for Cole. Besides, the kid’s really good at it.
“At first, he was just totally infatuated with Elvis Presley,” Cathy says, smiling. “We went to a show by an Elvis impersonator. That was the first time we even knew Cole liked music. After that he was just totally fascinated with Elvis.”
Cathy is also Captain Joe’s aunt, and maybe the musical gifts run in the family.
“Joe and his wife Denise have both sort of taken Cole under their wing,” Cathy says. “He’s just real excited about it, and Cole just thinks the world of Joe and Denise.”
When Cole’s dad did some work at Captain Joe’s house a few months ago, Joe and Cole began talking about songs and playing each other tunes they had written.
“I don’t really how Cole got started writing songs,” Cathy says. “In elementary school he would write stories, lots of horror stories. We talked to him and said `write a song,’ and then we never thought anything about it. Then Cole went to Joe’s house, and Joe was very impressed with Cole’s songs. It’s awesome.
“Joe has never been a person to give up,” Cathy continues. “I think it’s great what he’s doing with Cole. Joe’s real excited about it. I don’t anything about music and I was real nervous at first, but Joe was very impressed and Cole and Denise text each other all the time. It’s amazing.”
One of the beauties of country music is that it’s always been a source of comfort and inspiration for folks in both good and bad times. And many of our greatest artists have battled lifelong challenges.
Ronnie Milsap has been blind since birth, yet has sung 35 No. 1 Billboard country singles, the 4th-most of any artist ever.
Meanwhile, Cole Hayes is writing and singing the musical soundtrack of his own life.
“Cole is doin’ really, really good,” Cathy says. “He’s over five years cancer-free now. We are awfully proud of him.”
By Phil Sweetland