The country rock group debuts their track, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”
The song: Written by Peter La Farge and originally made famous by Johnny Cash, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” is covered on Ward Hayden & the Outliers’ upcoming album, Can’t Judge a Book.
About the artist: You wouldn’t necessarily guess it from their former name — Girls, Guns & Glory — but Ward Hayden & the Outliers are from Boston. The four-piece thrives on a love of old-school country, rock, blues, and country rock, drawing inspiration from the classic stuff of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Horton.
About the song: “This was a song I’d wanted to record from the minute I first heard it,” says Hayden. “My father’s own experience serving in the military led him to say quite frequently when I was growing up how important it is that our country take care of its veterans. And after leaving the military he watched his cousin who’d served at the same time struggle and meet an early death after some years of dealing with the effects being in Vietnam.
“‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ really resonated with me when I was about 20 years old. I’d become obsessed with the music of Johnny Cash, and although Cash didn’t write the song, his telling of it holds a lot of truth and that was something I’d really been searching for. The song tells the story of a Native American whose people had been done wrong, but when the time comes to serve his country in World War II, he does a selfless act, puts behind him any resentment, enlists as a paratrooper, and goes on to fight in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Ira Hayes is one of the Marines immortalized for raising the flag at Iwo Jima in that iconic photograph.
“For me it’s a story deserving to be told and retold and kept alive, which was why it meant a lot to record this song. His story shows the difficulties many people have readjusting to civilian life after serving their country and his story exemplifies that sacrifice. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from his story if people care enough to take a hard look at the entire situation.”
About the recording: “In the 15 years I’ve been recording music, this was the hardest song I’ve ever had the privilege of recording,” Hayden says. “I wanted to do it justice and wanted to make sure I honored his story with as much truth and honesty as possible. We had tried recording before, but it never felt real enough. And we didn’t want to just do an exact replica of Johnny Cash’s version or Bob Dylan’s version or even Peter La Farge’s original version. We wanted to use elements of those versions to inspire our own take on the song. It took spending more time with the song and reading more about his story for me to finally be able to feel that my voice had honored the words of his story well enough to be worthy of release. And we really hope that translates to the listener and that they in turn help keep this story alive by sharing it with others as well.”
Why we like it: Though they come from the North, Ward Hayden & the Outliers have a traditional sound and a love of the classics that make them true cowboys at heart. And who doesn’t like an original spin on a gritty country classic, especially when it’s a heartfelt rendition that keeps an important story alive and sends us to Wikipedia to learn more about Ira Hamilton Hayes (Pima).
For more information on Ward Hayden & the Outliers, visit their website.