Kerry Hay passes

Kerry Hay, longtime owner and proprietor of Hay Holler Records, died at home on October 13. He was 89 years of age.

He was born in Dickenson County, VA and attended Haysi High School, after which he enlisted in the Air Force where he served from 1949 to 1953. Returning from military service, Kerry received his degree in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech, and started a career with Poly-Scientific and Electro-Tec in Blacksburg, VA, now part of Moog Components Group.

Kerry was able to retire early from engineering work, and launched a pair of new careers, obtaining an auctioneers license and opening Hay Holler Auction Sales. At roughly the same time, he and his wife, Sula, launched Hay Holler Records in 1989. Hay recorded music for a number of bluegrass artists, including Herschel Sizemore, 5 for the Gospel, Big Country Bluegrass, The Bluegrass Brothers, Cedar Hill, The Gillis Brothers, The Goins Brothers, Sand Mountain, and Wayne Henderson.

His love was for an authentic bluegrass sound, which he described as, “real bluegrass, hard-core traditional mountain-style bluegrass that sounds as lonesome as a whippoorwill.”

Another artist that Kerry recorded was The Gibson Brothers, whose first album was with Hay Holler Records. Eric Gibson remembers him quite fondly.

“Kerry Hay was easily one of the finest gentlemen I have met in the music industry. He was an early believer in us, signing us to a record deal in 1995. He was Old School, a firm handshake/look you in the eye kind of guy — and that suited us just fine. If he told you he was going to get something done, he got it done. He knew we were raw, but he could see potential in us, helping to guide us in our early years as we broke out of the northeast and played in other regions of the country. In fact, I remember him joining us in California on our first trip to Grass Valley.<

The memory that stands out the most for me is when our second album we were recording for Hay Holler went up in smoke when Tim Austin’s Doobie Shea Studio burned down in a fire after it was hit by lightning while some of us were still in the building. Among many things lost in the fire was Leigh’s first Martin. Kerry took us into Ferrum  (or was it Franklin?) where we found another Martin. Leigh didn’t have the funds, so Kerry paid for it until Leigh was able to pay him back. That is the kind of man Kerry Hay was. Our hearts go out to Sula and Kerry’s entire family. We are grateful for the time we got to spend with him. We are better off for it.”

Leigh picked it up from there…

“Yes, Kerry floated me the money to buy that guitar. This was before Venmo and the like and I didn’t have that kind of cash on me. I was gonna send the seller, Clay Moore, money and have him ship the guitar once I got home. Kerry wouldn’t hear of it and paid for it on the spot so I would have a guitar that night. Quite a man. He believed in me enough to basically give me a few thousand dollars without hesitation. It meant a lot.

He was a man that above all believed in family and made you feel like a part of his. They don’t make people like Kerry Hay anymore and I was privileged to call him a friend.”

Hay Holler Records was active until 2008, when Kerry and Sula decided to retire again, spending their time at their country home, also called Hay Holler, where they had a long habit of entertaining friends with good food, grand company, and all night picking.

The Hay family invites everyone to join them to celebrate Kerry’s life on Sunday, October 17, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at Hay Holler in Blacksburg. Musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and remember Kerry with music. In lieu of flowers, they request donations in Kerry’s name to Good Samaritan Hospice who had provided excellent care in recent weeks.

R.I.P., Kerry Hay.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.