Clarence Leonard Hayes was a jazz vocalist, banjoist and guitarist born November 14, 1908 in Caney, Kansas. He lived in Parsons, Kansas for a short time, and the town is the subject of his song "The Parsons, Kansas Blues." He worked always as a professional musician, turning up in San Francisco in 1926. By 1927 he was a regular on the music scene there. He performed regularly on radio in San Francisco until the 1950s when live music came to be replaced with recordings.
For two years beginning in 1938 he was a singer, banjoist and sometimes percussionist with Lu Watters's Yerba Buena Jazz band, the group that helped spark the Dixieland revival that continues to this day. He went on to play with Bob Scobey's Frisco Jazz Band for many years; both he and Scobey were alumni of Watters's earlier band, as was trombonist Turk Murphy at whose San Francisco nightclub Hayes often played. He recorded fairly widely and with many different groups.
Hayes's light baritone singing is relaxed, unmannered and marked by a perfect sense of rhythm which allowed him to attack phrases at just the perfect instant, and his renditions of classics from the twenties and of moralistic saloon songs such as "Ace in the Hole", "Wise Guy" and "Silver Dollar" are splendid. Hayes wrote only one hit tune, "Huggin' and Chalkin'", made famous by Hoagy Carmichael, though Hayes himself recorded it with Scobey's band.
Hayes's banjo playing was essentially rhythmic rather than melodic and is generally unobtrusive and very tasteful, two qualities often lacking in jazz banjoists. He was unusual in playing a six-string banjo rather than the more common plectrum or tenor which have four strings.
He died in San Francisco in March 1972.