Hayes, Teddy 1951–
Teddy Hayes 1951–
Writer, producer, filmmaker, composer
Best known as the author of the Harlem-based Devil Barnett series of detective novels, Teddy Hayes is a talented force in a number of creative fields. His experiences range from working as a scriptwriter for Melvin Van Peebles and directing music videos to writing and producing plays and musical shows. An accomplished singer and composer, Hayes has written music inspired by the Devil Barnett books and is the creative force behind a touring stage tribute to the work of Marvin Gaye.
Theodore Hayes was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 20, 1951, the only child of Ernest and Evelyn Hayes. His parents divorced when he was five, and Hayes grew up living with his mother, stepfather, and five younger siblings. He attended several elementary and junior high schools, including Anton Gridina, where Arsenio Hall was a classmate, and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 1971. Hayes was interested in music from an early age and began performing with vocal groups in his early teens, despite his lack of formal musical training. “I was in the band; supposed to be playing clarinet, but I was the worst player ever,” Hayes said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), citing his problems learning to read music. It was later, as an adult, that Hayes learned to read music and play the piano, driven by his desire to compose songs.
Music was not the only passion Hayes began to pursue in high school: he was also an avid reader and, inspired by his growing interest in films and plays, a member of the drama club. “I’ve always been a films and reading junkie,” he told CBB. “I wouldn’t go to the classes I hated, like science. I was in the library reading detective stories. I started reading Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes when I was 14: nobody else was into them; I was the oddball.”
Hayes attended Cleveland State University (CSU), majoring in film and television studies, and completed a four-year degree in three years. “I had decided I couldn’t be a singer, because I couldn’t read music well,” Hayes told CBB, “so I decided to be a writer.” He began writing short plays while still an undergraduate, but decided to make his career in journalism. Hayes served for two years as editor of the Vindicator, the alternative newspaper published by and for the black student body of CSU. He also spent his summers working as a reporter for a black newspaper, the Cleveland Call and Post.
This early work experience convinced Hayes that journalism was not the right career choice. At university, he said in a 2003 interview with British newspaper the Voice, he had “discovered filmmaking and creating a story and images.” During his last year at college, he worked part-time as a film processor and editor at WSWS, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland. After graduating in 1974, he was able to put both his growing interest and recent practical training to immediate use, working as a communications officer for a community action agency in Dayton, Ohio. His agency was given a media grant, and “my boss asked what we could do with the money,” Hayes told CBB. He volunteered to
At a Glance…
Born Theodore Hayes on October 20, 1951, in Cleveland, OH; divorced; daughter Kai. Education : Cleveland State University, BA in film and television, 1974.
Career: Vindicator, editor, 1970s; Cleveland Call and Post, part-time reporter, 1970s; WSWS television station, Cleveland, OH, part-time film processor and editor, 1970s; community action agency, Dayton, OH, short filmmaker and communications officer, 1970s; worked with Quincy Jones, 1970s; Roberta Flack world tour, tour manager, 1976; Melvin Van Peebles Productions, writing assistant and office manager; theatrical producer, 1980s–; scriptwriter, 1987–; worked as freelance writer and music video director in New York, completing projects for Don King and ABC Television, 1980s-1990s; Vroom Vroom Vroom, actor, 1995; author, 1998–; taught creative writing in London, 1990s–.
Addresses: Home —London, England. Agent —Bob Silverstein, Quicksilver Books, 50 Wilson Street, Hartsdale, NY 10530.
make two “kind of cool” 16 mm films on community themes.
When legendary producer Quincy Jones was secured as a celebrity fundraiser for the community action agency, Hayes was sent to California as liaison. New opportunities opened up for Hayes on the West Coast. Jones commissioned Hayes to write the introduction for the Brothers Johnson songbook, and Hayes was introduced to cult film and theater director Melvin Van Peebles, who invited him to visit his production office in New York.
Hayes contacted Van Peebles’ office on his next visit to the East Coast. “He got a phone call while I was in the office,” Hayes recalled to CBB. “He asked me: Can you do math? Are you honest? Would you like to go around the world? I thought he was crazy.” Van Peebles had been talking to singer Roberta Flack, who was looking for a road manager. Hayes left the community action agency and spent most of 1976 touring the world with Flack, going “to places I never dreamed I would go.”
On his return to the United States, Hayes moved to New York and went to work for Van Peebles’ production company. Van Peebles became an important mentor and inspiration to Hayes, who started as a writing assistant, later becoming office manager. He was associate producer on one of Peebles’ theatrical projects, Waltz of the Stork Boogie. It was Hayes’ first Broadway experience and made a huge impression on the one-time writer of short plays. While working for Van Peebles, Hayes “learned to be a professional,” he told CBB. “That was my real training ground.”
Hayes began working on scripts with Van Peebles, including the Emmy-winning ABC drama The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. Growing in confidence, Hayes “started doing small deals on my own,” he told CBB. “After five years, I got to the point where I thought: I can do this myself. I’m an independent person. I realized I didn’t want to work for anyone.”
For the next nine years, Hayes worked as a freelance writer and director in New York, directing music videos for R&B and hip-hop artists. He completed projects for Don King and ABC Television. Hayes remained on good terms with Van Peebles, working on the screenplay for the 1995 film adaptation of Panther, directed by Van Peebles’ son, Mario, and appearing as an actor in one of his short films, Vroom Vroom Vroom, in 1995.
Hayes had not abandoned his early interests in drama. In 1987 his play, Hondo Gothic, was produced at the 7 Stages Theater in Atlanta. Later that year, his play The Holding Pen premiered at the Karamu House in Cleveland, one of the oldest black theaters in America; the play was also revived in Dallas in the early 1990s. Having a play performed at Karamu House “was quite an honor,” Hayes told CBB, “especially as I used to go there when I lived in Cleveland.”
He was also eager to write novels, returning to the preferred genre of his youth. In 1989 Hayes wrote his first full-length manuscript, Blood Red Blues, about a Harlem detective called Devil Barnett. Through Van Peebles, Hayes had met Chester B. Himes, author of Cotton Comes to Harlem and A Rage in Harlem. Himes, a former felon, had discovered the novels of Dashiell Hammett while he was in prison and was inspired to write his own detective series set in Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. “I started reading his books, and I loved them,” Hayes told CBB. “No one had captured Harlem like him, very urban, very hip.” Creating Devil Barnett, an ex-CIA assassin, Hayes decided that he wanted to update Himes’ vibrant, atmospheric Harlem setting and create “a detective with a hard edge, more like Philip Marlowe.” Despite forerunners like Himes and Walter Mosley, who had achieved some success when he published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990, Hayes could not find a publisher for his novel. “People told me that detective books were generally sold to male readers,” he told CBB, “and [they said that] black men don’t read!”
Inspired by the example of Melvin Van Peebles, who lived in France for many years, and by writers like Richard Wright and Chester Himes, who both spent time in Europe, Hayes decided to try living and working overseas. “I’d been doing the same things in America for a long time, and I knew I could sell my skills in another part of the world,” Hayes told CBB. After his original plans to move to Germany fell through, he traveled to London in 1996 and found work making videos.
His gospel-based play, Break Away Angel, premiered at London’s Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1997, with Hayes directing the all-English cast—although he “was still learning the culture” of his adopted home, as he told CBB. Eager to find a publisher for his novel, Hayes scoured the black literature sections of book stores and wrote away to publishers. When Dotun Adabayo of black publishing house X Press Books told Hayes he wanted to publish Blood Red Blues, “it was vindication for me,” said Hayes in his CBB interview. “Not only was the book published, but people were responding well to it.” Invited to take part in the London Festival of Literature, Hayes was happy to find himself appearing with Walter Mosley. “It was a very special moment to have my detective Devil Barnett sharing the stage with his detective Easy Rawlins,” Hayes told David Rosenthal in an interview on the World of Devil Barnett website.
Hayes followed Blood Red Blues with Dead by Popular Demand in 2000, in which Devil Barnett becomes embroiled with rap stars the Dancehall Dogz, who are in urgent need of protection from the criminal underworld. An April 2003 review in the Guardian newspaper for the third Devil Barnett novel, As Wrong as Two Left Shoes, described Hayes’ work as “a jazz jam on Viagra. … It reads like a black Spillane, violent, breathless and never less than gripping.” Wrong as Two Left Shoes centers around the disappearance of a song-writer but also sees Devil Barnett under pressure from the CIA to uncover the plots of a post-September 11, 2001, terrorist network. “People say that my work has a lot of social commentary,” Hayes told CBB. “I just tell the stories I think are interesting. I guess a lot of them are social, because it fits in with the character: he rejected being an instrument of the government, and chooses to follow another path. So it’s inherently political.”
Music, Hayes’ first love, was an essential element in Devil Barnett’s character and in the novels’ plots, so he composed an unreleased CD of music for Blood Red Blues. “I wanted to get at a kind of visceral experience that I think music expresses,” Hayes is quoted as saying on the World of Devil Barnett website. “So I wrote some songs around the characters and situations in the novels.” During the publicity tour for Dead by Popular Demand, Hayes performed some of his original jazz-influenced compositions to complement the reading. His impressed publisher agreed to package a free CD of Hayes’ songs with the first thousand copies of Wrong as Two Left Shoes, all the songs written from the point of view of one of the characters.
Hayes balanced a number of different projects, acting as executive producer for a rap/R&B act and teaching creative writing classes through the London borough of Harrow. He recently completed a suspense thriller, Case No. 603, which he plans to release on DVD. Work continues on the Devil Barnett series. Hayes has written a screenplay for Blood Red Blues and has begun work on the fourth book in the series, Graveyard Samba, which sees the detective traveling to Brazil. Hayes has also overseen the development of a Devil Barnett comic strip, which appears on the World of Devil Barnett website. In 2002 Hayes created I Remember Marvin, a Marvin Gaye tribute stage show that toured Britain that year and Germany in the summer of 2003, with Hayes performing, as well as producing, in some of the early shows. In 2003 he completed work on an original musical show, The Baskerville Beast, based on The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.
Blood Red Blues, X Press, 1998.
Dead By Popular Demand, X Press, 2000.
As Wrong as Two Left Shoes, X Press, 2003.
(Associate producer) Waltz of the Stork Boogie, 1980s.
Hondo Gothic, 1987.
The Holding Pen, 1987.
Break Away Angel, 1997.
(Producer, writer, and performer) I Remember Marvin, 2002.
(Producer, writer, and performer) The Baskerville Beast, 2003.
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book, 1987.
Case No. 603, 2003.
Guardian (Manchester, UK), June 24, 2001
Voice (London, UK), April 26, 2003.
“About the Author,” World of Devil Barnett, www.devilbarnett.com/interview.htm (April 26, 2003).
“Creative Carryings-on in Richmond,” Eden Magazine, www.eden-magazine.co.uk/articles/article35.shtml (May 8, 2003).
“Hayes, Teddy,” Amazon UK, http://amazon.co.uk (June 3, 2003).
“How to write your novel or screenplay and get it published or produced,” UK Director]; of Writers’ Circles 2001, www.writers-circles.com/teddyhayes.html (June 3, 2003).
“Vroom Vroom Vroom,” Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com (June 3, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography conducted on June 3, 2003.
—Paula J.K. Morris
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