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A winning equation: Mark McClurg + Wade Hayes = new duo McHayes

"It's different," says Wade Hayes, picking at the last remnants of his breakfast at the Music City deli Noshville. "But once you get used to it, it's fabulous."

Wade is talking about the advantages of sharing the spotlight as half of the duo McHayes after being a solo star for nearly a decade.

"It's cool to have somebody up there kicking on the fiddle and mandolin," he continues. "What we're really all about is picking, and it's cool to have somebody up there who can do it as well as he does."

Seated to his right, Wade's longtime friend and new partner Mark McClurg smiles. "Well, vice versa," he offers.

"Yeah, well ... " shrugs Wade. They burst out laughing.

It's no wonder these guys are in such a great mood. Their first hit, "It Doesn't Mean I Don't Love You," is climbing the charts, and their debut CD, Lessons in Lonely, has just been released. The risks they've both taken to team up -- Wade gave up his solo career, while Mark left a prized job as Alan Jackson's fiddle player -- have paid off.

"I'd be lying if I said my fingers weren't crossed a little bit," adds Mark, "hoping it would sound as great as I thought it would."

The two native Oklahomans met nine years ago, when Wade -- riding high with big hits like "Old Enough to Know Better" and "On a Good Night" -- was opening shows for Alan. They soon discovered a shared musical outlook, as well as a unique personal chemistry.

"I'm the moodiest son of a gun you'll ever meet in your life," admits Wade, "and Mark is really even all the time. He's really good about being understanding of me and helping me."

"Wade's got a little more wisdom in some areas than I do," says Mark. "I'm the guy that jumps off a cliff and asks how far it is to the bottom later! But I've learned to back up and look at it, and think about it a little bit."

Now they're a family -- Wade and Mark are like brothers, both are married, and Mark has five kids. Perhaps most important, Wade's extended family -- that is, his fans -- has already taken his new cohort to heart.

"They love Mark," enthuses Wade. "Some people are skeptical at first, until they meet Mark and see him play -- then they dig it. Anyway, Mark's got more friends than I'll ever have. Everybody likes him."

Mark looks at his pal and grins devilishly. "That," he says, "is because they don't know me!"