Hay was born in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland, but moved to Australia at the age of fourteen with his family. In 1978, Hay met Ron Strykert and the men began playing acoustic music as a duo. Hay and Strykert formed the band Men at Work, adding Jerry Speiser (drums), John Rees (bassist) and Greg Ham (flautist/saxophonist). The group released their debut album Business as Usual in 1981. Following the breakup of Men at Work in 1985, Hay released several major label solo albums, including Looking for Jack (Columbia) and Wayfaring Sons (MCA), to some commercial success.