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On Soul Patrol with Taylor Hicks
We caught up with People Magazineís Bachelor of the Year as he was preparing to go onstage this past August as the American Idol tour rolled through Colorado
Youíve been in our ďsceneĒ for some time now, having performed on the first Jam Cruise and opened for the likes of Tom Petty, Drive-By Truckers and Robert Randolph.
Iíve been on the road for ten years. I was in a Widespread Panic cover band in college. I had some stuff I even tried to submit to Relix. Iím a music fan. As many shows as I wish I could have attended in my time, I couldnít because I was trying to get my own music heard. These little windows of opportunity to go see Panic, MOFROÖ I even played an acoustic set on the first Jam Cruise. Isnít that funny?
To answer your first question, I need great songs. I like to write songs: Iíve written two previous albums on my own. I would like to think there are some great songs in that. Right now, Iím in the process of collaborating with some people and I just wrote a song with John Mayer that could possibly go on the album, Iím not sure. Having Ray Charles as my rootóthe foundation for me musicallyóhe taught me a lot about the song and I learned from him that you have to feel a song; whether itís yours or not, as long you can connect with the lyrics and the song emotionally, youíll be able to connect with an audience that way. Thatís how I operate. I would love to write music every day but due to a 69-out-of 80-day schedule, itís absolutely impossible.
Given your experience prior to American Idol, is there any frustration in dealing with this album-making process, where executives or whomever are trying to dictate what they want you to do? Is there some head-butting?
You canít teach an old dog new tricks. I am the old dog.
Hey nowóIím almost 29! Letís not call ourselves old dogs yet!
Iím considered an older artist in the pop music genre. I donít really care, though. All I really care about is making a really good, cool, hip record with great songs. They canít package me, man. Iíve been on the road for ten years and know the direction I want to go in and I know my vision. Itís taken me this far to get where Iím going. Iím an artist thatís created this concept but used the American Idol machine as a marketing tool.
Youíve said that, ďHaving a number-one single is only the beginning.Ē How so? And secondly, what steps are you taking to insure your longevity as an artist in a climate where someone catapulted into pop culture like yourself can come and go so quickly?
That single, ďDo I Make You Proud,Ē I tried to make that single my own but in reality itís the showís single. Itís not mine. Iíve brought a live feel to that song, but that song was given to me on the show. One song was given to me on the show and I walked out of the studio. The song that was given to me first, I got up from a chair and walked right out of the studio. The second was a little bit soulfulóbut nobodyís ever done that. They were just handed music to sing for the A.I. machineÖ I was handed this song and I was just like, ďNo way, youíre not going to make me sing this song. Iím out of here.Ē Just to kind of let you in on me knowing what direction I want as an artist.
The beginning for me on a national level was American Idol but obviously Iíve been trying to play as much live music as I could since I was about 15 or 16.
Jumping back to your formative years, how do you think your love of bands like Widespread Panic has contributed to your success?
I think theyíve had a lot do with it. Whatís so cool about it is that itís real music, itís not fabricated. Itís real art. If I wasnít a musician, these are the people Iíd be traveling to go see. I would probably not have a day job [laughs]. Iíve just been lucky in getting some gigs to play music here and there and have kind of just stuck with that.
I was in a Panic cover band called Passing Through in Auburn and we played ďOlí MissĒ and we did some Phish and Ben Harper covers. A lot of my friends are in that scene and thatís the scene I like to be in because thatís the real music scene. You got to know real music to be in the scene, you know? Thatís the scene I was in. I love real, live music, too. Iíve always studied live music. I like live music almost more than I like recorded music. Iíve relied on my live performance because I had no money to record in a studio. So the only thing I had, basically, was live gigs. And Iím so glad that I have the mentality because thatís where you make your money as an artist. Those people like Phish, Panic and the Dead, that scene taught me a lot about performing live music, and a lot of itóstaying out there performing live music, night in and night out. Iím ever-indebted to that mentality of playing a lot of really great, live music. I want to go see it and I want to go play it.
What were some of your favorite Panic or Phish covers to do? And were there any particular shows that stood out for you?
I saw Phish at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Ď99. I just remember them playing ďHeavy ThingsĒ and me falling out of my chair. Whatís funny is that I promoted a Karl Densonís Tiny Universe and Derek Trucks Band show at the Alabama Theater in Ď98. That was one of those shows that Iíll never forget. I did see Panic at Halloween in New Orleans, right before that. I went down there to flyer the lot and I ended up going to the show and ended up seeing Karl Denson afterwards at the House of Blues and then Denson traveling to Birmingham and doing the show two nights later. Another show I saw was Robert Randolph and the Family Band at Zydeco in Birmingham, right when they [Robert Randolph, North Mississippi Allstarts, John Medeski] came out with The Word.
I remember seeing Panic in Montgomery in Ď96 and thatís when I started to learn about them. I had never heard their music until I started playing. I was playing ďPigeonsĒ and never heard ďPigeonsĒ before. Thatís how I kind of learned the Panicóby actually playing it and really liking what they were doing. My music has leant its ear, so to speak, to a Widespread Panic musical configuration. My last album, Under the Radar, is very earthy. My roots are firmly planted in the good, live music earth.
Prior to last season and this most recent one, I never really watched American Idol. But in all honesty, you and Bo Bice turned my head a little bit with your musical selection.
You know what? I donít watch it either! [laughs] You can write that.
I think a lot of music fans were impressed by your decision to cover Ray LaMontagneís ďTrouble.Ē
ďTroubleĒ is a great fucking song. Not only that, thatís a great fucking album. Somebody said I should listen to Ray LaMontagne right before Trouble came out and I was a definite fan and I got to meet him at The Roxy in Atlanta. I was just a big huge fan of that album and Iím glad that that album got the respect it deserved. Anything I did on the show, I have the utmost respect for. And having some idea that if that song gets on national television in front of 40 million people, then the odds are that people are going to go out and buy that music... I really wanted to pick music that would open up the eyes of the masses.
Every song I wrote on that show, I wrote half of the endings to. They gave me the first minute of the songóthe second minute of the song I arranged and wrote all of the endings and melodies. I said, ďLook youíre going to give me the first minute of the song. You can clear ďTaking it to the StreetsĒ but I want to be able arrange the last 30 seconds. So all the endings that youíve seen me do on American Idol were arranged and written by me.
I doubt many people realize that.
Nobody knows. Nobody has any idea, but thatís cool, man. It gave me an opportunity to create more good music. Being a performer in Lowell, AL, opportunities are pretty slim.
Having been a performer for some time now, whatís the biggest difference between the television stage versus the traditional live one?
The visual aspect of that show [American Idol]is equally important as the musical aspect. I knew that. Letís face itóitís a television show. Youíve got 40 million watching you, you have to be the most visual performer that you can because itís television.
Iím curious about post-Idol performancesÖ that there are now certain expectations that you have to deal with versus prior to the show, where you could really just do what you want. And I would assume having a magnifying glass hovering above you at all times is probably not the most fun, either.
Getting to this level in this business, you kind of take it with a grain of salt: You know who your friends are, you know who your family is and you know who your fans are. The magnifying glass gets a little old at times but I want to get my music out there and this is what I have to do to do that. Thatís the ultimate goal for meóspread good music.
I guess part of my question had to do with audienceóthat you were performing to a core group of music fans and now itís a bit more of a pop-culture audience that wouldnít have come to see you prior.
American Idol, for me, is fizzling out. I want to take that opportunity and that exposureÖ You either come to see me, come buy my album or you donít. Iím not trying to meet expectations. Iím trying to expose my music to people who might like it, come see it and come buy it. Thatís me. If pop culture doesnít like itÖ If you can say youíre a working musician, then youíre doing something good. Iím just glad to be a working musician because thatís what Iíve always been.
Youíve talked a little about your upbringing: that it wasnít always easy and that you were forced to make some tough decisions early on. Do you believe that in order to sing the blues or soul, you need to experience it?
I agree, 100 percent. Youíve got to connect emotionally with your audience. I do agree that you would have to have lived a little in whatever part of your life it may be. I lived a little more than others in a really early part of my life. Those experiences and those things that happened, I believe that gets you deeper into who you are as a person.
What was your first gig?
I was about 15. I had this great, wonderful familyónot my ownóbut a family that cultivated and pushed my talents a little bit. I was learning to play harmonica on my own. I was repeating ďTake the Long Way HomeĒ from the Supertramp album [Breakfast in America]. I was starting to learn riffs and stuff. I remember this vividly. They were a pretty rambunctious bunch and they put this big-ass white hat on me and took me to this biker bar where this blues band was playing, Coreyís Sports Bar. It was off the beaten path. I just remember playing harp and trying to hang with this band that was performing in front of all these bikers. Iíve been in the bars, man.
Whatís the story with your lucky dime?
I carry it with me. And Iím not going to lie: Iíve lost it a couple of times, but theyíre replaceable.
Does any part of you sense a soul/traditional R&B revival going on as seen in artists like James Hunter, Joss Stone or Little Barrie? Granted, theyíre all British. Do you think, perhaps, youíre part of the American answer to that? And why now?
Soul performing is a lost art. Watch Sam and Dave sing ďSoul ManĒ and youíll want to watch it more. Itís a whole a different monster. You can hear ďSoul Man,Ē but whatís so funny is that the whole thingÖ I have this video tape of the Stax Soul Revue from 1969 in Denmark. It was a T.V. show and it was the first time the Stax Soul Revue had gone overseas and it had Booker T. & The MGs, Eddie Floyd, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, all of these people. I started studying that as a kid, the way they moved, the way they danced. It was during the James Brown era. Thereís so much footage that you couldnít capture because technology didnít lend itself for you to be able to just pick up and watch Sam Cooke. Some of the remarks I get on my dancing, Otis Redding could have gotten on his. They just didnít have T.V. back then. This whole idea, this whole movement toward soul revival so to speak, I think itís a lost art and I hope that Iíve helped spark that interest. Thatís a genre of music thatís powerful in everyday music whether it beÖ It was just such an integral part of music that I think got lost somewhere along the way.
You were named People Magazineís Bachelor of the Year. It seems pretty cool but is there a downside or am I trying too hard here?
I was very flattered to be called that. Itís an honor, I guess you could say, but I wouldnít really know because Iím in the bottom of an arena in the officialís dressing room at the Pepsi Arena [in Colorado]. Iím in the darkest bowels of an arena right now, so I havenít had much of a chance to find out.
And, finally, if you could see one person get hit in the nuts with a football, who would it be?
Probably one of those promoters that used to stiff me. The door guys at the club that knew they were screwing me on money but were ten times bigger than me. Or, after Rosanne Barr sang the ďNational AnthemĒ real bad. I donít know if she has nuts, you might want to check. Read More On Relix.Com
About the Author: Relix Magazine was launched in 1974 under the name Dead Relix. In its earliest incarnation, this hand-stapled, homegrown newsletter was an outlet for Grateful Dead tape tradersóavid concertgoers who taped and traded Grateful Dead concerts. The first issues were small (less than 20 pages), had hand-drawn black-and-white covers, and focused on taping tips and Grateful Dead news. It also provided a forum for tape traders and music fanatics to communicate with each other.