On Soul Patrol with Taylor Hicks (Relix Revisited)
This past week Taylor Hicks, who won season 5 of American Idol, appeared on Jam Cruise, guesting with numerous acts, including: Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Jojo’s Mardi Gras Band, the Maceo Parker Super Jam. Back in November 2006, current Relix editor Josh Baron interviewed him for the magazine. At the time his remarks in the magazine regarding Idol were so controversial, that Diane Sawyer felt obliged to follow up on Good Morning America.
Despite the moans of “What is Relix doing covering the winner from American Idol ?”—a show many probably find to be the antithesis of what this publication is about—it should be known that Taylor Hicks is one of our own. Whether it was picking up the harmonica at 15, seeing Widespread Panic and Phish in the mid ‘90s, promoting his own Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Derek Trucks show or opening for Robert Randolph, Hicks has steeped himself in the live music tradition. In fact, he credits much of it for his win. We caught up with People Magazine’s Bachelor of the Year as he was preparing to go onstage this past August as the American Idol tour rolled through Colorado
You’ve been in our “scene” 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.I’ve 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. I’m a music fan. As many shows as I wish I could have attended in my time, I couldn’t because I was trying to get my own music heard. These little windows of opportunity to go see Panic, MOFRO… I even played an acoustic set on the first Jam Cruise. Isn’t that funny?
To answer your first question, I need great songs. I like to write songs: I’ve written two previous albums on my own. I would like to think there are some great songs in that. Right now, I’m in the process of collaborating with some people and I just wrote a song with John Mayer that could possibly go on the album, I’m not sure. Having Ray Charles as my root—the foundation for me musically—he taught me a lot about the song and I learned from him that you have to feel a song; whether it’s yours or not, as long you can connect with the lyrics and the song emotionally, you’ll be able to connect with an audience that way. That’s how I operate. I would love to write music every day but due to a 69-out-of 80-day schedule, it’s 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 can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I am the old dog.
Hey now—I’m almost 29! Let’s not call ourselves old dogs yet!
I’m considered an older artist in the pop music genre. I don’t really care, though. All I really care about is making a really good, cool, hip record with great songs. They can’t package me, man. I’ve been on the road for ten years and know the direction I want to go in and I know my vision. It’s taken me this far to get where I’m going. I’m an artist that’s created this concept but used the American Idol machine as a marketing tool.
You’ve said that, “Having a number-one single is only the beginning.” 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, “Do I Make You Proud,” I tried to make that single my own but in reality it’s the show’s single. It’s not mine. I’ve 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 soulful—but nobody’s ever done that. They were just handed music to sing for the A.I. machine… I was handed this song and I was just like, “No way, you’re not going to make me sing this song. I’m out of here.” 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 I’ve 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 they’ve had a lot do with it. What’s so cool about it is that it’s real music, it’s not fabricated. It’s real art. If I wasn’t a musician, these are the people I’d be traveling to go see. I would probably not have a day job [laughs]. I’ve 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 “Ol’ Miss” and we did some Phish and Ben Harper covers. A lot of my friends are in that scene and that’s the scene I like to be in because that’s the real music scene. You got to know real music to be in the scene, you know? That’s the scene I was in. I love real, live music, too. I’ve always studied live music. I like live music almost more than I like recorded music. I’ve 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 I’m so glad that I have the mentality because that’s 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 it—staying out there performing live music, night in and night out. I’m 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 ‘99. I just remember them playing “Heavy Things” and me falling out of my chair. What’s funny is that I promoted a Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Derek Trucks Band show at the Alabama Theater in ‘98. That was one of those shows that I’ll 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 ‘96 and that’s when I started to learn about them. I had never heard their music until I started playing. I was playing “Pigeons” and never heard “Pigeons” before. That’s how I kind of learned the Panic—by 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.
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