Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Stars Shine Bright in Alabama

A well-kept secret, at least for me, was about to be let out. A natural resource of the State of Alabama was about to be revealed as its entertainment industry. What I didn’t expect was the extent of that resource, the talent, the star quality, or how deeply rooted it was in all music genres. Or how diverse it was!

Friday night, February 22, the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery, AL, was the site of the 12th Induction Banquet and Awards Show for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Some of Alabama’s best were winners of various music awards, and the entertainment was a combination of past and present winners, some of the best in the industry, not just Alabama!

The 2008 Award Winners:

Induction Awards – Lifetime Achievement
Ernie Ashworth
Boyd Bennett (posthumously for “Seventeen”)
Cleveland Eaton
Donnie Fritts
Tommy Shaw

Contemporary Awards
Songwriter Award – Chris Tompkins
Music Industry Award – John Briggs
Studio Musician Award – Larry Byrom
America’s Music Award – Angela Hacker, Taylor Hicks
Media Award – Rick Shane (posthumously)

Now the names alone may not mean much, but as I recount the evening you will soon learn that you know the work of these talented Alabama musicians. Like with many Taylor Hicks’ opportunities, the Traveling Circus was there. And the Soul Patrol was well represented in the gallery and at the pre-show dinner. Moi, I opted for the dinner!

Originally, I had planned to sit in the gallery, having bought my gallery seat the moment they were released on Ticketmaster. But over the week-end, I learned that a few single dinner seats were available, and with a quick phone call on Monday shortly after 9:00 am, I had secured a seat at a celebrity table. In the end, there was no celebrity at my table, but the view was wonderful – fourth row, almost center. Taylor’s dinner table turned out to be two rows and three tables away!

As we finished our lettuce wedges and waited for our steak entrees, I noticed a commotion at two tables directly in front of mine – Taylor Hicks was greeting the Alabama Governor, Bob Riley. All I could do was fumble with my camera! Taylor moved around the table, squatting down to chat with a woman sitting in a wheel chair. When the greeting finished, he was quickly whisked away by a guy in a brown suit to another table where he was seated with a table of very happy young women! The guy in the brown suit I later would learn was none other than Bill Will, Taylor’s personal assistant and body guard.

Funny, Bill cleans up quite well! So well, that without his signature cap, I didn’t even recognize him! Now that’s a switch – Taylor Hicks has to wear a cap to escape recognition while Bill just needs to remove his! Rumor has it that Taylor and Bill actually dined in the hotel restaurant so that Taylor didn’t really eat at the dinner. I can tell you he wasn’t at the table long enough to eat a salad and steak! While I was finishing the last bites of my dinner, I watched as Taylor was being taken back stage to either perform or receive his award.

I need to backtrack a bit. The dinner, which was supposed to start at 7:00, actually began around 7:30 after requesting that guests please take their seats. With the show to begin at 8:00, finishing dinner in a timely manner was going to be tight. Needless to say, the show started before we finished our dinner! And take note of the pictures of the table linked below. Those miniature white pianos are really white chocolate filled with assorted fruits and cream! (And delicious!)

Randy Owen, formerly with the country music group, Alabama, was the emcee for the event. He announced the opening group to perform would be the Thrasher Brothers, a gospel group of four singers, three of which were brothers. They sang, “You’re Still the One”, “One Day at a Time” (written by Kris Kristofferson) and “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

The next performer was Angela Hacker, winner of the “2007 Nashville Star” competition on USA Networks. She sang “Total Loss”. After her performance, Randy Owen returned to the podium to announce the Contemporary Awards first. The first award, the America’s Music Award, was to be presented by the Commodores.

The Commodores then came out and gave the first of two America’s Music Awards to Angela Hacker. After she accepted her award, the Commodores announced the second award was going to “our own American Idol, Taylor Hicks!” Taylor Hicks came from behind the curtain amid cheers and applause to accept his award and gave his acceptance speech.

Taylor Hicks: “Well, I’ve been driving up and down Highway 65 for about 15 years and it’s an honor to be here in Alabama and it’s an honor to be from the state of Alabama, to be in front of all of these great musicians I’ve learned so much. Thank you very much. Soul Patrol!”

As Taylor finished, he moved away so that Ms. Hacker could make her acceptance speech at the podium. As both were walking away, the young lady with the statues had to hand Taylor his because he was about to walk way empty handed! He took it, raised it in the air and said “Thank you” again!

It was now time for Taylor Hicks to perform “Soul Thing” with the house orchestra. WOW! Even that single word doesn’t fully describe Taylor’s performance of the song! This version was different from even the one on his latest CD, “Taylor Hicks” Much classier! When you think you’ve heard or seen Taylor at his best, think again – this time he out-did anything I’d ever heard before!

Randy Owen even sang a couple of songs for us. “Mountain Music”, made famous by the country music group, Alabama, was first, got the audience up and clapping and dancing. But the second song, the first single from his first solo CD, “One on One”, left few dry eyes around me. The song, “Braid My Hair”, is about a little girl struggling with cancer and wants nothing more than to be able to braid her hair again. Even now, the song’s words pull at my heart.

Awards continued to be given and more performers performed. It was those performances that stood out most for me. And then there’s that one special one I’ll tell you about later.

Percy Sledge soon took the stage and sang “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Now that song most always gets me. Tonight it was a reminder of failed promises and dreams. The song had been one that I used to dance to when I first started dating the man I would later marry and divorce. And it was quickly time to put the past where it belonged and enjoy the rest of the awards show.

The next performer was Clarence Carter. The name may not be familiar, but the music sure is! Blind since birth, Carter was assisted to the stage and given his favorite guitar. And then….such old favorites as “Patches” and “Strokin’” were performed! An interesting tidbit from the program, “banned from the radio airwaves but fueled by wide spread word-of-mouth, the sexually explicit single, “Strokin’”, became an underground sensation and sold more than six million copies in 1986”.

Talented native Alabama songwriters, Donnie Fritts, Walt Aldridge, Beth Neilsen Chatman, and Chris Tompkins, performed some of their work as a group in front of the closed gold curtain. Fritts, a 2008 Inductee, accompanied with his keyboard, sang “We Had It All” made famous by Ray Charles. Chatman strumming her guitar, sang “This Kiss”, the first number one hit for Faith Hill. Aldridge, also on guitar, did “(There’s) No Getting Over Me”, recorded by Ronnie Milsap. Tompkins, the 2008 Songwriter Award winner, along with his keyboard, sang “Bama Breeze”, a song about an Alabama bar, and recorded by Jimmy Buffett. And that was just round one!

Round two included Fritts’ “Memphis Women and Chicken”, a rocking little tune! Chatman sang “Sand to Water”, a song she wrote shortly after the death of her husband. Aldridge sang “I Loved Her First” made famous by Heartland. But the coup de gras was Tompkins’ performance of “Before He Cheats” the number one, Grammy winning hit for Carrie Underwood.

Now the story he told about the song and his involvement with Carrie was funny. She wanted a few more things in the song that would promote damaging the guy. He sang his additional thoughts, something about “words that even Ajax couldn’t remove”, crediting his mother for that, and “stopping short of doing anything that would copy Lorena Bobbitt”. The audience loved it. But it’s what happened BEFORE the story that’s really the REST of the story!

Just before Tompkins sang, someone started parting the gold curtains and poked out a head and quietly crept over to Fritts’ keyboard, sharing a seat with Fritts. With microphone in one hand, his famous harmonica in the other, Taylor Hicks joined the group in singing the song. Even Taylor got to sing a few of the lyrics solo, and man, what a rendition he gave! But the real joy of the song was watching, through the camera lens, Taylor’s expressions as he sat on the stage, watching, playing the harp, and joining in the song. Look closely at the pictures – you will see an excited young man who knows he’s finally part of one of Alabama’s great natural resources as he sits among those now his peers. And that folks, was the crowning moment of the show for me, watching Taylor Hicks savor his special moment, feeling the pride for his accomplishments and finally recognized by his home state. That was the coup de gras, as they say, the best, and a moment in time I’m glad I could share with Taylor, the Soul Patrol, Taylor’s family and friends, and the state of Alabama! American Idol may have brought Taylor Hicks to the national foreground, but tonight, Alabama was celebrating another of its native sons!

The show could have ended there, and I would have been fine, but it didn’t. There was still more to come. Eddie Floyd performed “Call Me” and “Knock on Wood” made famous by Wilson Pickett. Then Cleveland Eaton, a great jazz bassist performed an instrumental featuring his bass, “I’m Just a Lucky So and So”.

Kris Kristofferson, there to present Donnie Fritts’ his award, also came to perform a couple of songs, “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down”, recorded by Johnny Cash, and “Me and Bobby McGee”, recorded by Roger Miller. Kristofferson, also known for his acting, along with Fritts, appeared in such movies as “Billy the Kid” and “Convoy”.

Sonny James, a presenter, gave the 2008 Induction award to Ernie Ashworth. Wearing a light blue suit dotted with big red lips, Ashworth accepted his award and then performed his only number one hit, “Talk Back Trebling Lips”. And as he sang the words, “shaky legs, don’t just stand there”, his legs would quiver just like he might have when he was younger performing this song! His final song was “Each Moment Spent With You”.

The last induction award of the evening was given to Tommy Shaw, a member of the musical group, Styx. He performed “Crystal”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, and “Blue Collar Man”. Those crystal blue eyes of his are real killers, let me tell you!

The final performance of the evening was the Commodores. They sang their hit songs, “Brick House” and “Night Shift”. Now the Soul Patrol that attended many of Taylor Hicks’ concerts will remember him tagging that song many a night in his performances! And to think, the Commodores had the opportunity to present Taylor Hicks with his award tonight! As the Commodores finished their songs, they bid the audience a good night, and with that, the evening was ended, all the awards had been awarded, the celebrities had left the building, and the guests made their way to hotel rooms or transportation.

Yes, the stars shone bright in Alabama on Friday night. And the Traveling Circus was there, with telescoping lens, to share in the moment – a moment of celebration, fun, and pride. Congratulations to all the winners, and particularly to Taylor Hicks. You have made this faithful fan and supporter extremely proud!

Pictures from AMHoF (note: Link takes you to the Hall of Fame album with sub-albums for each performance and several for Taylor Hicks!)

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Anonymous said...

You certainly have a way of making me feel like I was right there. Thanks so much for this. What an exciting night for Taylor and for his fans.

denv said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and the pictures. What a great night it was for him. You captured my feelings when seeing that beaming smile on his face when he was on stage. I'm very happy for him.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ragsqueen. What a night you had! Thanks so much for your usual, great recap to what must have been a night you will never forget! I'm so happy for Taylor also. He looked so happy. I look forward to meeting you again at future Taylor concerts! Soul Patrol.

Love, Debbie (Debbie in Florida)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. Been looking for your recap since I got up. LOL. Knew you wouldn't let us down.

Anonymous said...

From Wings
(( or leroy's sharon @TTHQ))

Thank you so much for all that you take to share with all of the 'Soul Patrol.

Always great writing and great pictures.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. Been looking for your recap since I got up. LOL. Knew you wouldn't let us down.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...


Oops! That should be THHQ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ragsqueen, for taking us along to this very special evening for Taylor and for Alabama. I felt the same thing as you when I saw the video...sitting in with his fellow musicians on the encore was the highlight for Taylor...he has joined an elite group from Alabama. Congratulations, Taylor!

Anonymous said...

You were so right when you said that the crowning moment was watching Taylor absorb the electric atmosphere created by all that wonderful talent .......and realizing that he is now part of that talent pool. Yes there are more roads to travel but Taylor can now go the distance knowing that he truly belongs.

Thanks for taking us along and sharing your experience.


tishlp said...

This is a wonderful recap of the evening. I also agree that the shining moment was Taylor being on stage with the other greats from Alabama. Thank you so much for sharing all your experiences following Taylor's career.

DreamHrt said...

It is always a pleasure to read your re caps. Your a very creative writer. You have a way of bringing us back in time and allowing us to re-live the moments with you. I cannot thank-you enough for shareing your memories with us.
It sounds to me as if in your own way, you felt like "Queen of the ball". To be surrounded by not on Taylor. Yet, other unbeliveable talents as well.
Again Thank-you for allowing us to be a part of all this.

juliegr said...

You have a delightful way of describing your encounters, travels, and thoughts. Thanks for all the skinny on the event -- performances, expressions, and even the little things like the dessert.

My hubby said it looked to good to eat!! :)

Thanks again -- good job.

Dana said...

I have really enjoyed reading your telling of this...I'll have to come back more often to your blog to find out what's going on! Thank you :D

tygrlillie said...

So...I'm jealous. I would have loved to be there - like you, I love those moments where Taylor gets the chance to soak it up like a sponge, enjoying his opportunities he's worked so hard for. I'm glad you were there, though, so I know that somebody who loves him that way could experiance that with him and eloquently, as always, express themselves in such a way that my heart took a trip to Alabama with you. Thanks for carrying me in your pocket, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Hey girl-thanks for letting all the SPers who don't live in Alabama about our best kept secret--what a night that was. I've always said my home state was special for a lot of reasons-(Taylor being one of them) and I am thankful that you saw this and was able to share it and let others know about it.

I had to leave early so I missed the jam session-but from the pics and your description I just know Taylor had the time of his life-and he truly felt at home-both in Alabama and as a songwriter/"working musician". Thanks for this.

KarinP said...

Mandy, as usual, you brought me to your table. How fortunate you and others were to share this very special evening with Taylor and his fellow musicians from Alabama.

Thanks for your detailed description - right down to the white chocolate dessert.

Anonymous said...

Loved the re-cap. And then burst out laughing when you referred to BillWill as Taylor's bodyguard! Too funny.

Awesome pics....thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

WOW, oh WOW, oh WOW. What a great time you had. I can tell you had great fun this weekend. Love the pictures.

B :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing you amazing evening and pics. I enjoyed your blog very much.


Lubiana said...

I really enjoyed reading this! Your blog is always interesting and entertaining.

Bloom said...

Mandy as always it is great to travel with you, usually via the internet.
Thanks to you we've been so many places virtually and made to feel that we have actually attended the event with you.
Thank you for a wonderful recap, what a wonderful evening for Taylor and for everyone in attendance!

Anonymous said...

Mandy, always look forward to your recaps and you didn't let me or the SP down. What a night, and you were there. These events will go down in history, at least Taylor's history, nd the SP have a been a part of it, thanks to you.


shelovesmodernwhomp said...

Thanks so much for this, RagsQueen! You did a wonderful job sharing this with us and we appreciate it. Taylor deserves this recognition and it sounds like it was a wonderful night for him. I wish I could have been there.

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic blog Mandy! You have a way of writing that makes me feel that I am right there also. How lucky for you that you got to share such an awesome night with Taylor. I am so happy for him...he was just beaming.

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