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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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Only One Missing Was Taylor Hicks

I needed a week-end get-away to recharge my batteries, see old friends, have some thinking time, a change of scenery. You know what I mean – I just needed a break. I’ve been missing all the traveling like did this time last year. So off I went, headed down US 78 towards Birmingham, Alabama.

Several weeks ago I heard Little Memphis Blues Orchestra, affectionately known at LiMBO, was going to be playing at The Workplay Theatre. So when tickets went on sale, I bought one, just in case I decided to get away or needed something to do that week-end.

I got up Saturday morning, still thinking I’d make the four hour drive, but at the same time thinking I must be a bit daft in the head to do so. The band wouldn’t take the stage until 8:00 pm or so, so I had plenty of time to make up my mind. By the time it was 1:30, I had packed my suitcase and was ready to get a quick shower. By 3:00, I was sitting in my car, programming Madge (my GSP buddy) with the hotel address. Within 30 minutes I was pulling out of the driveway and on my way.

As I said, I needed some thinking time. For the first hour or so, I kept thinking about what I was doing, where I was going, and why was I driving four hours or so just to listen to some live music. Why wasn’t I headed down to Memphis’ own Beale Street to listen instead? Certainly was closer, not to mention cheaper because I wouldn’t have to have a hotel for the night. After two hours of this insane crazy thinking, I began to watch the scenery, the brown rolling hills of Alabama. And the single doe off the side of the road, back to the traffic, eating the brush. It was time to head to Alabama for an evening of music!

Knowing I had a four hour drive and knowing how much I hate to drive at night didn’t get me on the road any sooner. And I’d been told that US 78 was open all the way to Birmingham, so the detour through Jasper wouldn’t be necessary. It was quite dark by the time I passed those Jasper exits and the new section of highway was very smooth. And dark!

I passed the exit with a small sign at the bottom that said “Birmingham”. Now you would think that if this was the right exit, the words would take up the sign and not be in small print on a second sign underneath the exit. I kept going. And the highway ended – all traffic must exit – out in the middle of who-knows-where! No lights, no warning, just an exit ramp. I turned left and found myself in the twilight zone in the boondocks so I turned around and went back. Only there was no sign as to where to get back on US 78 so I kept going. Finally civilization and signs that I-65 was just ahead. Whee!

Within fifteen minutes or less I was parked across the street from my hotel. The only problem was, it was almost 8:00 and I wanted to already be a Workplay. You see, this is a standing-room-only kind of place with a few tables surrounding the otherwise dance floor. Since I’m not much of a stander or dancer, I wanted to make sure I found a table with a good view.

Rather than check-in, I drove over to Workplay. I presented my ticket and had my license checked to verify I’m over 21. You’d think with the white hair that would be a given! And just before the doors were to open! Plenty of tables to choose from at this time (and it was not going to be a problem all evening either).

I picked a spot near the steps and sat down. Within a few minutes, several other guests stopped by and we chatted. What! This was the beginning of a Soul Patrol reunion! Ladies were coming from all around the eastern, central and southern states to listen to LiMBO! I’d say about half of those attending the show were Soul Patrol! It was great to see so many familiar faces! We had a chance to catch up, see what everyone was up to, have a few drinks (for me, a couple of well-caffeinated diet cokes), and just relax.

There was a familiar face walking around inside. One I remembered from Taylor Hicks’ summer tour – Clay Connor. I thought maybe he was there to help LiMBO. What a surprise I was in for! Clay Connor, with his band, The Criminals, was the opening band. I knew Clay had been in the music business for a number of years, having played some with Taylor Hicks and other local musicians. But I’d never heard him sing – except on his MySpace page. I was about to be WOW’ed!

Not being familiar with Clay’s music, I can’t tell you what he sang. I can tell you he had another guitar player and a drummer. And I can tell you I enjoyed it! I think it all came from his latest independent album called “Maryland Avenue”. It’s not yet ready for full public release – the copy I bought was a self-made version on a Memorex CD. I didn’t care – I wanted to share his music with the blog-world! So….

Clay Connor was good, very good! He calls his sound Southern rock, but to me it was different – sort of country without being country. Like Taylor, it’s hard to pigeon-hole into the usual genres. I sat back and just enjoyed the music. When he announced he had a couple of CDs for sale at the end of his set, I jumped up to go buy one! Now Clay, if you perchance are reading this, buying a CD from a local musician is really a high compliment, coming from me. I just don’t buy CDs that often, so when I do, it’s because the music has really touched me and I want it to keep! And with that in mind, I only buy the CDs of artists that I really like, which numbers so few that they can be named on the fingers of one hand!


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I asked Clay if I could post a cut from the CD and he recommended track 4, “Empty Pockets“. Enjoy! Due to unforeseen circumstances, I couldn't get the player to load, so after you finish reading, check out Clay's MySpace page where you can hear a couple of cuts from his CD, "Maryland Avenue".

After Clay finished, it was time for LiMBO. Brian Less, Zippy Dieterich, Sam Gunderson, Jeff Lopez, Mitch Jones and special percussionist, Jay Smith took their places as their fans rushed to the dance floor to shake, sway and shimmy to the music!

Workplay can hold up to 300 patrons in the main stage area, and there were probably about half that many there. And most of them were up dancing! The ages varied from barely legal age upwards to retirement age or older! We were clapping, applauding, shouting out our pleasure, and just sitting back, enjoying the music. Who cared what they played so long as they played!

A few songs known to be played by LiMBO such as “Hey, Pocky Way” and “What’s Going On”, plus some of their own original music from their own independent CD. Like Zippy’s “Sweetwater” and Sam’s “Southland” and Brian’s “Found”. I was so glad I’d made the trip – it was well worth the time, gas and mileage!

After a few songs, Brian announced a special guest, one I’d already spotted in the audience. Erin Mitchell joined the guys to sing a couple of her own soulful songs. Now that young lady can really belt out the blues – and you can really see her “feeling” the music!

Like midnight in a fairy tale, it was over too quickly. I didn’t get a chance to speak to the guys – they all took off in different directions as if shot from a scatter gun! Zippy was outside by the bar so I spoke to him on my way out. With a few more good-byes and promises to meet again soon, I left Workplay to go to my hotel – I still had to check in.

Many times I travel with my laptop, but not this trip. I read a chapter or two in my book and then turned out the lights. Time to rest, because I had to drive home in the morning. Time to reflect on spending a couple of hours listening to great music from two top-notch local bands. Time to think about what I wanted to write and the story to tell.

What did I come away with? What did I want to convey with this entry? Simply this: Being at Workplay, watching Clay Connor and LiMBO was like taking a trip back in time. Back before American Idol and Taylor Hicks’ win. Back to a time when young musicians were trying to make a name for themselves, sharing their music, wanting to have their voices heard. I was able to finally “see” what the pre-Idol scene was like for the Birmingham music scene. As I said, the only one missing was Taylor Hicks. Not because he’s better, best, or an Idol winner. But because he was part of that scene – it was his audition, along with Bo Bice, the Season Four runner-up, that put the Birmingham music scene on my map, my radar, and that brought me to Birmingham for the evening.

Good show, guys! I’ll be back again to see you!

Pictures & Short Videos

Clay Connor on MySpace

Little Memphis Blues on MySpace

Erin Mitchell on MySpace

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Because I Want My Voice Heard

I had been working a number of late nights that month, typical for a January anyway. Year-end tax provisions, various calculations, long hours. Typical January in my line of work. In addition to working, I had been doing a Bible study on Tuesday for the past couple of years, and either skipped because of working late, gotten home early from class, or perhaps we just didn’t meet that night. Anyway, this particular night I was home earlier than usual.

After a quick bite for dinner, I sat down in my favorite recliner in the den to watch a little TV. I’d watched the prior season’s last four or five episodes as Carrie Underwood beat out Bo Bice (I was rooting for Bice). My daughter had told be for the past several seasons how funny the auditions were, so what the heck, I was home, and it was time for American Idol.


There he was. A shaggy gray haired young man whose face let you know he was too young to be someone’s father. That loose light blue short sleeve shirt said “I’m a laid back kind of guy”. I listened to his introduction, talking about the gray hair, that he was just being himself. “Ah, my name is Taylor Hicks, and I’m from Birmingham, Alabama.”

I watched as he hoped the doors that could be gates to heaven or hell. As he stood in front of the judges, the fateful exchange with the infamous Simon Cowell, the American Idol judge with the British accent, began.

Simon Cowell: “Why are you here?”

Taylor Hicks: “Because I want my voice heard”.

Simon Cowell: “Why?”

Taylor Hicks: “Because I feel like I have one.”

And then Taylor Hicks sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. Little did we know the prophetic meaning of that song choice. Randy Jackson liked him, and so did Paul Abdul. Simon, being Simon, wasn’t at all impressed. But with the two votes needed votes, Taylor garnered a golden ticket and was on his way to Hollywood!

I’ve always felt that Simon’s resistance to Taylor was not the gray hair or his voice, or the fact that he thought Taylor was a guy who should be “singing in the background”. But rather, I think, Simon saw the potential that was there in Taylor. I think Simon knew that with Taylor’s experience, he wasn’t going to be easy to mold into the typical cookie-cutter image of the current genre of teeny bopper singers. And I think that must have scared Simon!

We heard that voice. We wanted to make sure we heard more of that voice. And we know the rest of the story. In less than four months, Taylor Hicks would become the oldest American Idol, joining the ranks of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Carrie Underwood.

For those of us who fell in love with Taylor Hicks’ voice and charm, our worlds would never be the same! And that would turn out to be a good thing, for many of us! Me, I’m glad I was home early that night. A change had come, and like Taylor Hicks, we were all about to embark on a musical journey to places we’d never been before.

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Some of My Favorite Pictures