Five years have passed since Taylor Hicks joined the elite group of American Idol winners. During those productive years Hicks released three albums, wrote an autobiography, starred on Broadway, and toured internationally. Considering Hicks’ pre-Idol background as a tireless working musician, there’s nothing surprising about his highly disciplined work ethic. Playing music is simply what Taylor Hicks does.
There are skeptics who bristle at the mere mention of anything American Idol-related. Some are proud music snobs who believe the insanely popular television competition churns out nothing but cookie-cutter pop automatons. The truth is far more interesting, though, as the past decade has seen the emergence of a varied group of talented performers. No one stands out more than Taylor Hicks, who continues to be at the center of endless debates among Idol fans.
Which brings me back to the earlier point: Taylor Hicks plays music. Whether alone with an acoustic guitar and harmonica or fronting a full band, Hicks is a consummate musical artist. Skeptics should turn their attention towards Whomp at the Warfield, the concert DVD that captured Hicks live in San Francisco. It’s the next best thing to seeing him in person, as it conveys the many sides of his musical personality. In the midst of ongoing touring and preparation for a new album, Hicks took some time to talk to me about about his recent activities.
I understand you’ve been dealing with bad allergies. Doesn’t sound like fun.
Well, when you sit in a doctor’s office receiving allergy shots you become quite introspective. With this introspection I believe there was a reason I developed a musical ear. When I was child growing up, my allergies were so severe I sometimes produced mucous from my tear ducts. I couldn’t see. There was a time of year growing up where my vision was not up to par. So I probably had to lean on other senses. I can probably attribute my musical ear, in part, to allergies. It seems logical.
Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess.
It’s all good. That’s what happens when you sit in an allergist’s office for three days, receiving shots. You start trying to figure out why this crap happens.
How does it affect your singing and performing ability?
You know, severe allergies affect the whole body. It really runs the body down because you’re trying to fight that allergic reaction. I’m trying to take care of myself. I’ve got some gigs coming up, doing some writing and recording.
I saw some footage of you jamming with Soulive from earlier this month. Looked like you had a blast.
I was honored to sit in with those musicians. Some of the best in the world. There’s no question what a big fan I am of their musicianship. I’m really blessed to have the best of both worlds, because I’m such a big fan plus I get to jam with them. I’m very honored to have that privilege. What they lay down is some of the best new soulful music around. It’s very serious playing. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s got feeling. They connect with the audience.
I’ve also really dug the clips I’ve seen from this year’s Jam Cruise. You were sitting in with everyone from Robert Randolph to Anders Osborne to Maceo Parker, among many others. What was the vibe like with that particular audience?
Having grown up being a part of live music, I know about that scene – the people who really support live, improvisational music. Not just one particular style or genre. I mean funk, soul, jazz, country, and blues. In that scene there’s all kinds of musical styles. As a music fan, this is where I like to hang. People are very respectful. They’re connoisseurs of the art of performing live. I consider myself one of those people. I come from live music. There’s nothing more to say than that.
You were blowing up a storm on your harmonica, just killing it. People don’t know the power of your performances if they haven’t seen you live.
You know it’s interesting, I’ve sat in with some of these musicians along the way. Some of these folks knew me before American Idol. The one thing those musicians always say is, “We wish that you were able to play your instruments on American Idol.” And to be honest, I wish I could have too. But I think in that arena, you really have to be accomplished. There’s not enough time.
On the new season, Casey Abrams has a lot of people’s attention – the type of musician I feel you helped pave the way to be taken seriously on Idol. I’d like to hear him play that double bass more, but they don’t allow much time to showcase musicianship.
There’s not much you can do. Seems like now on American Idol, you barely have enough time to sing a verse and a chorus. How are you going to be able to show off any soloing skills? It’s really time constricted, but you have to make the best of that time.
Well, you’ve got live shows coming up all over the place – no better way for people to experience the full scope of what you do. I’ve seen you several times and you give 100% at every concert.
What I try to do is impress people with my musicianship at my live shows every single night. That’s what I’m trying to get across.
Taylor Hicks’ official website has up-to-date information about his upcoming performances. Regardless of whether you were a fan during his run on American Idol, a Taylor Hicks show is an exciting, intense experience. Anyone who appreciates gritty, bluesy, soulful music played by great musicians would do well to check it out.