We've been following the football/academic controversy at Hoover High School, and as part of our coverage, I posted recently about some of the better athletes that have come through Hoover, either at Hoover High or its predecessor, Berry High School.
I noted that 2006 American Idol Taylor Hicks, a pretty fair basketball player in his days at Hoover High, almost certainly was the most famous ex athlete from Hoover. That prompted an outpouring of readers, and commenters, from Hicks' dedicated fan base, the "Soul Patrol."
It was a delight to have them join our Legal Schnauzer audience. We spend most of our time here dealing with judicial corruption, politically motivated prosecution, ethically challenged attorneys, and other less-than-cheery subjects.
So it was a treat to be joined by the "Soul Patrol" and their unbridled enthusiasm for a Birmingham boy made good. Actually, I already knew all about the "Soul Patrollers;" I'm married to one. My wife and one of her girlfriends can go on and on about "cute" and "sweet" Taylor is. Sometimes, I think they even talk about his music.
As for me, I hope I can do my small part to help spread the word that Hicks is an artist worthy of appreciation by a broad base of music lovers--not just his "girlyfans." (Don't get me wrong. I like the "girlyfans." I'm married to one.)
And Hicks' story really goes beyond music. Here are a few things I find interesting about "Gray Charles":
* I like his back story, the fact that he had to slug it out in bars and clubs for about 10 years before becoming known; the fact that he doesn't have the standard "rock star" look; the fact he is not from a standard rock star-producing place. It's a tale of persistence, and having the goods to back it up, when the time came.
* In numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and in his book Heart Full of Soul, Hicks has talked about repeatedly facing rejection from the mainline music business. I can identify with that. I've had numerous mainstream journalists, and quite a few lawyers, tell me my story of being victimized by corrupt judges was not worthwhile. So I decided to tell it myself, on this blog. And in recent weeks, our reporting here has been cited by the highly respected and influential Scott Horton at Harper's.org. And it has been cited in documents filed as part of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's investigation on selective prosecution by the Bush Justice Department. I would be the first to say that my story lacks the warm and fuzzies of the Taylor Hicks story. But having followed Hicks' rise from obscurity to American Idol, I like to think his toughness in the face of rejection rubbed off on me just a little.
* I like the fact that Hicks crosses racial boundaries. I like the fact his key musical influences are folks like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke. He sends the message that a white guy from Birmingham's suburbs can truly appreciate the talents that people of color can bring.
* I like Hicks' politics, I think. Actually, I'm not absolutely sure what his politics are. On a visit to the White House, he was gracious to George W. Bush--as he should have been. But I seem to recall reading somewhere that Hicks admires Bill Clinton. That, plus his affinity for black music, makes me think Hicks is a Democrat. Good for him.
* I like the fact that Hicks appreciates those who came before him. Three of my musical heroes are John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Don Henley (Eagles), and Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac). Fogerty often has spoken of his love for great blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. Henley grew up in east Texas, listening to country greats like George Jones and Merle Haggard and reading Henry David Thoreau. Buckingham clearly has been influenced heavily by the Kingston Trio and Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I think it's impossible to be really good at something if you don't appreciate those who have come before you. I think Hicks understands that.
* Finally, I just like Hicks' music. Looking back, my wife and I have major regrets that we never went to a Birmingham club to see Hicks perform in the days when he was unknown. I do recall seeing his name regularly when I would check the club schedules in The Birmingham News or in our two alternative weeklies, Birmingham Weekly and Black & White. So his name was familiar when I started seeing stories about him making the cut week after week on American Idol. We started tuning in to Idol and came to appreciate Hicks' ability to take a song by Rod Stewart or Elton John and make it his own. And after Hicks had won, we heard his two independent CDs--In Your Time and Under the Radar. Those told us that he was more than just a singer--he could play music; he could surround himself with strong musicians; and perhaps most importantly, he could write. Songs like "Son of a Carpenter," "Heart and Soul," "West Texas Sky," and "The Fall" show an artist who is serious about the writing craft.
* My wife is forcing me to write one more story about our connections to Taylor Hicks. We went to City Stages 2006, Birmingham's major annual music festival, and one of the primary attractions was our new, homegrown American Idol. We didn't see Hicks stand in with Snoop Dog one night. But we were there for his Sunday afternoon appearance with The Little Memphis Blues Orchestra. The schedule, however, presented a problem for yours truly. On at the same time were The Grass Roots, one of those blast-from-the-past acts that were a big part of my adolescence. (Herman's Hermits and the current incarnation of The Beach Boys also were on that night.) I'd wanted to see The Grass Roots for more than 30 years and never been able to catch them. So when Hicks and LIMBO were a bit late coming on, I decided to head for The Grass Roots stage while my wife stayed for the LIMBO show. I know this story sounds like I'm a fuddy dud who lives in the past. And I have only one defense to that charge: I knew I'd have plenty of opportunities to see Hicks in the near future, and I wasn't sure I'd ever have a chance to see The Grass Roots again. (Heck, lead singer Rob Grill has had hip surgery and can barely walk.) Indeed, the wife and I were fortunate to get tickets for the second of Hicks two shows at the Alabama Theater on his first nationwide tour. It was a terrific show, with the Homewood High School drum corps joining Hicks onstage for "The Runaround," followed by a solo version of "My Home's in Alabama."
Anyway, I'm going to write periodically about Hicks here at Legal Schnauzer. There are plenty of negatives about Alabama, and I write about some of them here--our corrupt state courts, our sorry and unethical politicians, our racist constitution. But there are lots of good things about Alabama, and Hicks is one of them. In fact, I have another post coming soon about his sports days at Hoover High. Hope the Soul Patrollers will stop by again to visit.