But our appreciation for Hicks goes beyond the fact that he's from these parts. We like his rootsy music, his "up-by-the-bootstraps" back story, and his appreciation for those who came before him. Perhaps more than any other contestant on Idol, Hicks seemed to understand that modern music is built on the greats of yesteryear. When he sang "Levon" by Elton John or "Living for the City" by Stevie Wonder, you got the impression he wasn't just covering a song. You got the feeling he really "knew" those songs, that he had listened to them perhaps hundreds of times.
Hicks has not sold as many albums, or had as many hit singles, as some Idol products. But I think time will show that Hicks is not only an engaging performer but also a songwriter of signficant talent.
With that in mind, I believe Taylor Hicks would approve of starting off 2008 with a tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of this, or any other, era. And I'm talking about an artist I suspect Taylor Hicks greatly admires.
After all, this artist grew up in California, but his music has its roots in the blues, gospel, and soul of the Deep South. He was inspired to create his "swamp rock" sound from listening to blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. In fact, one could make a strong argument that this artist is the most distinctive vocalist of the rock-and-roll era. And he developed his vocal style from listening to Howlin' Wolf.
What caused me to think of this artist? Well, it's hard not to think of this artist almost every day. He's been writing and recording great music for more than 40 years, and hardly a day goes by that you don't hear his classics on the radio.
But I have special reasons for thinking about this artist right now. The main theme of this blog is justice, and as we head into 2008, I think those of us who care about justice in America need a theme song.
I have just the ticket. It's a song called "Gunslinger," from the new CD Revival by John Fogerty, an American treasure.
Fogerty first came to attention as the driving force behind the '60s super group Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band broke up in the early 1970s, but Fogerty has gone on to produce a number of acclaimed solo albums.
Revival is one of his best. It has been nominated for a Grammy and has made many of the "Best of 2007" lists.
"Gunslinger" is the second song on the CD, and you can read the lyrics here. It's a terrific tune, and Fogerty has said in interviews that he sees it as an anthem about the need to restore justice in our country.
The song easily could be misinterpreted, much as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was misused by the Reagan crowd in the 1980s.
Fogerty is not saying that guns literally are the answer to issues of justice. He is saying that those who care about justice will need the toughness of a gunslinger in order to wrest control from those who have perverted our justice system. You can check out a video of the song here.
By the way, Fogerty is an outspoken liberal, which irritates many of his fans on the right side of things. Revival includes "Long Dark Night" and "I Can't Take it No More," two blistering condemnations of the Bush administration. These are in the spirit of the CCR classics "Fortunate Son" and "Who'll Stop the Rain," two of the great protest songs ever written.
Fogerty recently did a medley of the two new songs on the Letterman show.
While we're at it, let's include a video of "Don't You Wish It Was True," the first single from Revival. It's a song of hope, and that's something we all could use in 2008.
For good measure, I want to include a song from Fogerty's superb Blue Moon Swamp CD, which was released about 10 years ago. The song is called "Rambunctious Boy." It's not well known, but for my wife and me, it is one of our all-time favorites. And it would make a good theme song for 2008, too. It's a bit on the country side, but I bet Taylor Hicks would have a lot of fun with it. Here is a video with Fogerty and Keith Urban singing "Rambunctious Boy" live. Enjoy.