Monday, November 5, 2007

Sports Stars of Hoover

I wrote in a recent post about my fond memories of covering high school football in the Birmingham area, especially following the W.A. Berry High School Bucs of the late coach Bob Finley. Berry was the forerunner of Hoover High School, which has been heavily in the news recently due to alleged wrongdoing centered around football coach Rush Propst.

I wrote that Coach Finley's Berry teams usually were very good, although they produced only a handful of players who went on to play major-college football. At the time, I had a feeling I was forgetting some big-time athletes who had grown up in Hoover and played at either Berry or Hoover High.

And indeed, several others have come to mind. The first one I realized I had forgotten was Kurt Crain. Crain was a standout in both football and baseball at Berry (and I think he might have played basketball, too.) He went on to star as a linebacker at Auburn University and was drafted by the old Houston Oilers of the National Football League. I'm a little foggy about Crain's pro career, but I think he spent 2-3 years in the league.

I covered Auburn during Crain's time there, and I remember him as one of the smartest, toughest players on the field. Off the field, he was a nice guy and a great interview. All the sportswriters loved Crain. Just ask him one or two questions and sit back and let him fill up your notebook. And he didn't just babble. It was always thoughtful, insightful stuff.

Probably the former Hoover standout who has gone on to the most athletic success is Jeff Brantley. I don't remember much about Brantley as a football player. I think he was a quarterback, and I seem to recall that he shared the position with another kid--with Brantley being the thrower, and the other guy the runner. And Brantley definitely could throw. He went on to play baseball at SEC powerhouse Mississippi State and then went on to the pros, where he played 14 years and became one of the top relief pitchers in the major leagues. He now is a baseball analyst for ESPN.

Brantley, however, is not the most famous former athlete from Hoover. That title probably would have to go to Birmingham's own American Idol, Taylor Hicks. A 1995 graduate of Hoover High School, Hicks was a pretty fair basketball player during his prep days. But he has become much better known for his musical chops, gray hair, and "Soul Patrol" following.

Taylor Hicks has become quite a popular fellow in the Legal Schnauzer household. My wife is one of many "girlyfans" who flocked to the Gray Charles blog to catch up on the latest. (For some reason, Gray Charles is no more. Don't know what happened to it.) The wife and I were fortunate enough to catch one of Taylor's two soldout shows at the Alabama Theater on his first nationwide tour.

Excuse me for sounding like a wannabe writer for Rolling Stone, but I think the Taylor Hicks debut album is underappreciated by the public. It sold quite well, reaching platinum status (1 million units), I think. But neither of the two singles he released have caught fire. And that's too bad because I think the album is full of good stuff, including four songs that Hicks wrote or co-wrote. It bugs my wife that Chris Daughtry's debut record has produced 2-3 hit singles because she thinks (and I agree) that Taylor's album, overall, is stronger. And the fact we are from Birmingham makes us very objective observers, I'm sure.

The great thing about having a blog is that you can spout off about anything, even stuff you know very little about. So here's what I think Taylor's handlers need to do: Release another single and make it "Soul Thing." It's a somewhat autobiographical tune, the most "Taylor" song on the album. And it's been nicely funked up from the original version on his independent album. Follow that up with "The Right Place," another great "Taylor" song, one that originally was written for his musical hero, Ray Charles. And follow that with "Give Me Tonight," a catchy, infectious number that I thought was a sure hit the first time I heard it. The two singles released so far are good tunes, but they weren't the right ones to help the album catch fire.

Enough of being a rock impresario. But it was fun while it lasted.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of Taylor's album and sales--though very good--not a run away hit. I would give anything to see The Right Place released as a single.

Anonymous said...

Considering his singles have gotten very little air play, his cd has done great! I agree that "Soul Thing" or "The Right Place" may have been better choices, but chances are, they wouldn't have been played either.

Why radio stations refused (yes, many just refused) to play Taylor is perplexing. They say he doesn't "fit" their format. So, on my local adult contemporary or soft rock stations, Taylor Hicks doesn't fit, but Chris Daughtry does! daughtry's singles have been being played twice an hour for months on my station. His single "Home" was played on Season 6 of American Idol as the "exit" song on elimination night. That exposure was massive. Taylor, who was the winner of the show, was barely mentioned all season, and when he appeared on the Finale, he wasn't even introduced properly. Many people who voted for him weren't even aware he had a cd out.

It's all water under the bridge now, but the lack of support from "The Powers That Be" was very unfair. Taylor's a wonderful performer. No one left a show without a huge smile on their face. He makes people happy. Period. He's given generously of his time to many charities this past year, and his fans have rallied behind him in those endeavors - contributing as well - in Taylor's honor. His tour is over, and he's writing another cd. Hopefully, this one will get the promotion he deserves as the winner of Idol. We can only hope that what goes round, comes round, and that he gets his "due."

A side note - Taylor was asked to sing the National Anthem at the 5th game of the World Series. Of course, the Red Sox swept it in four, so there was no Game 5. It would have been awesome exposure for TH - but again, it wasn't to be. He has wonderful fans who will continue to support him now as he works on his second album, and when he begins touring again. He is the "real deal" and he is gaining recognition from many true musicians, behind the scenes. We have faith that eventually, he'll get the kudos he so richly deserves.
Thank you for your kind words about Taylor and tell your wife, she's a smart cookie. (Gray Charles stopped blogging because of personal reasons. Many of the members of that site moved to "The Boogie Board" or one of the other Taylor fan sites. Tell her to check out a couple. They're linked on Taylor Hicks Headquarters site.)

Anonymous said...

Here's that Boogie Board link, in case your wife is interested.

Taylor Hicks fan site - "The Boogie Board"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the kind words about Taylor. He is one of a kind and makes alot of people happy with his music. Hopefully, his next album will get more airplay and at least have a chance. BTW your wife has very good taste in men and music!

Anonymous said...

This one is hard for me to point out, as I am an Alabama fan, but Stan White was a Berry Alum and played football for Auburn and there is a successfull SEC football Referee too...

Anonymous said...

"...And the fact we are from Birmingham makes us very objective observers, I'm sure."

Heh! I agree with you 100% and I'm from Finland. So I'm being quite objective observer too I guess.

I love "Soul Thing" too and would have loved to see that as a single.

Anonymous said...

Saw Taylor at Silver Star Casino last Friday, Nov 2nd, 2007, He was
AWESOME as ever and sang almost every song from the CD. It was just great. He has whomped up Gonna Move to a really fast pace with a little added funk and it was super! He closed with The Right Place which is my personal fav - got to meet him after the show and he was so nice and spent several minutes with the 8-10 of us letting us take pictures and just talk.

He deserves so much more! I sure hope he keeps doin' what he's doin'. I did take a quick look around from my (lucky me) front row seat and there were soooooo many smiles in the near sold out convention center. He does make people happy!

Can't wait for Whomp at the Warfield, the new CD and next year's tour!

We love you Soulman!

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks so much to all of you Soul Patrollers for your comments. This is fun. The blog is usually about fairly serious stuff--wrongdoing by lawyers, judges etc. But it's great to have some fun on here. I'm going to post some more stuff about Taylor soon. I'm a big fan of his music, and his ties to Hoover High School athletics, which has been a big story in Alabama recently, are interesting.

Anonymous said...

Legalschnauzer, You're our new
Soul Patrol best friend! Thanks for
giving Taylor some recognition that
he totally deserves. I've seen him
in concert and he's an amazing musician and performer. He also has
inspired so many to contribute to
charities and others in need through his example! Stop by New
England Soul Patrol and say "hi"
someday-we'd love a visit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your positive review of Taylor Hicks.It seems all we fans ever see is negative comments.He is such a great talent and under-appreciated by the music mogels. He has taken so much flack from Idol and the powers that be. I can not understand it myself.He won Idol and they continue to act like 'Taylor who?' He was disrespected on the show and ever since by them.I hope he has great success and a long career.Can not wait for his next cd,dvd or anything else he chooses to grace us with.The radio stations in my area,western Oklahoma, do not play his music either.Thank you again for your kind words.Taylor we love you and long live your music,The Soul Patrol is behind you all the way !! Sandy,a proud member since day 1 of your audition in Vegas..

Anonymous said...

Agreeing with all the fine comments about an extra-fine entertainer - Taylor Hicks. His music is not played here on Minneapolis radio either - a real shame.

Anonymous said...

You aren't mistaken about the lack of college players from Finley's teams. He didn't help them. I know of one player whose films were requested by Alabama and Finley REFUSED to send them. That player later became an All American offensive lineman and a standout D1 player.

Kurt Crain was signed first to Memphis State and then walked on at Auburn. Kurt and Clay Bittner went to Memphis State because a former MSU player was watching us and called the coaches about Kurt, Clay and Mark Barry.

Scott Dill, from the '83 team, went to Memphis State and the following year Rob Selby went to, I think, Auburn (I think).

Kurt, Scott and Rob went to the NFL for the Seahawks, Bucs and Eagles. I am pretty sure that no players from the 82 and 83 teams went to smaller schools like UNA, Jax State or Troy. For some reason I think Cam Wilson went somewhere, Marion maybe? I am not sure about the '84 team.

Meanwhile, Enterprise, who tied us late in the championship game, put 12 guys in D-1 over the next three years.


Gerald Gann said it best when he said that Bob Finley went 8-2 with 10-0 talent for years.

Anonymous said...

Speak directly.