Photo Credit: Will Thompson
As Taylor Hicks travels around the country with the touring production of Grease, he gets asked pretty much the same questions on every morning show. We fans could probably fill in for him sometime if he ever feels like sleeping late:
“No, I never in a million years thought I’d be starring on Broadway.”
“Yes, they gave me a lot of freedom in making the role of Teen Angel my own.”
When the CD “The Distance” is discussed, it’s usually a quick sentence or two, sometimes as an intro before Taylor sings a song.
That’s fine. It has to be done. But I wanted to know more about some of the songs on the CD. None of those morning people were asking the questions I had in my head, so I decided I just had to do it myself.
By phone from Charlotte, N.C.:
Caryl: I wanted to ask you some questions about “The Distance.”
Taylor Hicks: OK
C: You worked with some impressive musicians. I was wondering what that was like. Were you intimidated by them?
TH: I think it was more of an honor to work with them than it was intimidating. I think once you start working with somebody musically… I think it’s ultimately for the good of the music, you know? When you get into a situation like that where you have some great musicians you can learn a lot from them, too.
C: Did they make suggestions?
TH: They did, they made suggestions, they did have input. A lot of those players, depending on how seasoned they are can ultimately affect the overall sound of the record.
C: One of my favorite songs is ‘Woman's Got To Have It.” I turn that one up loud when it comes on. Did you and Elliot record your parts separately?
TH: We were in the studio the same night, coz it’s kind of a fun song and I knew that Elliot could sing it really well. And Bobby Womack is one of my favorite solo artists of all time. We just had one of those things, where we just got into the studio and had a good time with the song.
C: You can tell. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. Do you guys have any plans to perform the song together live?
TH: Yeah, we plan on that; once our schedules come together I definitely want to do that.
C: That would be fun. I read that you used the original arrangement for ‘Yes We Can,’ is that true? The Pointer Sisters arrangement-
TH: Actually that song was written by Allen Toussaint, who’s a New Orleans guy. It’s kind of an interesting story behind that. A friend of mine who’s a great writer in Nashville, Gary Nicholson, had an old copy of a version that he did with so many of those famous musicians on it back in the 80’s. Well, we pulled it out of the vault and I was able to throw my vocals on top of it.
TH: It was really cool, kind of a throw back, but it added my vocals. It was one of those songs that he never released so we brought it out and put my vocals on top of it.
C: Oh, that’s so cool. That’s another one that I have to turn up loud.
TH: That’s good to hear.
C: “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness” doesn’t sound like your style of song, but I love it and a lot of your fans do, too. What attracted you to it?
TH: I think Foy Vance is a writer and a musician that has a great talent that the world should hear. And I think IAOK is one of those songs that grabs at your heartstrings. And once that happens you know that it’s a great song. The producer I was working with, Simon Climie, cut a version of ‘Hallelujah’ by Michael McDonald and he did it in 5/8 timing. The time signature for ‘Hallelujah’ is the same as ‘IAOK’. Very slow...you’re able to really convey emotion.
C: I think you executed it well, keeping your voice quiet in parts. I think your voice may be more powerful sometimes when it’s quiet. So, I read that the next CD will be country. Is that true?
TH: It’s a possibility, yes. I think anything’s possible. I just want to make sure that I have great songs on the record.
C: Will it be released next summer?
TH: I think once the Grease tour ends, I’ll hustle back into the studio and create another album for the fans as quickly as possible.
C: You said something about doing the next CD half indie, half major label. I don’t understand how that works.
TH: It depends on the deal. Obviously I’ve been able to sell records on my own. With that being said, that allows you leverage for the next deal. The main thing for the next record is to have success artistically and also to a certain degree commercially.
C: Sure. I also had some questions about the shadow shows. I saw you at Warehouse Live in Houston and ever since you sang "Saint Dominic’s Preview", I’ve been listening to a lot of Van Morrison. The lyrics to that song in particular drive me crazy because I don’t understand what he’s talking about. I did a little research and came across an old Rolling Stone interview and even Van Morrison doesn’t know what they mean. What do you think about that? Do you think there should be some meaning…
TH: I think we all know that Van Morrison is kind of loony.
TH: But I think that can be said for all of the great songwriters of the world. I think you have to be loony to a certain degree to be able to write great songs. But sometimes the music is just so good that you just wanna... when you get going with the song, there just isn’t time to go back and refine it as much as you want to. And I think that might be the case with "St Dominic’s Preview." I do think that it has an underlying protest message, though.
C: Why do you like the song? Does it speak to you in some way?
TH: It’s just one of my favorite Van tunes. The production on it is...rich. The music is rich.
C: When do find time to rehearse for these shadow shows? You’re so busy.
TH: You just make time.
C: The songs are very polished, that’s why I was wondering. For the Houston show, I wondered if you just rehearsed the day of the show.
TH: Anything can happen with great musicians, you know?
C: You work with some great people, that’s for sure. Brian Less really impressed me at that show.
TH: He’s a good player.
C: Some of your fans were wondering what you think about making Birmingham an annual event because they had such a good time at those shows.
TH: I think I’ll always, I’ll probably play Birmingham each year for the rest of my life. But you have to be smart about how long you go before you play a market. That goes with the entertainment business in general. You don’t want to over-saturate it.
C: Yeah, that’s true. Just for fun, I was wondering if the cast of Grease has any superstitions, because theater actors are notoriously superstitious.
TH: You know...I’ll have to get back to you on that.
C: *laugh* You know what I mean... for instance, it’s considered bad luck to say "good luck,” so people say "break a leg," instead.
TH: I’ve never heard that. If someone says "break a leg" I don’t really want to physically do it. People say that to me all the time and I’m like, Hey!
C: *laugh* So Ace is joining the cast. I assume he’s been rehearsing already.
TH: Yeah, he’s been rehearsing.
C: How’s that been going, having him around?
TH: It’s cool. I enjoy it. I think it's good for the show. The cast in general is great. We just have a good time.
C: This is my last question. I was just wondering what you think about this. Do you think being creative is a gift or a curse?
TH: I think it’s both. It depends on how you use it. I’ll tell you what, it’s definitely mentally draining.
C: Well, being creative has given you a lot of interesting opportunities and experiences.
TH: Yeah. Creativity is uh...kinda like breaking a leg in theater sometimes.
C: *laugh* Thanks for talking with me.
TH: Oh, no problem.
C: Looking forward to the next show.
TH: Thank you, take care.
Well, you guys, I wanted to let you know that this is my last blog post. I'm not taking the blog down but I won't be doing any more updates. I need to focus that energy on more productive pursuits. Overall, it's been a positive experience for me and I've made some dear friends. Keep in touch. Be kind to one another.
From Hallelujah, oddly fitting for my departure:
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah