I was reminiscing and perusing the archives over at Gray Charles and began re-reading the wonderful multi-part interview with Taylor Hicks in the Summer of ’06, shortly after he won American Idol. In Part 2 of the interview, Taylor says:
I’ve been doing this all my life. People have been wondering about me for a long time. Hell man, people have been watching me for a long time, studying me and observing me, even when I was 15 or 16 years old. You get good at being observed. I hired a sideman when I was 17 years old. A guitar player named Billy Earl McClelland who was Delbert Clinton’s odl guitar player. We worked together when I was at Auburn, he told him that I was a natural entertainer and I shouldn’t worry about putting on a show. I should just be the person I was and that was entertainment enough. I had never thought about it that way until he told me that. I was able to loosen up and just by me.
After I got over Gray’s
atrocious very few and intellectually insignificant spelling errors and word-o’s (due to rushing to get all the scoop to everyone), not to mention the fact that it’s Delbert MCClinton, this made me ponder. On one hand, there’s this image of Taylor Hicks that’s the guy who hit the lottery and is a greenhorn at all of this. However, when you go back to this interview, you’ll find that there’s a definite “experience” to the young man. Over the past six months or so, I began to think that maybe Taylor was a novice, in over his head, not ready for prime time. I then decided to delve into this side man, Billy Earl McClelland a little further.
Billy Earl McClelland is not a young man. Hell, he was in his mid-40’s when he worked with Taylor way back in those early Auburn days. He’s now 57 and extremely proud of his protege’. Perhaps Taylor’s new found success motivated Billy Earl to give music one more shot.
Now, Billy Earl McClelland is not light weight. He’s enjoyed a very impressive career as a songwriter and session musician in Nashville for greats like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hank Williams, Jr., Sawyer Brown and of course, Delbert McClinton. He was also a member of the staff band at The Sound Pit in Atlanta where they provided back-up for Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney & Wings, and the Divine Ms. M, Bette Midler.
He ended up in Delbert’s band and for a while was Tanya Tucker’s bandleader and lead guitarist. He toured with Bo Diddley, Albert Collins, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and The Allman Brothers. He even did some time as a regular in The Dixie Flyers who were mainstays at the FloraBama for years.
From the mojo:saint website:
McClelland has stayed involved writing songs and recording in his personal studio. He has been jamming with his friend Steven Seagal in Memphis and acting like a proud papa for his close friend Taylor Hicks’ American Idol success.
Point is, this guy has been a major player in Country and Blues for a very long time. So, what possessed him in 1993 to become the side man for a young punk not even of legal age. There must have been something that he saw that was “special” in the young man. While he didn’t stay with Taylor for the entire 10-year journey, it’s evident that he did teach and advise Taylor and I’m sure that he shared his music business experiences. All of this said, my brief research into Billy Earl McClelland affirms to me that Taylor isn’t just off the turnip truck and likely does have a method to his madness. As I first suspected, if left to his own devices, he’ll be just fine.
And, as for Billy Earl — just where did he go after that time spent with young Taylor Hicks?
Well, McClelland does seem to relish in the mentor role as he ended up producing the first two CDs for Big Bill Morganfield, the son of Muddy Waters. He has also produced a couple of CD compilations of Alabama Blues Artists.
However, recently, Billy Earl is back performing and you’ll never guess with who. Try Jack Hall. Yes, that Jack Hall….the bass player from Wet Willie. When I found this I about flipped. Jack Hall is a superb musician and it’s so great to see him back playing music again. These two have teamed up with drummer, David Brazeal, to form Mojo:Saint, a down and dirty blues/rock band.
Here are some live performances from YouTube:
They Don’t Make the Blues Like They Used To
Hot Guitar Licks
Just to tie it all in, here’s Jack Hall and his brother, Jimmy, at a Wet Willie get together:
It’s such a treat to see these guys together, playing music. From the calendar on their website, it looks like they’re touring the tri-state area of Georgia, Alabama and Florida and they are scheduled for a Mobile show at The Blues Tavern in mid-December. While I may not be able to dance yet, I can certainly show up and enjoy this delightful treat.
As for the Taylor kun-NECK-shuns, I can’t help but think that there are some deep, deep roots in blues and southern rock that will begin to manifest in Taylor’s music. I’d love to see him hook up with the old schoolers like Billy Earl and Jack Hall and get back to basics. I’d love to see him recording at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. How about a live cut from the FloraBama? However, the lights of fame in L.A. and New York burn brighter than the candles of the turf he knows like the back of his hand, me thinks. Yet, this weekend, he’s back in Alabama to perform with the Auburn Marching Band at the half-time of the Auburn/Mississippi St. game (11:30am, CDT). So, who knows? Maybe the Yabba Dabba Soul Patrol Mojo Carpet Bomb Coast-to-Coast Dive Tour has a shot, albeit a very slim one.
If you’re out and about Phenix City this Saturday Night, you might want to drop in at The Broad St. Blues Club and catch mojo:saint. Billy Earl and Jack will, no doubt, be burning it up. For the record, the club is 34 miles from Auburn….you just never know who might be looking for an old friend.
By the way, I have it on good authority that Taylor’s been listening to bagpipes this week.