Armed with a voice unique even among his fellow American Idol winners, Taylor Hicks is poised to release next year the long-waited sequel to his 2009 sophomore effort, The Distance. He’s back on the road, playing songs blending soul, rock, country, and blues from his forthcoming album and Idol days. Ahead of his Oct. 11 performance at My Father’s Place at the Roslyn Hotel, the Press spoke with Hicks about his influences, favorite venues to play, and what else he’s been up to since Idol.
What was your first significant musical memory? I think catching a clip of Otis Redding in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1967. And then I went and found the clip, and then I started studying from there. That’s when I think I got the disease.
How conflicted were you when deciding to drop out of Auburn University to pursue music full time in Nashville? It was just kind of in the back of my mind for a long time. Being an entertainer is not easy. Catching a break is not easy. But I felt like there were some tools that I could work with. And luckily I’ve been in show business for over a decade now.
Was there a catalyst, or rather something that made you say, “Let’s go to Nashville and give this a try?” I think it was just learning instruments, starting out on harmonica, learning guitar, then starting writing. I think those were all pathways to knowing that you have a calling. All of them were self taught, so I think those were pretty good indicators.
You’re set to release your first studio album since 2009’s The Distance. How has your sound changed during this hiatus? I don’t think that the sound has changed much, I think the songs’ strengths are something that’s different. I think that these collections of songs, whether they were written or not, are the strongest I’ve ever put out.
Was there a specific moment after your run on American Idol when the reality of being a winner truly set in? Believe it or not, I think one of those moments was realizing I was able to do a golf Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. I walked up onto the tee box and my foursome was Alice Cooper, Clint Eastwood, and Scott Hamilton, and there were four or five thousand people waiting for me to tee off. I think that was one of those moments where it was a little bit surreal. They were all standing there waiting on me, because I was late for my tee time..
What’s your favorite venue to perform at? The Crystal Ball Room in Portland, Oregon. It’s a historic ballroom, been there since the ’20s. It’s a really historic musical dance venue that will allow a fan to be able to jump two feet off of the floor, because it still has springs in the floor from the old spring ballroom dancing days. That’s the coolest venue I believe I’ve played in.
What is your memory of Long Island from either prior visits or while on tour? It’s long. And traffic’s hell. I’m just kidding. The coolest memory, I opened for Earth, Wind, and Fire at Jones Beach. I just feel like that’s a really cool venue. Love that area. There’s a lot of blue collar mentality, and I feel like I’m a blue collar artist.
You spent a year at Bally’s Las Vegas as their house musician. What was your favorite aspect of your residency? To be able to be in Vegas and have a show is one of those things that you always dreamed of. As an entertainer, to have one in my mid-30s, it was something that you’re just really fortunate to be able to have the opportunity. But then to be able to be a part of the history of the landscape of Vegas was something else.
How did you decide to pivot to television and food with your INSP series State Plate? I co-own a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama called Saw’s BBQ. And I’ve been in the restaurant business for about nine years. I felt like television is kind of where I was born. And I felt like being around and having hosted a few things along the way, just small, good things, this was an opportunity to really learn how to host television. Luckily, with four seasons, and 50 states, and 50 plates, we were able to pull that off.
You recently teamed up with charity NS2 Serves. What made you come together and would you like to say anything about them? Wonderful organization. And really making a difference in the lives of veterans. To be able to put a veteran to work is a wonderful thing to do, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to say that you’ve done. And the organization just really makes sense, and it’s effective. That’s a very important word when you’re dealing with organizations in that capacity. Effectiveness.
It was said in a prior interview that had an “in” on American Idol that would tip you off to results before they were formally announced. How did that connection come to be? I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about *wink, wink.*
Taylor Hicks plays My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel at 8 p.m. Oct. 11. The venue is located at 1221 Old Northern Blvd. in Roslyn. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit myfathersplace.com