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Close Encounters of the Taylor Hicks Kind: Tampa 2007

by Caryl Zimmerman

February 22. 2/22. This date always makes me smile because it was February 22, 2007 when I first saw Taylor Hicks perform live. I was a brand new fan, feeling very much like an outsider in the fandom. But since fate brought me to Florida for a family party during the first leg of Taylor Hicks’ solo tour, I knew I had to see him, even if I had to go to the concert alone.

I was sharing a room in Tampa with my Mom but I had only one ticket to the show. By the time I had realized I could actually go, it was sold out. But my hero, Gray Charles, had a forum on his website where fans could make plans for the tour. It was there that I found one lone ticket for sale. And it was in the fourth row!

Mom and I arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and decided to walk around to see if we could find the theater because I was nervous about finding it later. It turned out to be an easy three or four blocks:


I talked Mom into walking around to the back of the theater because I had read online that other fans had seen Taylor outside his tour bus during the Idol tour and had gotten autographs and pictues with him. The only vehicle we could see was a gray truck. All along the sidewalk next to it were drums, guitar cases and amps. A couple of guys were loading them into the theater. “Oh my God! Taylor Hicks’ instruments!” I squeed to myself. “They’ve been in the same room as Taylor! Lucky.”

We walked by the open door and when I finally tore my eyes away from the dark interior, I spotted this across the street:

Wow! The tour bus. Mom and I lingered on this corner, while I paced and said, “What do I do? What do I do?” When it dawned on me that whoever was inside the bus could probably see me, I bolted around the corner. “Smooth,” I thought to myself.

Mom must have been exasperated with me at this point because when she spotted a security guard over by those instruments she simply asked him if that was Taylor’s tour bus. He told her, “No. It’s the crew’s bus. Taylor won‘t be here for a couple of hours.”

When Mom told me, I finally exhaled. Meeting celebrities obviously wasn’t something I could handle, so we headed back, a feeling of relief coming over me with every step. I asked Mom what she planned to do that evening while I was at the show, stopping at a red light across from our hotel. I stopped in mid sentence when I realized there was another big bus parked in front of it.

“That can’t be,” I said out loud. The light turned green and as we walked around to the other side of the bus, a small group was rummaging around in the cargo compartment. One of them was Taylor.

He was wearing a hat, a scarf and sunglasses but I recognized him anyway. Some kind of courage came over me. I squared my shoulders and told myself that nothing good in life happens without taking a chance. As I walked up to the group, Taylor jumped swiftly back unto the bus.

I don’t know for sure that he was avoiding me. In fact, I’ve decided to believe he wasn’t. He probably just forgot something, right?

Even Mom seemed a little giddy at this point. She thought this was all great fun and told me we had to wait him out. We stood to the side of the hotel entrance, our cameras ready to take shots of the reigning American Idol walking inside.

Taylor must have found whatever it was that he forgot on the bus (*cough*) because he finally came out, walked over to a man with a clipboard and signed something as we snapped photos. There were no other fans around. I was thinking, “Wow! Taylor Hicks is right there, like ten feet away from me! How cool is this?”

But then, through my camera lens, I saw him turn and walk directly towards me. Holy crap.

“How y’all doin?” He said.

I think I replied something like, “Hamana, hamana…” but I said it in the coolest possible way. Then I blurted out- “CAN I TAKE A PICTURE WITH YOU?!” (Dial it down, Caryl)

He said “Sure,” put down his backpack, turned towards my Mom’s camera and slipped his arm around my waist, ruining my waist for all other arms.

I put mine around his, feeling awkward but aware that this was my chance to tell him how his voice had lifted me out of despair and that his determination was inspiring and that the way he can move people through music is a gift.

“How was the show last night?” was all I could croak out.

He replied, “Good.” Mom clicked the photo, we thanked him and he was gone.

I looked at my mother and said, “What just happened?“

So I finally had my photo. I could relax and get on with my life. Oh! And enjoy the show later that evening.

It turns out that it didn’t matter that I was by myself in the theater. It felt as if we were all in this together. We responded to the musicians and they fed off of our energy. Taylor called the shots, signalling the band to extend certain songs or “’shushing” to segway into another song altogether. He sang, played guitar & harmonica, and danced, letting the music take his body wherever it wanted to go.

“And now I’m gonna play a little guitar because… well, I can!”

He showed us no mercy. One song built into a frenzy as Taylor wailed on his harmonica, hunched over, face red and sweaty until finally he threw the instrument down as if it were on fire.

And then the show was over. I checked my watch to find that an hour and a half had flown by. So fun. So short!

When I was growing up, my parents would sometimes take us to the back of the theater when a show ended to get autographs from the actors as they left the building. I thought it was worth a shot.

I stood out back with a small crowd that gasped in unison every time the door opened and then sighed with disappointment when we saw that it wasn’t Taylor. Band members thought that was pretty funny and started playing games with us, opening and closing the door. The opening act, The Greyhounds, came out and took pictures of US. It was a fun little group. In the midst of these distractions, Taylor appeared.

All chatter ceased. We just stared at him silently. Finally Taylor said, “Well, don’t you have anything for me to sign?” The sound of his voice snapped us back to Earth and everyone rummaged around frantically, looking for something to thrust in front of him. The woman in front of me had him sign an empty candy box. He signed my ticket. None of us expected him to stop. We were ready with our cameras to catch him walking to his bus, but we didn’t expect to get autographs.

I watched him move on away from me for a moment but realized how lucky I had been that day and decided to give someone else a chance. I worked my way back towards the street and headed to the hotel. I floated back to my room and filled Mom in on all the details.

I was antsy. I paced back and forth as I talked, glancing out the window at the empty street below, then walking back across the floor to hang up my shirt, turning around and passing in front of Mom’s bed again, glancing out the window at the tour bus below, then kicking off my shoes…wait. What did I just see? I looked down at the street below and saw the top of Taylor’s tour bus.

“Mom! I’m gonna go downstairs and stand in the crowd to watch the band come off the bus! I’ll be right back!”

Throwing my shirt and shoes on, I headed down to the lobby. As I walked down the hall, towards the entrance to the hotel, I passed Brian Gallagher and Loren Gold. I said, “I recognize you guys! Great show!” They nodded and thanked me as I continued on. Boogie and Felix were next.

I was expecting a crowd of fans by the front door but no one was around. I decided to sit and watch what might happen. The doors opened and there he was. Taylor Hicks, all in black, very subdued and unassuming. Suddenly, I felt awkward, a little stalkerish and didn’t want him to see me. When a couple of teenagers ran up to him, I decided to get the heck out of there.

“What a great night,” I thought to myself as I waited in the empty hallway by the elevators. Two guys rounded the corner as the doors opened. Oh. My. God. A young blond guy and Taylor. The three of us got on the elevator and the doors closed. Taylor asked me “What floor?” and punched 5 for me.

He looked exhausted and somehow smaller than the guy I had seen on stage. It was obvious that he wanted to be left alone. I did. Pretty much. Here’s what I said around the 3rd floor: “Now, you know I have to write a review of the show.”

Yeah. He gave me the same look you probably have on your face right now. The look said: “What the f’ck are you talking about??”

So I stammered, “Gray Charles wants us to review all the shows.”

The adorable, smiling, blonde guy with Taylor (who I found out later was his brother) asked, “What are you gonna say?”

“I’m gonna say it was great! It was a great show!”

Luckily for everyone, we arrived at my floor. Taylor thanked me and told me to have a good night. I gave a little wave over my shoulder as I headed for my room.

My Mom still laughs when she tells people that after closing the door to our room, I fell on my bed and gushed, “I rode up in the elevator with him!!” I acted like a Bieber fan with not only the fever but a little rash as well. I was a complete pain in the neck for the rest of my Florida visit. I told my story in excruciating detail to any unwitting cousin who would sit still long enough to listen.

I would never try to imply that our encounters meant anything to Taylor. I was forgotten the moment I walked away. But they meant so much to me. Back in February, 2007, I was dealing with some difficult issues at home and meeting a musician I admired was an incredibly happy distraction. I arrived in Tampa broken. Wounded. Taylor made me smile.
That’s all.  I’ll never forget it.

Taylor Hicks on Patrol: Taylor Hicks Band Ready to Roll?


Taylor Hicks fans have finalized their plans and will travel from far and wide to attend the weekend concert series that begins at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, FL on February 24th.  The tour then continues to Tunica, MS and the Gold Strike Casino for a February 25th show, and on to Biloxi, MS at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino for a show on February 26th.

The band leader has yet to name the musicians who will accompany him on the road, and so I’m left to guess the identity of those band(its).  Based on recent tour history, here are my predictions for the makeup of the 2011 tour band. Comment/discuss/disagree/list your own band!  And remember to click on the images to enlarge.

Taylor Hicks: Vocals, guitar, harp: It goes without saying that the leader of the band and Soul Patrol will be there, warming the South with his mix of soulful country and rock & roll music.  Understudy: George Clooney.

High Noon

Brian Less:  Keyboards, Organ: Musical Director Brian Less graced the summer stage in 2010, tickling the keys across the country as Taylor Hicks took his show on the road for a four month tour.  Brian provided the backbone to the music, especially on the acoustic encore numbers when Taylor and Brian shared the spotlight together on stage.  Understudy:  Kenneth Crouch

Mexicali Cafe

Sam Gunderson: Guitar, vocals:  Sam was the man on guitar during the summer tour.  Starting in New York City at Highline Ballroom, the audience could see how happy and nervous Sam was to be on the big stage.  His guitar playing did all of his talking for him.  Sam was always just ‘happy to be here’.  And so were the fans!  Understudy: John Kulinich.

WorkPlay, 2010

Jeff Lopez: Saxophone, tenor sax, part-time conga player: Nicknamed ‘Soulful Sax’, Jeff Lopez made his mark on tour by providing the Latin beat under Taylor’s performances of Once Upon A Lover and the heart stopping flute tribute to Dixie in 19. Known to play two saxes at once, Jeff has inspired many musicians to play wind instruments because the sax is the pathway to the soul.  Understudy:  Would love to see Brian Gallagher….

Ft. Walton

Leif Bondarenko:  Drums.  Drummer extraordinaire, Leif is the rock that centers the band.  The song Runaround will never be the same since Leif got his hands on it! Going mostly unseen at the rear of the stage, there is no doubt that Leif can bring down the house, or at least the drum shield, as he pounds out the heart to the soulful sounds of Taylor Hicks.  As a photo enthusiast, I remember to ‘not forget the drummer’ in my photos.  He never disappoints although his energy is hard to capture in a single shot.  Understudy: Gary Novak

Crocodile Rock

Brandon Peeples: Bass guitar.  Dunt, dunt,da, dunt, da dunt. That’s the sound of the beat provided by the young, but experienced bass guitarist Brandon Peeples.  In a word, Brandon is an entertainer. He rocks, he jams, he riffs with Brian and Taylor and is always having fun on stage.  Understudy:  Jason Parker.

Epcot Center

Jay Smith:  Congas  or Coooooongas, as Taylor would say…  Jay was on fire during the summer tour stop in Jamesville, NY.  The outdoor venue, the smoke and lights and sun setting behind the stage laid a perfect backdrop for Jay’s nifty Calypso beat.  Understudy:  Jeff Lopez


Clay Connor: Stage Manager, Guitar, Vocals:  Clay was a big hit when he performed solo as the opening act for Taylor at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. Often seen juggling several issues at once, he was still able to get it all done seamlessly and even found time to jump in and jam on the stage with his guitar. At WorkPlay, Clay made a big impact with his energetic guitar playing and rock star moves.  Understudy:  Bill Will…..


Javier Colon: Opener. Javier was a delight in the New England swing on the summer tour. Runner up: Open to suggestions!


So, who is it going to be? Taylor’s fans have much to remember from 2010 and much to look forward to in 2011. Who will go along for the musical ride? Who would you love to see play with Taylor Hicks on Tour??

All text,  photos, and opinions expressed about the tour band provided by Louise/4Tay.

Click here for Taylor’s tour dates and ticket Info.

Taylor Hicks on Tour: “If you think of Taylor Hicks as just ‘that American Idol guy’, think again.”

This preview of Taylor’s upcoming tour is contributed by Louise/4Tay.

Nearly five years after he was crowned the winner of that popular show, Taylor Hicks remains the energetic and charismatic performer who charmed millions of American Idol television viewers.  However, when Hicks takes his live show on the road this month to venues in both Florida and Mississippi, he expects to surprise some concertgoers.

While most are familiar with his soulful voice, many are unaware that Hicks is also a talented musician who plays both harmonica and guitar during the live show.  Since arriving on the national stage, Taylor has appeared with artists including the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, Willie Nelson, Robert Randolph, and Snoop Dogg, among others.

Backed by a stellar band, Hicks plans a diverse set that will feature tunes from his debut album, his more recent record “The Distance”, as well as fan favorites from the show that made him famous.

This first leg of the winter/spring tour takes the Taylor Hicks band first to Pensacola, Florida, and then to Tunica followed by Biloxi, Mississippi.

Vinyl Music Hall – Pensacola, Florida, February 24, 2011

Vinyl Music Hall will host the first of the late February shows.  The Hall is a nearly brand new, general admission venue with standing room only; limited VIP seating is available in the bar.  For those hoping to capture a digital souvenir of the show, non flash photography is permitted at the discretion of the artist; no video recording is permitted.

On Facebook the venue describes Hicks’ many post Idol accomplishments, including two well received music albums and a starring role in the Broadway and national touring productions of GREASE.  “If you think of Taylor Hicks as just ‘that American Idol guy’, think again.”

Vinyl Music Hall opened on Aug. 28, 2010

Robert Randolph Performs at Vinyl Music Hall (Vinyl photo)

Good view of the front of stage (GoPensacola photo)

Venue website:

Event ticket sales for Taylor Hicks show 2/24/11:

Why you should go: Vinyl Music Hall offers the intimacy and opportunity of a smaller venue with a capacity of about 500.   Arrive early for a spot close to the stage.

Gold Strike Casino – Tunica, Mississippi, February 25, 2011

Taylor Hicks

The Millenium Theater is an intimate venue with rows that rise like stadium seating.  Each of the 800 seats affords an outstanding view and the sound and lighting are second to none in the area.  Whether in the first or ninth row, the sound and light wash over the audience as if they were on the stage.

Gold Strike Resort and Casino - Tunica, Mississippi - Entertainment - Millennium Theatre

Venue website:

Event ticket sales for Taylor Hicks show 2/25/11:

Why you should go: Make it a weekend. Enjoy both the show and the city.  The venue is located just minutes from historic Memphis and the region’s best barbeque. For information on visiting Graceland, Beale Street, The Palace Theater, and Historic Downtown Tunica:

Tickets for this show have been popular; early purchase recommended to avoid disappointment.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino – Biloxi, Mississippi, February 26, 2011

The venue offers stadium seating with a capacity of 1500; there is a state of the art sound and lighting system.  No cameras or recording devices are permitted inside the theatre.  Taylor Hicks last performed to a sold out crowd at Beau Rivage on September 11, 2009.

Venue Website
Event ticket sales for Taylor Hicks show 2/26/11:
Why you should go: The 2009 show at this venue brought down the house.  Ticket sales have been brisk, but good seats remain.  Early purchase recommended.
As the next announced show is scheduled for April 28 in Washington state, we recommend that y’all get your Hicks fix now!   Listen for the soulful country vibe that has led Taylor to Nashville, where he is now planning and writing a new album.

Taylor Hicks, Maceo Parker, Big Sam & More: Jam Cruise Revisited

Taylor Hicks with Big Gigantic

It spans only a few calendar days in January, but Jam Cruise is an eagerly anticipated event the remaining eleven months of the year.  We asked Paul McLaren, photographer and “repeat offender”, if Jam Cruise 9 lived up to the pre trip hype.

In a word, “Yes”.

Is the trip well organized?

Cloud 9 does a fantastic job. Everything runs smoothly.  There is music played in several venues simultaneously.  Fortunately, each band plays twice, and musicians sit in with other bands on stage and in the Jam Room, so there are multiple opportunities to see your favorites.  Everything goes off on time, which is important since there is so much to see!

Which bands were your favorites?

I knew that I wanted to see Galactic and Karl Denson, but one of the great things about Jam Cruise is that you’re introduced to new bands and different combinations of musicians. The Jam Cruise is as much about the different artists jamming together as it is about any specific band.  This is one of the unique opportunities of Jam Cruise; you hear new sound combinations with each performance. 

Probably my favorite show was the Maceo Parker Super Jam for the variety of artists who came together.  Maceo orchestrated a great flow of artists through the set and it was a phenomenal combination of sounds and instruments.  From 4 of the best sax players in the world jamming together, to Maceo passing notes back and forth with Pee Wee Ellis and every combination between, it was an awesome set.  Taylor Hicks came out and added to the mix, jamming on the harmonica.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation was a great choice for the sail away party.  He’s a good showman and kicked off the cruise with lots of energy.  And again, this is not like going to a normal venue to see Funky Nation, this is Jam Cruise;  Corey Glover, Leo Nocentelli, and Fred Wesley all joined the jam to amp up leaving the dock.  Sam was one of the artists who got into the themes and costumed for Future Night – metallic green jumpsuit and oversized glasses.

Do the artists really interact with the passengers?

I dropped my lens cap going up the stairs.  I got halfway back down and there was Karl Denson, who had crawled under the stairs and now had lens cap in hand.  My friends and I had dinner in the Japanese restaurant; Ian Neville came by and sat down.  We chatted casually for about 45 minutes, learning more about his family, Dumpstaphunk tours, and his impressions of Jam Cruise. 

I met Taylor Hicks just before he hosted “The Gong Show” – nice guy; like most of us he was working on about 3 hours of sleep after too many long nights in the Jam Room!  On stage, the lack of sleep overcame his normally smooth delivery as he kept referring to the “conTEXTants” and at one point he said “Let’s welcome the next conTEXTant to the GAng Show”.  It just shows what this sleep “depredation” exercise we love as the Jam Cruise can do!  In all the Gong Show was hilarious and everyone had a fantastic time.

Artists have separate lines to board the ship, and can disembark first.  Everyone is so tired, though, that the artists often sleep in and end up in line with everyone else on that last day.  It was interesting to hear all the various artists in the Customs lines shout back and forth to see who made the best progress, those in the artist dedicated queue, or those mixed in with the numerous passenger lines.  Nigel Hall won out in the far right passenger line; I will try for that one next year! 

How are artists scheduled for the Jam Room?

There’s a Jam Room host each night.  The Room is open from midnight to whenever it winds down, usually about sunrise, with the room usually fully packed.  The host invites a variety of artists to join the jam at specific times during the night, each staggered to create a flow of sound and energy that moves the night along.  Some artists just pop in to join in the magic as they happen through from other venues.  It always comes together to produce great sounds, though one night, Nigel Hall walked in, just reached over and started playing as second player on the piano.  When he realized it wasn’t a fit just then, he left and then came back a bit later to join in the set at the perfect time.  Taylor Hicks’ high energy harp playing added to several of the sets. 

Next year?

Already pre-booked, wouldn’t miss it for anything!

A gallery of photos from Jam Cruise 9, courtesy of Paul McLaren.

Taylor Hicks and Maceo Parker Super Jam

Big Sam brought his Funky Nation

Costumed passengers on Future Night

An ice cream treat

Ivan Neville at the keys

Taylor Hicks performs with Galactic

Horn heaven

Liking what they’re hearing

Taylor Hicks on harp with Galactic

The Gong Show

It’s all good

That’s all, folks!



For more photos from Mr. McLaren:

Ten Story Songs and the Stories behind Them

by Jennifer Jacobs

The narrative song, or story song, has captured the imagination of listeners for centuries. The art form started with local tribal and folk songs, and often served as a way to pass on the history and folklore of those cultures. In the modern era, recordings and radio spread the story song to a worldwide audience.

So what describes a great story song? Told in the first, second, or third person format, the song will possess a distinct story line from beginning to end. The story is usually very compelling in some way. Finally, since it is a song, it must have equally compelling music to accompany it.

More often than not, story songs have their own interesting backstory. Here are some great examples:

“El Paso”– Marty Robbins- 1959

Although songs that told a story had been around forever, they first made a gig impact on the Billboard charts in January of 1960, when three consectutive story songs hit the #1 spot on the Billboard hot 100: “El Paso”, “Teen Angel” and Running Bear”. Arguably “El Paso” was the most influential of the three. released in the country western format, and possessing a groundbreaking tex-mex sound, the song clocked in at 4:38, much longer than the typical song of that era. Nevertheless it became a crossover sensation, charting at #1 on both the Hot 100 and Country charts. “El Paso” tells the story of a man that gets caught in a love triangle with tragic consequences. Songwriter Marty Robbins later won a Grammy Hall Of Fame award for “El Paso”.

Key Lyrics:
Challenged his right for the love of this maiden.
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore.
My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat;
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.

“A Boy Named Sue”- Johnny Cash- 1969

Many claim “A Boy named Sue” to be the first rap song, but technically it was considered to be “talking blues”, a genre which had actually been around since the 1920s. Cash alternates talking and singing the song, a story about a man who is given a girl’s name, and the resulting trouble it causes him. The song was written by Shel Silverstein, a multi-talented writer and cartoonist. (Some may know him better by his children’s books.) Cash recorded the song live in front of an audience of inmates for his album Johnny Cash at San Quentin. The captive audience was deeply appreciative of the song and the performance, and their loud vocal approval gave the song an extra edge for the time, along with some lyrics that had to be censored out..a first for country music stations.

Key Lyrics:
Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My fist got hard and my wits got keen,
I’d roam from town to town to hide my shame.
But I made a vow to the moon and stars
That I’d search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name.

“Patches”– Clarence Carter- 1970

Written by General Johnson & Ronald Dunbar of the Group Chairman of The Board, “Patches” is a story about a son who must assume responsibility for his desperately poor family after his father’s death. First appearing on a Chairman Of The Board album, Clarence Carter heard it and decided to cut a version of his own in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Carter, a singer and musician, attended Alabama School for the Blind and later obtained a degree in music from Alabama State College. His version won a Grammy award for best R&B song in 1971, and remains a classic.

Key Lyrics:
One day papa called me to his dyin’ bed
Put his hands on my shoulders and in tears he said
Patches, I’m depending on you son
To pull the family through
I’m sorry son, it’s up to you

“Indian Sunset”- Elton John- 1971

Bernie Taupin’s narrative lyrical period peaked in 1971, when both of the classic Elton John albums “Tumbleweed Connection” and “Madman Across The Water” were released. Taupin, who grew up an avid reader on an English country farm, was noted for his uncanny ability to effortlessly channel characters from Early American lore. Perhaps the finest example of this was the Madman track “Indian Sunset”, a first-person account of a young Iriquois warrior who is valiantly fighting to save his native people, land, and way of life. Elton is up to the task as well, composing a melody that recalls the cadence of American Indian tribal music, without a trace of pandering or condescension.

Key Lyrics:
Now I see no reason why I should carry on
In this land that once was my land, I can’t find a home
It’s lonely, and it’s quiet, and the horse soldiers are coming
And I think it’s time I strung my bow, and ceased my senseless running

“The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”- Vicki Lawrence- 1972

This hit song was a surprise career turn for Vicki Lawrence, who was best known as a sketch actress on The Carol Burnett Show. The song was written by her then husband, songwriter Bobby Russell. Although Russell was reluctant to even record a demo, Lawrence believed in the song, a southern gothic tale of a sister who gets away with murder while her innocent brother is hung for her crime. Lawrence recorded the song after Liza Minelli and Cher reportedly passed on it. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later covered by Reba McIntyre, who took it to #12 on the country charts.

Key Lyrics:
Said I’m your best friend and you know that’s right
But your young bride ain’t home tonight
Since you been gone she’s been seeing that Amos boy Seth
He got mad and he saw red
Andy said boy don’t you lose your head
Cause to tell you the truth I’ve been with her myself

“Charlie Freak”- Steely Dan- 1974

Steely Dan, a jazz/rock outfit known for impeccable musicianship and recording quality, often laced its lyrics with seedy tales of the drug underworld. This Becker/Fagen composition contains perhaps their most sympathetic character, Charlie, who in desperation sells his prize possession to feed his addiction. The narrator is the buyer, who is compelled to make amends for supplying the money for the one last fix that killed him. The song was never released as a single, but appears on one of Steely Dan’s finest albums, Pretzel Logic.

Key Lyrics:
On the street he spied my face I heard him hail
In our plot of frozen space he told his tale
Poor man, he showed his hand
So righteous was his need
And me so wise, I bought his prize for chicken feed

“Hurricane”- Bob Dylan -1975

The protest song, co-written by Bob Dylan & Jacques Levy, told the tale of promising boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was a victim of racial profiling which led to false arrest and conviction. Dylan had met with Carter in prison, and wanted to write the song, but felt too emotionally connected, so he called upon colleague Jacques Levy to co-write. The song quickly became one of Dylan’s most popular in the 1970’s despite a few counter-protests that some artistic license had been taken. Whether or not it had anything to do with the song, a federal judge later overturned Carter’s conviction, on the basis that he had not been given a fair trial, and all murder charges were eventually dropped.

Key Lyrics:
Four in the morning and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dying eye
Says “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”

(cover by Mel Plant)

“Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”- Gordon Lightfoot – 1976

At first listen this song sounded like a long-ago tale of a lost ship, but in reality, it was based on the true story of the sinking of the freight carrier on Lake Superior, an event that had happened just one year prior, on November 10th, 1975. It hit #1 in Lightfoot’s native Canada, and #2 on the US Billboard hot 100 chart.

Key Lyrics:
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin’, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in
He said “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”

“Paradise By The Dashboard Light”- Meat Loaf – 1977

This often hilarious epic of teenage sexual tension & bargaining made an unlikely rock star/sex symbol out of Meat Loaf, a veteran of Broadway (Hair) and film (Rocky Horror Picture Show). The song is a duet with singer Ellen Foley, written by Jim Steinman and produced by Todd Rundgren. It is surprising, given how well known this song is today, that it only peaked at #39 on the Billboard charts. This could be due to the fact that the subject matter was considered a little too risque for top 40 radio. The 7:55 running time didn’t help radio play either, but it did help the sales of the album Bat Out Of Hell, which to date has sold an astonishing 43 million copies worldwide.

Key Lyrics:
Stop right there!
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me, Will you love me forever
Do you need me, will you never leave me
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life
Will you take me away, will you make me your wife?

“Stan”– Eminem- 2000

One of the finest practitioners of the the story song in the rap genre is Eminem, who routinely blurs the lines between fantasy & reality to compelling, and often horrifying effect. “Stan” is a tale of an obsessed Slim Shady fan (Eminem’s alter-ego) whose fixation with the star slowly spirals out of control. Dido’s song “Thank You” is dispersed throughout to effectively separate the escalating stages of Stan’s delusions. The video is a rarity, in that it follows the actual story line of the song, and it plays out like a Stephen King film.  (Pay attention to the window in Eminem’s room at the end of the video.)

Key Lyrics:
See everything you say is real, and I respect you cause you tell it
My girlfriend’s jealous cause I talk about you 24/7
But she don’t know you like I know you Slim, no one does
She don’t know what it was like for people like us growin up
You gotta call me man, I’ll be the biggest fan you’ll ever lose
Sincerely yours, Stan — P.S. We should be together too

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The advent of MTV in the eighties brought in accompanying visuals with the music. Ironically, story songs actually seemed to decline during this time, as producers generally shied away from literal translations of songs in favor of symbolic devices. Although it seems the story song is not as prevalent as it once was, it is still alive and well in country music. As for pop, the pendulum could swing the art form back into the forefront sometime in the future. For now, we can fondly remember the past hits. Over the years, which story songs have been your favorites?

PopEater Columnist Rob Shuter Predicts 2011 Super Bowl Champ!

It promises to be a tight game.  Two defensive powers come face to face when the Green Bay Packers meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.  Both franchises have been to the big game before; both have hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy.

This year the Steelers bring experience to the game.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has twice led his team to Super Bowl wins.  The Packers bring grit and determination.  Green Bay has rallied behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers with impressive playoff victories.

At press time the oddsmakers have the spread at 2 1/2 points.  It’s a game that’s just too close to call.  So, who better to consult than a man who is used to handling pressure situations, and who is unafraid to make the tough calls. 

He’s worked with Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, and Paris Hilton.  Picking the Super Bowl champ should be a snap for PopEater’s Rob Shuter.  We asked the popular columnist to share his game day plans and prediction.

2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay Packers vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Who will win and why?

Pittsburgh Steelers because I like that the name of the city is in the name. Makes it easy to remember where they are from. Plus I like Pittsburgh. One river meets another river and forms a massive river!

Favorite Super Bowl and/or football memory?

I’m from the UK so it’s still very new to me. I like when fans paint their faces and stand outside shirtless in the freezing cold. I liked when Whitney sang the national anthem. That girl can really sing.

Where and with whom will you watch the game?

None of my friends will watch with me cause I ask too many questions about what is going on. Rules of the game confuse me so I’ll probably be alone on the sofa texting and tweeting stupid questions. I once watched an entire game and didn’t realize a team had won. I like cricket. 

Favorite Super Bowl snack food and libation?

Don’t need to be watching a game to enjoy beer and chips!

Late breaking news: Looks like Rob will have to move the sofa to Cowboys Stadium.  A  recent tweet confirms that the gossip columnist will be reporting from the game on Sunday:

I’m going to Super Bowl with HDNet and Direct TV!!! Will bring you the best buzz…what teams are playing again?




Be sure to catch Rob’s AOL PopEater column for the latest “Naughty but Nice” celebrity news here:

Rob has the hottest dish of the day on AOL video; his latest webisode:

Ellis Paul on Songwriting and Musical Journalism

A conversation with Ellis Paul:  Second of a two part series

His pleasing melodies and thoughtful lyrics have been recognized with no fewer than fourteen Boston Music Awards.  His songs have been widely featured on television and in film.  We asked Ellis Paul to share insights into his highly successful songwriting.

What is your process for songwriting?

I write constantly – on a daily basis.  I write and I rewrite; songs often undergo three or four edits before they’re ready to be published or performed.  Sometimes I’ll send songs to other musicians for review.  I have a string of songwriters whose opinions I value. 

When Stephen King writes a novel, he sends the chapters to an editor.  The finished book is the result of both the writing and the editing process.  Songwriters today somehow don’t believe that their work needs editing, but it’s an important part of producing a good song.

Your lyrics are socially aware, but not confrontational.  Is that a choice?

The idea is to make the listener a voyeur, as if they are looking through a window.  If the songwriter preaches, then the listener looks at the writer and not the song.  I prefer to allow the scene to unfurl without manipulating the listener.  Then I can just be the journalist who tells a story, and the listener becomes my cowriter.  They take their own meaning from the story.

Is the goal of your songwriting to educate, to inform, or to provide an escape?

I tend to gravitate toward songs that are information based, that can help the listener understand the subject in a better way.  I think that the emotional content is lost if the topic is approached in a moral way.

Something has to trigger the impulse to write.  I wrote “Hurricane Angel” a few years after the Katrina disaster when I read the account of refugees sleeping on the floor of an abandoned New Orleans warehouse. 

Just before Christmas I had been writing a song that ties Mary to modern mothers.  It’s a kind of time lapse photograph of life, and of mothers’ sacrifices over the years as their children grow.

How has your songwriting style changed through the years?

In the early years, I took a more academic approach to songwriting.  The songs were wordier.  Now my songs are more conversational; they have an easier flow. 

I collaborated with Kristian Bush (of the country duo Sugarland) for several songs on my most recent album, “The Day After Everything Changed”.  Working with a pop writer brought a less heady feel and a lighter touch to the music.

The collaboration seems to have worked; up to eight of my songs from that album will be heard in the new Farrelly brothers movie “Hall Pass”, due to be released later this month.

Which of your songs are your personal favorites?

Umm.  I’d have to say that some of my favorites are “Maria’s Beautiful Mess”, “Take All the Sky You Need”, and from the new album, “Rose Tattoo” and “Dragonfly”.

But some of the songs are just cathartic to play, and some are like cotton candy.

If so, we’ve developed a newfound appreciation for that carnival confection.  More, please.



Many thanks to Ellis Paul and his management for allowing us the opportunity to chat.

For more on Ellis Paul, Including his tour schedule:

To purchase “The Day After Everything Changed”:

Featured photograph of Ellis Paul by Louise/4tay