by Michael Buffalo Smith
When Bo Bice won runner up (to Carrie Underwood) in the 2005 American Idol competition, it was just the beginning of a rise to stardom for the Alabama born Southern Rocker. Following his Clive Davis produced debut of 2005, Bo is back with his own studio, his own label, and his own distinct Southern Rock sound, which he is obviously proud to be known for. In between touring and recording, Bo has been busy working with some of his heroes in Brothers of the Southland, including Jimmy Hall, Henry Paul, Dan Toler and others. He has also been doing work with his friend Steve Gorman of Black Crowes fame. We caught up with Bo, back home in Nashville with a brand new baby, taking a few days to chill after coming off the road for a bit.
Michael, how goes it brother?
Great man. The first thing I wanted to tell you is that we have some friends in common down in Huntsville. The band that backed me up on my last two albums, The Crawlers.
Oh yeah! Yeah, that’s my home town, Huntsville, Alabama. I was born there in the Huntsville Hospital. The Crawlers were one of my favorite bands. And Cosmic Mama, Big Mike Griffin and Mike Roberts, Microwave Dave - I know all those cats. I love it. I played in a band called Purge. Lots of great players down there. Mike Ferris from Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies used to come hang out at Moontown Studios. That’s how I got to meet guys like James Dupree. There was a lot of great music that came through Huntsville. Tesla, one of my favorite bands, were known to pop through every now and then. That was a really special time of my life.
I live in Nashville now, but Alabama will always be my home. I was gonna say when I retire, but I don’t plan on retiring until they put me in the dirt, but I’ve always said I’d like to have a lake house there. I love NASCAR so I’d love to have something there on Logan Martin near Talladega, or up in Guntersville, which is closer to home, which is Huntsville/Priceville. It’s kind of a toss up, because in Birmingham I lived in a little town called Helena, which is where I lived when I went on the show. That town has been so wonderful to me, and it’s a great place to live. Also, it’s not far from where my wife and I met, and that’s where her family lives, there in Pelham. But Alabama - every place there, from Huntsville to Birmingham to Muscle Shoals to Montgomery to Tuscaloosa, I’ve spent some time in all of them. Alabama is my home. You can’t take that out of me.
Sweet Home Alabama. I have been going down there for about seven years, and have made some great friends there for sure. A lot of people might not realize it, but before American Idol, you had already logged many years as a professional musician.
I have been so blessed. Being paid to do music for almost eighteen years now. I never called it a day job. My day job was always my second job. It is such an honor to be able to do this, and at this level to have fans that really care and embrace us, and that have followed us not only through Idol but onward. The fans are the people who have made it all happen. I never called it work. I am doing what I always dreamed of doing at this level. To have these great fans who voted on the TV show and still come out to see us play is just a blessing- that’s what this is all about.
I would say it’s a lot of hard work that paid off, but like I say, I don’t consider it work. People ask me for advice, and all I can say is if I do give any advice, it is to practice, practice, practice. And if the opportunity comes for you to go on a show like Idol, the hard work starts when the show stops. That’s when you kick it into idea, work hard and treat people like you want to be treated every day. I just try to live by that. I made a lot of mistakes in my career, like drugs and alcohol, and having a quick temper and a hot head, but I have learned so much now, and I consider it an honor to get up every day and be able to do what I do. And God’s working on me everyday, and I just keep on rolling with it.
How did you decide to audition for American Idol.
(Laughs) It was kind of funny. It was initially a bet from my Mom. I was managing a guitar store for several years. My Mom watched the show, and I was familiar with American Idol because when I moved to Birmingham, it was when Ruben Stoddard was on the show, and you couldn’t throw a cat without hitting a sign with Ruben’s name on it. But my Mom said I should try out for the show. I checked on it, and at the time the age limit was 25 years old. So I told her, and nothing else was said for a year.
Then I came home from work one day and the news announced they had upped the age limit to 28. At the time I was like three months from being 29. (Laughs) So I was cutting it close. I called my Mom, and she said “You’ve got to go.” I told her I would lose $400 in a paycheck and $600 in gigs to take the time off to audition. That would be $1000. I told her I just didn’t think I could afford it. Finally I told her I would do it if she would go with me. So I drove over to Atlanta and picked her up and we went down to Orlando. I was the next to the last audition. She spent the whole time with me. I wouldn’t have done it without her, so I owe her a big debt of gratitude.
I had watched the show some, and I recall your audition. When I heard you sing “Whipping Post,” I said, this is somebody I am gonna like.
(Laughs) I love that stuff. That’s what I cut my teeth on.
Who were your biggest musical influences?
On my new CD See The Light, I have a song called “You Can’t Take The Country Out of Me” - a tribute to everyone from Skynyrd to The Band, The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, JJ Cale, John Prine, Kenny Rogers, all of that - The Black Crowes are a major influence of mine - Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix ... Jimi is the most influential guitar player for sure. James Taylor, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Gram Parsons, Emmylou, Bruce Springsteen are all part of my singer songwriter side. But Southern Rock I wear as a badge of honor. I was told by some to play it down, just call it rock, but no, I am Southern Rock. That’s what I do. Nowadays it’s more country. A lot of the stuff they’re calling “kickin’ country” is really Southern Rock.
I was going to ask you about that, actually. Do you agree that there is a whole lot of Southern Rock in today’s country music?
I do. Country used to be pretty cut and dried thing. And I mean this in absolutely no derogatory way. I love old country, George Jones, Hank Williams, Sr - but people like Hank, Jr were really the pioneers. There was the Outlaw Country before, with Waylon and Willie and Kris and Merle. They were Outlaw Country, okay? Then you had traditional country, which was great. But to me, where the lines really crossed were at Bocephus. He and Charlie Daniels, to me, changed the whole outlook of country. To me, those two artists, at the time were the ones who were really out there, because you had Molly Hatchet, Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, that were really the Southern Rock guys, even though Charlie and Bocephus were also Southern Rock, they were the ones that were country. And Travis Tritt was a huge influence on me.
My Grand Daddy used to tell me, (imitating his Grandfather) “Boy, you need to try to sing like Travis Tritt or Vince Gill. I love those guys. I don't ever talk about my country influences much because I am known as the Southern Rock guy. But if I could pick anybody’s voice to sound like, it would be Vince Gill. He’s got a voice like an angel. But I feel that while country used to be a kind of different mindset, that is now where Southern Rock lives, is in country. And I think that’s cool. Look at Jason Aldean. Even Lady Antebellum. You never used to hear distorted guitars, unless it was Hank or Charlie - but now you hear it a lot. I think that’s great. I think it’s a testament to Skynyrd and Hank and Charlie and all of them. Even the new generation. Look at the new Kid Rock song. It’s a mash up of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London.” I think it’s awesome that that kind of music is finally getting paid the kind of homage that it deserves.
Southern Rock is a continuous underground movement. It will never stop. I’ve got black friends that listen to Southern Rock. I’ve got Chinese friends that listen to Southern Rock. I’ve played Southern Rock in England. (Laughs) I don’t even want to belittle it by saying it’s having its hey day, cause it’s a constant hey day. It will always be there. So when I hang my hat, I hang it on the Southern Rock rack. I am honored to help carry on the tradition of all those who worked so hard before so that I can ride around on a tour bus and play my music and speak my mind. I think its awesome, dude. You won’t ever, ever see me throw out that label. I never will. They’ll put Southern Rock on my tombstone.
You just made a serious friend, Bo.
(Laughs) I’m just honest. I’m one of those folks that doesn’t even lie about their age. I’m 33 and proud of it. But in all honesty, the first time I heard the great Southern Rock records, I said that’s what I want to do. That’s what I love. Of course, my Mom and Dad were huge influences on my music too. Mom was a more singer/songwriter and country fan, and pop music. Great music like Atlanta Rhythm Section and Christopher Cross. And The Who were a pop group at one time. And my Dad raised me up on that straight rock and roll - The Allman Brothers Band, Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The James Gang.
To be honest with you Michael, with all the moves that my family made, the traveling, the differences of music, the openness of cultures - from that and living on my own, up to “boot camp” as I called it - Idol was like celebrity boot camp, teaching you how to do interviews, deal with the public, taking pictures and not being normal - throughout my life its been one long training session to lead me to where I am sitting and talking to you today. So, my goal is to continue to put out quality music that my fans will enjoy, for them to see I am not some snake oil salesman, and that I know that without them I don’t have a gig. That’s my goal, and to be a better Dad and a better husband each day, and to work hard. I get up every day looking forward to working, because I don’t even call this work. Sometimes the publicist will call up and say, you have an interview today. Like today, I’ll be honest, I forgot. I could go, oh, it’s a full moon, or I don’t feel like it. I say “Oh, cool.” I think its awesome that people care and want to be a part of your life. I count every blessing that I have been given.
I wanted to ask you to compare your two albums. The Real Thing was put out in the wake of the Idol mayhem, and your new one, See The Light, which is quite a different sound.
They are two totally different albums and I am equally proud of them both. Let’s start with The Real Thing. It was Clive Davis who worked hard and put out great product. I was proud to be a part of it. Without the experience I had at RCA, I wouldn’t have been able to work with the producers like Desmond Child and Ben Moody, Max Martin and all of the others, And I got to work with great songwriters. But that album was kind of finished before I got there. (Laughs) I got one track on it that I co-wrote. But it was a great experience. It sold over 800,000 and was certified gold. I am real proud of it.
Now, you fast forward to See The Light. It was more of a labor of love for me. We’ve only sold about 70,000 units of that, but I opened up my own label and partnered up with Strat Arts, which put it out exclusively at Wal-Mart, which was an independent venture. For me, it was a great adventure. I got to work with heroes like Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes), Chuck Leavell, Waddy Wachtel, David Grisham, Dan Dugmore - So many people that I was a fan of. So when I say it was a labor of love it truly was. I got to record the majority of it here at my recording studio. So the past three years from RCA to building my own studio and starting my own label, Sugar Money - and we got an HD3 system and took that out on the road and recorded a live album this year. We started out in Kuwait and Afghanistan and we recorded the whole tour the rest of the year. A friend of mine, Ryan Smith, a great video producer, came out on some dates. So the live album will be on my label and exclusively at bobice.com.
All of that together has been one big trip. Without each progression in that chain, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It was real cool. I am grateful to Clive and RCA. I am grateful to American Idol. I am also grateful to be standing on my own two feet. I’ve learned to connect. After the live album, I’d like to do an acoustic studio album. Reach more into my singer songwriter catalog, which is still Southern Rock, but more like the acoustic side of Skynyrd, “All I Can Do is Write it in a Song”- or Jim Croce, who I loved. But there are always transitions in life and the best lessons I have learned are from the mistakes I have made. I hope the next few years for me will continue to be learning years, so I can make my music stronger and keep the fans happy. I say it in every interview, but it is by no means cliche my friend, it is all about the fans. Without the fans, we don’t have a gig. I just try to stay genuine and let God work in my life. I know that with that as my goal, no matter what happens, God will provide.
We’ve got a couple of charity events coming up. I actually have the month off. We just did the 40 Years Ago Today Tour, which was a blast, and we did a NASCAR event an the MDA Telethon for Jerry Lewis. So I am just chilling for a couple of weeks. And I am working in the studio on the live album. We spent eight or nine months recording, so we have quite a bit of material to go through. (Laughs) Like I said, that one will be exclusively at bobice.com, and hopefully it will be ready for Christmas and you can get the CD or download it. Oh, and the live CD isn’t just songs recorded live. There are some new songs, one I wrote just for the CD called “I Love The Road.” And there’s a song that didn’t make the last album called “American Blood.” And there are a few other surprises. It’s got a lot of video content too. So I am just enjoying working. I haven’t had any time to get on the web yet, I need to put some more content on the site, but I came home to a five week old baby, so I have been up late at night and early in the morning for the past three days. So I am just going to chill for a few days.
Sounds good my brother. I hope to meet you soon.
Me too Michael. We can put hand in hand. It'll be great, man.