It was the summer of 2005, and the Alabama native Bo Bice had just finished second to Carrie Underwood on the top-rated TV show in America, American Idol. His debut RCA radio single, “Inside Your Heaven,” rocketed up to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 all-format singles chart, and sold more than 1 Million copies.
His first RCA album, The Real Thing, was released in December of that year, likewise sold more than a Million copies, and reached the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hot 200 albums chart.
Five years is a lifetime in the music business, and now Bice records for his own Sugarmoney Records, which is distributed by the Time-Life affiliate Saguaro Road Records. He lives in Nashville and has just released a powerhouse album, Bo Bice 3, a record that many Bo fans and radio folks are suggesting may be his finest and most personal work to date.
“If you listen to this album, I think you kind of get a sense for what the last two years of my life has kind of been like,” he said. “In the last year, I’ve really delved into co-writing with folks like Greg Barnhill, A.J. Croce, and Buffy Lawson.”
He moved to Nashville full-time shortly after American Idol finished taping, even though so far Bo has had greater success at pop radio than country radio. Long before that, he literally traveled the world.
“I grew up just about everywhere,” he says. “My dad is an ex-Marine, but we were overseas with Coca-Cola. I spent several years in London, England, where I started my first band when I was 14. Other than that, we lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and in Atlanta for several years. But Hunstville, Decatur and North Alabama has always been where I spent my summers. I’m a Southern boy thru and thru, and I’ve always said that Nashville is as far north and west as they’ll ever pull me.”
From age 12 to nearly 18, London was home. British artists certainly influenced him. Once he returned to the States, he worked in bands and in guitar stores, then beat the gigantic odds to even get to American Idol, let alone finish second.
Bo recalls: “There’s a challenge with American Idol. I’ve said before, sometimes it’s a curse and sometimes a blessing. But it’s not ever anything where I would say, `I wish American Idol never happened to my life.’ I’m very grateful for all of the things that came from that and RCA, but there’s a lot of times where rock radio wouldn’t embrace what we were doing because they thought it was a bit pop. So we’re in almost a funny format, we’re pop rock, and to me I’ve always been Southern Rock.”
See The Light, Bice’s second album, was another strong musical journey. “A little bit of country, still Southern Rock, but with almost that Lenny Kravitz influence,” he says of the record. “I don’t want to say that it frustrates me,” he says of the off-and-on relationship with radio, “I think that it encourages me.”
What other Nashville artists, for instance, would play a Hendrix cover in the middle of the show? When Bice closed his concerts with “Sweet Home Alabama,” the crowds were on their feet.
What about nowadays, with downloads everywhere and artists and labels coming and going faster than ever?
“Now is such an exciting time in music, because major labels are now seeing that it’s going to be more of an artist-driven period,” Bice says.
“During Idol, it was such a tornado of overnight success,” he says. “That’s just crazy. But a lot of people don’t see the fact that 10 months of your life is taken up with this. For me, I took it serious. I was proud to be there.”
Over 17,000 folks tried out at his Idol first audition in Orlando, initially because his Mom challenged him to do it. “The best thing about Idol is that it helped me be a better person in my field. For instance, I didn’t know how to do interviews before. It taught me to be a little more focused.”
The fame and success at that time, as he says, “were the things that you dream about.”
He’s never minded being outside of the musical mainstream.
“My career’s always been about not trying to fit into one format, but instead to convince people that I’m just genuinely what I do,” Bo says.
One guy who became very convinced was the legendary producer Clive Davis, who was a key figure in the carees of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen at Columbia, with Barry Manilow at a label Clive founded, Arista, and with Alicia Keys on a later Clive imprint, J Records.
“Clive Davis has worked with so many great artists such as Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. I owe a great deal of honor to Mr. Davis, but also to so many other people who deserve the kudos for that,” Bice says.
Bo Bice has deserved and received countless kudos over the years, and perhaps will get more than ever for his newest music.
By Phil Sweetland | firstname.lastname@example.org