With SEE THE LIGHT, the world is finally getting to see the real Bo Bice.
Don't worry; that wasn't an imposter who was named "American Idol's" Season 4 runner-up in 2005. But the Bo Bice people saw on the show and heard on the subsequent gold-certified album THE REAL THING was just a taste of the broad and deep spectrum of music the Alabama-born singer has a passionate drive to write and sing. On SEE THE LIGHT, the first release on Sugar Money/ StratArt Records label, he promises we are getting to hear "the genuine Bo."
"I'm grateful for THE REAL THING; that was a fun album. But that wasn't MY album," Bo explains. "This time it was just total freedom. We had no inhibitions about what this was going to be; we just went in and did whatever we wanted to. The freedom shines through."
SEE THE LIGHT is the kind of classic American album that's heard all too rarely in these days of careful calculation and tight formatting. Bo is the kind of artist who can't find enough musical roads to travel, and he demonstrates it on this broad-reaching 10-song set that spans the crunchy, Southern-fried rock of "This Train," "Got Money" and "Whiskey, Women & Time," the funky groove of "Witness," the swampy soul of "Take the Country Out of Me" and stark, emotional ballads such as "Only Words," "Sinner in a Sin" and "I'm Gone."
"I really feel like this is a diverse album," says Bo. "On a lot of the stuff some artists release, they just put different words to the same song. People get bored. And I think people are figuring that out; they're like, 'Wow, there's three good songs here, and the rest are the same song with different lyrics.'
"So on this album I felt, like, don't be afraid to deviate. Don't be afraid to play a little country. Don't be afraid to play something that makes people say, 'Why is this on this album?' Because in some twisted way, it fits. That's the main thing we've got going for us, just the diversity of it."
Bo comes by that naturally, of course. Born Harold Elwin Bice, Jr. in Huntsville, Ala., he was raised by his mother after his father left the family when Bice was two years old. Music, he says, was "what I knew I was going to do from the day I was born"--or at least from the age of four, when he plunked down a dollar at a garage sale for records by Jim Croce, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band. "My mom and I used to sit around and sing," Bo recalls. "She was in a gospel choir, and I did some stuff in church, too. But I always had something going on with music. I would always call my day job my second job. Music was my first."
Bice, whose mother remarried, spent his youth moving between Georgia, Alabama and Florida before the family relocated to England when he was 12; Ozzy Osbourne and his family were neighbors for a time. While attending London Central High School, Bo was known as the football (American kind, of course) player who carried his guitar everywhere he went. He also learned to play piano, saxophone and harmonica and ultimately decided to drop out of school in his final year and return to Alabama--where he did earn his GED and attend a couple semesters of college before dedicating himself full-time to music.
Bo worked the Southern club circuit with bands such as Blue Suede Nickel, Purge and SugarMoney, playing clubs and opening for national acts such as Warrant and Blackfoot. With a wife and young son, he was also managing a guitar shop for $20,000 a year when he auditioned for "American Idol" on a lark, walking in as "the last person in the world who thought I was going to make it as far as I did." But he wowed the famed trio of judges with his rock 'n' roll grit--including an audition version of the Allmans' "Whipping Post"--and did the same with the reality show's huge national audience, which clearly had an appetite for a contestant with genuine rock spirit.
Bo also won a fan in Carlos Santana, who tapped him to sing the track "Brown Skin Girl" on his 2005 album All That I Am. "I heard him sing, and I knew he could do it," Santana says. "You gotta start somewhere. He just happened to come through the biggest door we've got in music at the moment."
Nowadays Bo appreciates what being part of the "Idol" phenomenon did for him. "The gain for me was phenomenal," he says. "I got loads of exposure. People didn't know who I was before 'Idol.' They do now. Without that I wouldn't be sitting her in a pretty studio in a nice house, living a life people dream about, with fans that are just insane about my music."
SEE THE LIGHT will likely make them even crazier. Working in Nashville, Bo contemplated 16 songs before honing the album down to 10--many of which have lengthy histories that include being considered for THE REAL THING and, in some cases, even included on the DualDisc version of that album ("Whiskey, Women & Time," "Sinner In A Sin"). And Bo reckons the lead-off track, "Witness," has been around for a decade, sung in roadhouses and in church.
But there's plenty of fresh material, too. Bo, who also performed the theme song for the Ben Stiller comedy film Blades of Glory, teamed up with Nashville songwriter Gary Nichols for the defiant "Ain't Gonna Die" and with longtime friend Chris Tompkins on "I'm Gone." Thomas Lee, Bo's SugarMoney band keyboardist, collaborated on a pair of SEE THE LIGHT tracks--"This Train" and the title track. Besides his own players, Bo tapped luminaries such as Black Crowes' drummer Steve Gorman, session veteran Dan Dugmore (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt) and Lynyrd Skynyrd backing vocalist Carol Chase.
"We just had a great time. We really had fun doing this," says Bo, who co-produced SEE THE LIGHT with Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke. "There wasn't a day we called work."
And with the work on the album done, Bo is ready to get back to doing what he likes best--playing. The songs on SEE THE LIGHT are meant to be played live, he says, and in the most straightforward manner possible.
"I don't need a laser show," Bo says. "I don't need a bunch of pyro to blow up in front of you to impress you. That's not the show. The show is the music and being entertained for an hour and a half. It's the same concept on this album--it's not over-produced, just an album full of raw, Southern rock, getting back to basics and stripping it down to where it's so organic everybody can grab a little piece out of it."
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