Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stephen - AKA Taylor Hicks' "Merch Guy"

Everyone who attended one of Taylor Hicks’ concerts over that last seven months surely encountered the smiling face of Stephen, the wonderfully friendly man usually positioned behind the merchandising table. Stephen’s effervescent personality always drew us into the area, whether it was to purchase more Taylor Hicks memorabilia or to simply say “hi” and receive a hug from a dear friend. One of the guys who traveled with Stephen during the long seven month Taylor Hicks tour described him in this manner: “The one thing that is very interesting about Stephen is that he is extremely intelligent and well versed on a variety of subjects. During the down time on tour, he was always reading a book. This is what makes him such an interesting person and so well-suited for his job. He can relate to others on so many levels. He is extremely conscientious and always goes the extra mile to help the crew and the fans as well.”

Stephen was gracious enough to answer some questions for Taylor’s Angels and to allow us all to get to know the “Merch Guy”.

TA: Most of the Soul Patrol knows you as the “Merch Guy”, but we know very little about you personally. Where did you grow up, what are your hobbies and do you have any musical abilities?

Stephen: I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Elvis’ birthday the year he died. My family moved around quite a bit when I was young. We moved from Louisiana to California to Florida then back to California, where we settled in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. I lived there until I was 22 years old and then moved to the Bay Area for a couple years. Now, I have ended up in Virginia.

Since I was nineteen years of age, my hobbies have pretty much involved being a part of the live music scene on as many levels as I could get myself into. Obviously, the easiest way for me to start that was going to as many shows of as many different bands as possible. I was initially drawn to the jam band scene for their supposed sense of community and family. I didn’t really find what I was looking for because the hippies of today are not the hippies of the past. But what it did instill in me was a love of being part of the live music experience and traveling the country to experience as many different adventures as possible.

I don’t have any musical abilities as far as playing instruments. Call this what you will, but I feel like it is an ability to be able to contribute your vibe and appreciation for music when it’s exceptional, because it is infectious and makes the live music experience better for everyone you are around as well.

TA: We read that you were the tour manager for Robert Randolph and Vusi Mahlasela. How does that compare to merchandising and which do you prefer?

Stephen: Being a tour manager was great. It was a completely different experience with the two bands. I was able to learn a different part of the industry which I’ve been able to apply to merchandise and touring in general, and that has been invaluable. Truthfully, I prefer merchandising because it allows me a higher level of interaction with the people at the shows that are being affected by the music. That is one of the major reasons why I love working in this industry. At the same time, I don’t close myself off to anything in the future because this whole experience has been very serendipitous, and everything that has happened to me has happened because it was supposed to.

TA: Have you been the "Merch Guy" for any other groups?

Stephen: I have done merchandising for Pseusopod, North Mississippi Allstars, Medeski Martin and Wood, David Gray, and Taylor Hicks. I also do merch for local venues in Charlottesville, Virginia when I’m not on tour.

TA: How did you get the gig with Taylor Hicks and what was it like working with him?

Stephen: I got the gig with Taylor through Musictoday, the company that was handling Taylor’s merchandise. I had worked there in the past and still have good friends there. Word came down that Taylor was looking for a merch manager. So someone let me know about it, I sent over my resume, and after a phone conversation that was that.

TA: What was your favorite city or cities during the Taylor Hicks tour? Did you get to do any site seeing?

Stephen: During the Taylor tour, we obviously went all over the country, and I had such great experiences most places I went. My favorites every time I go through are Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles. Some places I thought were great that I went through for the first time on Taylor’s tour were Orange Beach, Alabama, Vicksburg, Mississippi and Omaha, Nebraska.

I always try and get out and especially see the cities that I haven’t been to before, or cities that I have a particular affinity for. It’s also always nice to put yourself in spots where you can really get the local flavor of where you are, so I make it a point to make that happen if I’m able.

TA: Were there any inspirational or touching moments on the tour?

Seeing the way that Taylor’s music touches so many people of every different walk of life and how that music brings joy into their lives has been awesome. Since I am out talking to people every night I meet and hear so many great stories. It makes me thankful to be out with a guy like Taylor who cares so much about his fans and makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

TA: What is the funniest thing that happened to you on the tour?

Stephen: I would have to say that it was hanging out with Clay Conner and our friends at the FloraBama/ LiMBO show. If you were there, you know!

TA: What does the future hold for you?

Stephen: For right now, it looks like I’ll be staying with Taylor for a while. The music, the fans and the man himself are all great and it’s a good organization to be a part of.

TA: What are your duties at the Taylor Hicks Headquarters and what are your plans to improve the site?

Stephen: As far as my duties at THHQ, with Musictoday I am developing new and fun features for the site to hopefully keep people interested and coming back to see what we are going to add. It’s been a long process but I think the site has improved greatly over the past few months. We still have a few tricks up our sleeves that are on the horizon and we think once we roll them out there will be a lot of excitement and hopefully it will bring the community as a whole closer together.

TA: Do you have any surprises in the works regarding merchandise for the Soul Patrol on Taylor’s next tour?

Stephen: Of course I do, but if I told you what they were they would hardly be surprises!

TA: What is your overall opinion of the Soul Patrol?

Taylor’s fans are some of the kindest and most supportive fans that I have ever encountered in the live touring world. The Soul Patrol truly helps me remember why I am part of the live touring world and have taken this road in life.

Taylor’s Angels thanks Stephen for answering our questions and for allowing the Soul Patrol to see him in a different light. We wish him much success and look forward to seeing the exciting changes coming to the Taylor Hicks Headquarters. We also look forward to seeing Stephen’s smiling face on future Taylor Hicks’ tours!

Written by Tina Shaddix (DidNotExpectThat)

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