NASHVILLE SINCE 2000
Mike Hicks has played music in Spanish bull fighting rings and Roman ampitheaters, in arenas and on club stages. He splits his time playing keyboard for Rascal Flatts and honing his own bluesy sound.
As a kid growing up in Warner Robbins, Georgia, Mike’s focus was on sports. He’d always had some musicality, however, and in high school he began to explore that further. “It wasn’t to the point where I had any degree of specificity about it,” he says of the nature of his musical pursuits. “Being from a small town, I didn’t know professionals who did music, so I didn’t know what that would even look like. I knew I wanted to do something with music; I thought it was like, go meet people, play on some stuff, get signed to a record deal, like the fantasy stuff on TV, which is all I knew.”
He went to MTSU for college to figure it out further. “Being up here was great for me because it showed me the various avenues available, not just for musicians and people who work within music, but for creatives, period,” he says. He studies recording industry management, with an emphasis in production and technology.
What did he do upon graduation? “Struggled,” he laughs. “I played gigs here and there where I could get them, playing for churches on Sunday morning, and worked at a retail store selling music and books. Just hustled and hustled and hustled, until a few better gigs came along and then that kind of jumpstarted the professional music career, and it’s been a relatively wonderful career since.”
Mike’s first major and consistent gig was with the blues artist Keb’ Mo’, playing keyboard in his band. As Mike shares his story for the Nashville 100, Keb’ has minutes prior won a Grammy Award for a record that Mike played on. Mike toured with Keb’ for almost six years, until Keb’ decided to go a new direction with his sound.
“Hardly anybody in the industry is really like this,” Mike recalls, “but Keb’ had called an artist who I was subbing for and filling in for and talked to them before making that decision to make sure that I was taken care of and still had enough work. That guy is a one of a kind human being.”
The artist was Johnny Lang, with whom Mike toured for a while. Then, as they were preparing for a month-long tour in Europe, Rascal Flatts called and offered him a gig. “I love playing with Johnny, the gig was awesome, but if Rascal Flatts calls you kind of gotta take that,” he says. He now tours with them full time. “To be on that end of it, like from the one end, being on the bad end of going a new direction to within a year’s time being on the good end of a different direction, it’s just a crazy dynamic to navigate and a crazy lifestyle to live,” he says. “It’s a challenge. It’s a joy, but it’s a challenge at the same time.”
The touring world can be incredibly demanding, but when Mike does get back to town, the singer, songwriter, producer, and musician builds his impressive work as a solo artist as well with his band the Funk Puncs.