“I know it sounds selfish but I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy.”
Clark Hill speaks clearly, his eyes locked on yours. He’s tall, with an athletic build. His hair, once a curly tumble, is clipped short. He answers questions with a crisp but respectful “Yes, sir.” At age 31, he stands at the crossroads of youth and experience, each enhancing the other. Without even trying he projects a sense of who he is and why he’s here.
“Up until just a few years ago, I hadn’t really found myself. I was a young parent with two kids and a wife. I excelled at every job I got but every day I walked out of my house feeling like I wasn’t doing anything with my life. But even then I knew what it meant to leave your mark on the world. I knew I wouldn’t be here today without my parents. We weren’t a wealthy family but they helped me in every way. My dad worked for 25 years in a prison; he hated it but he did it so we could live comfortably.”
He glances downward but just for a second. “So I kept searching for something I could achieve, some mark I could leave. That would be the greatest thing I could do for my kids.”
In some ways, Clark will acknowledge, things had come to him too easily. Growing up in northern Florida, on the land his grandparents once called home, he worked on the family farm, planting and harvesting corn, black-eyed peas, maybe some okra and tomato plants. In school he earned high grades almost without trying. Following the footsteps his dad had made as a college football star, Clark played linebacker and then tight end on his high school team, always as a starter, never experiencing a losing season. Shortly before graduating he passed his exam as an EMT fireman; after earning his diploma, he went to work.
“Basically, I was a paramedic except I couldn’t push meds,” he explains. “I could run an IV, pull a line, do advance cardiac. And I was 18 years old.”
Clark showed his musical gift early too. As far back as second grade, he performed in talent shows and dressed as Elvis. (“I dyed my hair and everything,” he confesses, chuckling.) In church he sang with the children’s choir and later was appointed to lead the praise band on Wednesday night services. For several years just before Christmas he performed at Disney World with the high school chorus.
“It was funny because my main interests were football and weight lifting,” he says. “I mean, I enjoyed music — I was a huge Vince Gill fan and I loved Johnny Cash and Hank Jr. But I never thought that music would have anything to do with my future.”
That would change. One fateful day, at a moment of difficulty in his marriage, he went to have a wisdom tooth removed. First, the anesthesia wore off in the middle of surgery. Right after that, the dentist accidentally broke Clark’s jaw. He went home, hoping to just weather the pain alone. By the way, it was his birthday too.
After a while his brother-in-law showed up and insisted that Hill come along as he headed out to play a gig with his cover band. Never mind that Clark hadn’t touched a guitar for several years. “Just watch my hands,” he was told. “If you sound bad, we’ll turn you off. Enjoy yourself.”
He did. Clark began sitting in frequently, getting his guitar chops back, singing backup and even taking the lead on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” and a few other tunes. He began writing as well, beginning with “Papa’s Song,” an appreciation of his late grandfather. Eventually, the band’s lead singer invited him to play it as a solo acoustic performance during intermission.
“Long story short, people liked it,” Clark says. “Almost that quick, man, they became fans and started coming to shows just to watch my acoustic set an hour and a half into the show. I noticed that people were listening to me. They paid attention to the stories I wrote into my songs, they wanted to know more. Right then, I felt I’d found what I’d been looking for.”
It didn’t take long for Clark to pack up and head with his father and brother-in-law to Nashville. CMA Music Fest 2012 was in full swing as they arrived. “It was a horrible time to pound on doors,” he remembers, laughing. “But I’m not kidding; we went into every building on Music Row and dropped off my homemade business cards. I came in with nothing but my passion, like, ‘Hey, man, let’s do this!’”
When not visiting empty offices, Clark caught every performance he could at the Festival. “I stood in the back and dreamed about what I would do if I was the one on that stage,” he says. “Pretty quickly I realized this was something I could do. I wanted that stage. I wanted the crowds. I wanted to keep asking myself how I could get more creative.”
Making friends quickly, Clark got to know Craig Morgan, who introduced him to his drummer Mike Rogers. They hit it off and agreed to work together on a full-length album, with Rogers serving as producer. Creatively, they clicked from the start. “We agreed that this would be about me finding my natural sound without forcing anything,” Clark says. “Mikey grew up in the outskirts of Myrtle Beach, so we both came from the same small-town, family-oriented place.”
They emerged from the studio with an album Clark calls People Like Me. It’s a varied package, with tracks that rock hard like they do it in the South (“Stage Song”), honor the love of his life (“Swerve”), celebrate (the reggae-flavored “Don’t You Worry Bout’ Me”) and mourn (“I Hate That Car”) a romantic breakup, testify with dignity and deep emotion (“How Great Thou Art”) and proudly proclaim the small-town virtues that define who Clark is, musically and personally (“Those Were The Days”).
“The album touches on every element of who I am,” Clark affirms. It’s that simple. It’s that profound.
And it’s a first big step toward that legacy that Clark is already building, song by song, show by show. His real journey begins now, with People Like Me.