By Kelly Baughman
When you see him on stage with his ball cap and shades on, singing a country song while making the crowd go wild, you might a first glance think Brian Hill is Kenny Chesney. His country twang and all-American good looks may be reminiscent of others in the game, but Hill is definitely one of a kind, full of surprises both on and off stage.
Hill was ingrained with music early on in his hometown of Mount Sterling, Kentucky, as his family had a traveling gospel group and gospel broadcast that was featured on the local radio station every Sunday. Having learned several instruments through his gospel beginnings, Hill began accompanying his father, a honky-tonk musician, to gigs on Friday and Saturday nights. “It sounds crazy now, but we didn’t have babysitters back then. My dad just took me along to the bar at 12 years old, and I learned to sit in with them and play depending on which one of them had too much to drink,” Hill said with a joking laugh.
Having cut his teeth in the honky-tonk scene early, Hill knew that music would always be a part of him, but wanted more. He joined the Marine Corps, where he spent years traveling the world. “No matter where I was stationed, I would always find the guys with musical talent and we would put a band together. We would find places to gig, and it allowed me to have a little piece of home with me no matter where I was,” Hill recalled.
Years later after being stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Hill found himself in the Perdido Key area. “I knew this was a bustling little music hub, but all of my equipment was still in Japan so I wasn’t able to be a part of it,” Hill said. But that all changed one night after Hill attended an open mic night hosted by fellow local musician, Sam Glass.
“Sam and I were chatting outside and I told him I recently relocated from Okinawa. He lit up and told me he too was stationed in Okinawa and it sparked a friendship. He allowed me to use his guitar to get up and play a few, and I got hired that night to play the very next night in that bar,” Hill said. From that night on, Hill remained the house band for the Perdido Key Sports Bar for the next two years.
When the PK Sports Bar made their move to their new location, Hill said he moved on to the Flora-Bama, where he remains a staple today. “It’s pretty much the only place I play now, give or take a show here and there,” said Hill.
While Hill still works a 9-5 and plays music regularly, he maintains that family is what comes first. He joked, “Between my wife and my 5 kids, I don’t really have much of a say about anything not pertaining to music. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
When asked if his kids share his musical talent, Hill was quick to answer, “No….and I’ve actually tried to keep it away from them. Having grown up in the honky-tonk bar scene most of my life, I don’t want them to be an old bar room musician like me. I want them to be doctors or lawyers….something like that.”
But despite his want for a better life for his children, Hill’s apparent love for the music and the lifestyle still shined through as he said, “It’s not a bad life though.”
Hill called his musical style ‘classic country meets southern rock’, and said the Allman Brothers, George Jones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were among his biggest influences. But much like his eclectic set list, Hill is full of surprises.
“Not many people know this about me, but when I was in high school, I was in a heavy metal band. We actually got offered a recording contract, but we had to learn these five songs that we didn’t agree with so we passed on it. Some of the songs were originals, but I remember one of them was a cover of a White Snake song, and we thought we were a lot edgier and heavier than that. We just didn’t like the material and we were all young and dumb. It was either our way or no way, so obviously it was no way,” Hill laughed.
But in the end, Hill said he wouldn’t change a thing. “I’ve got the best of both worlds. I play at one of the coolest spots in the world every other weekend, and I spend the others with my family. That’s a balance I’m blessed to have that so many others don’t.”
To catch Brian Hill’s upcoming shows, check out the Brian Hill Band on Facebook, the Flora-Bama’s upcoming music schedule, or PK Live’s What’s Happening section.