Eight years ago, Derek Sholl put down his baseball mitt, picked up a guitar, and strummed the first chords of a promising music career.
Derek Sholl's journey from pro baseball hopeful to fast-rising country star is a true-to-life tale of one big man, two big talents, and countless nights of dues-paying gigs that took the singer/songwriter from local bars in his native southern California to state-of-the-art stages in Vegas, to Nashville's top recording studios, all the way to his current touring base in Texas.
"Sports totally dominated my life growing up," Sholl says. "My mom says my first words were 'the ball.' Anything with a ball, I would pick it up and I was hooked. But I was also the guy who knew the words to every song on the radio, I was singing in the dugout, singing in the huddle, singing in the outfield, just singing because I liked it."
He still likes it, but these days Sholl is singing his way into the country music big leagues as he embarks on a multi-state radio tour in support of "Here," his undeniable breakthrough single. With southern California good looks, an athlete's energy, an unforgettable, soul-deep country voice and a no-holds-barred stage show that never fails to stop audiences in their tracks, Sholl is currently on a fast track to the national stage. Not bad for a guy who literally got his start singing in the shower.
"I first started listening to country music when I got drafted by the Kansas City Royals," Sholl recalls. "I'd come into the clubhouse singing Randy Travis and Alan Jackson in my "new" country voice. I was half kidding, but everybody would always say, 'Hey, that's really good.' I was learning a lot of songs, but baseball was my first love. I still thought I was going to be a professional ball player."
From his first day in the pros, when he was hit by an errant pitch and broke a knuckle, fate repeatedly stepped in to re-direct Sholl's life away from sports and toward the music. Recovering from his first injury, he found himself delving even deeper into country music, and he was just back in the outfield when another ball broke his arm. In the end, a torn Achilles tendon effectively finished off his career.
"It was a real bummer," Sholl says. "It's hard to work your way all the way into the starting lineup and then boom, you break a bone and you're right back to the bottom of the totem pole."
Sholl's climb back up began almost immediately when he started picking guitar and singing requests at a local watering hole.
"I don't have any schooled musical background, and I never took lessons," he says. "I learned to play guitar by listening to records and putting my fingers where they needed to be to make that sound."
His singing voice was another story, and Sholl used his regular gigs to hone his God-given country baritone into an instrument that lifts and informs every song he sings. It wasn't long before the acoustic, sing-along format "got old" for the singer, and he was soon packing them into those same local clubs backed by a full band, growing from "singer" to "entertainer" and attracting the kind of professional management that would introduce him to the larger music business. Sholl was making regular trips to Nashville to write and record when he was offered an opportunity too good to refuse.
"We'd been pitching our music to The Station Casinos in Las Vegas," Sholl says. "They have state-of-the-art sound, lights, and production, and we got an opportunity to come to Vegas and audition for their bigwigs."
After a successful audition, Sholl made the move and spent the next three years perfecting his act in front of some of the toughest audiences in the world.
Word of Sholl's energetic shows eventually made its way down the Vegas strip to the Mirage, where Jay Leno was searching for the perfect opening act for his regular appearances. Sholl was soon sharing the stage with the late night TV icon, who remains a friend and devoted fan of the singer.
"In a honky tonk, everybody's talking loud and yelling," Sholl says. "But in this type of venue, it's theater seating and all eyes are on you. You're playing to a different crowd from all over the world, and you have to get up there and prove yourself every single night, but it's an excellent environment for getting your original material across. It's a test, but we pulled it off."
Today, Sholl finds his current single, "Here" making noise on the regional Texas chart and the national Music Row chart. Currently touring in support of the single throughout Texas and the southwest region, Sholl has ramped up his live show even further to accommodate the rowdy Lone Star fans. Meanwhile, in the studio, recording "Here" with producer Chris Estes, the singer found the perfect balance.
"This is the kind of radio-friendly stuff I want to be recording," Sholl says. "It also turned out to be one of the best vocals I've put on anything."
Between tour dates, Sholl will soon be heading into Rosewood Studios in Tyler, Texas to record his debut album, which features a wealth of new material along with signature Sholl originals like "One More Round" and "She's Bad." It's taken several years and about a million gigs, but Sholl's country music career has been both a steady climb and a trial by fire. And while he's managed to keep the injuries to a minimum, the athlete in Sholl is bound and determined to give 110 percent night after night, delivering a riveting and energetic live show whether he's playing a huge festival or gigging in a Texas honky tonk.
"I take a lot of pride in our live stage show," he says. "What I'm doing up there is not an act. On a big stage or in a small bar, it's high energy and it's exactly who I am."
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