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Keeping ‘Huck’s Herd’alive

By Staff | Jan 27, 2009

Compiling a 129-59 record, the late Marshall University basketball coach Rick Huckabay turned MU hoops from 1983-1989 into formidable force appearing in three NCAA tournaments and an NIT berth.

MU Athletic Director Bob Marcum recalled him as a man of high energy, flamboyance and substance, creating a certain amount of showmanship on the hardwoods. During a time when the football squad struggled, “Huck’s Herd” invigorated the fans for six seasons.

 Although Coach Huckabay died in Louisiana of cancer, during his final month of life he coached Simsboro High School into the state playoffs.

 Little wonder that the ardent cries of “Huck’s Herd” now ring again, along with his gentlemanly compassion and showmanship. His son, Rick Huckaby — he changed the spelling of his last name — has reignited the stars around the family. Not on the sports field, but on the stages at arenas and recording studios nationwide.

Winning the 2008 Billboard Song Contest with “Ain’t Enough Blacktop,” the young Rick Huckaby co-wrote Trace Adkins’ (a Grammy nominee for Best Male County Singer) current chart climbing, “Muddy Water.” But the young Huckaby has demonstrated the same tenacity as his late father. While pursuing his dreams of Nashville music stardom, he spent three years laying asphalt. “I don’t miss any part of it,” the singer laughed. 

During an interview following his guitar performance at Toy Train 2008, Huckaby, the oldest of two boys, talked with HNN about his dad and his own musical career. 

“We moved here in 1983. I started the third grade here. We moved in 1995 while I was attending Marshall,” Huckaby said. “I was a little boy when he was coaching. I went to Belmont my first year of college, transferred to Marshall, then decided I wanted to be in the music business.”

Having lived in Nashville for 13 years, the oldest son of the legendary coach usually visits Huntington every three or four months, though as his career has started to blossom in 2008, he has not been back home as much.

The musician, who first honed his lyrics and talent at West Virginia college clubs, landed a gig playing acoustic guitar and backup vocal harmony for Tracy Lawrence in 1998. While working with Trace he wrote hit songs such as “Steps,” “Breaking from the Inside Out,” and “For the Love.”

 “My first break in the music business was playing guitar for Tracy. I went from working construction to playing for him. It was a life changing experience because that first nut’s always the hardest to crack in Nashville and he was such a big artist. It was a huge, huge feat for me to do that. I played guitar for his band about five years, played on a couple of records with him, and through that go a record deal,” Huckaby explained.

Although he signed with Warner Bros Records, he cut ties with the company to retain ownership to “Ain’t Enough Blacktop,” which his dying father dreamed of hearing on the radio. Mixing cerebral lyrics and rebel rousing rhythms, his music has been described as “a flawless bridge between the soulful Memphis R&B and country.”

He released his first album independently through a company honoring his dad —Head Coach Records.

“Depending upon the song,” the rising star acknowledged that Thundering Herd memories (“play hard or go home”) and phrases often “filter” their way into his lyrics.  His recollections in “Coming of Age” inspired the “thunder rolls” line. “Any place I can get inspiration. There’s a lot here [in Huntington] to get it from.”

Currently, his co-written “Muddy Water” has been sticking in the Top 10.

 As for inspiration, “I try to get it wherever I can get it. I sit down and start first with a guitar. On ‘Muddy Water,’ it was my co-writers idea … [he said] I got this hook on ‘Muddy Water’ will you help me out?’ We sat down and worked on it.”

 Reflecting back on the glory days when his father’s basketball teams brought in large crowds in Huntington and away, the man who has envisioned himself as “just call me Huck,” without question remembers “the best people and the world in Huntington. How much fun it was and the relationships we built with so many people here that are like family. That’s the best part about coming back here, it’s those people you get to see again. That really made it cool.”

Ironically, during the shooting of “We Are Marshall” in 2006 his dad lost his battle with cancer. Still, Rich has found the McG directed film about the plane crash “fantastic. It’s one of my favorite movies. They did a great job on it.”

 As for his CD, the music and lyrics have been classified as “country blues” with his style reflecting (in the words of a Nashville writer) “story-telling characteristic of county music and his passion for the dynamic groove of southern rock. Huckaby’s style developed as naturally and unfettered as the undergrowth of a bayou swamp and as deeply embedded as an Appalachian coal mine.”

To hear selections from his CD (or purchase and/or download tracks, visit: www.rickhuckaby.com.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com