Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s life has been a whirlwind of interviews, debates, speaking engagements, and fundraising events. But no matter where the campaign trail takes him, one thing is always sure to follow—his beloved bass guitar. Making music is a passion for Huckabee, one he says he can’t live without.
“I think music is such a vital part of life,” he explains. “For me, making music is a way to get out of my normal routine and do something creative. It also gives me a chance to live the fantasy that was never quite fulfilled, the dream of being a professional musician.”
That dream began in 1966 in Hope, Arkansas, when Huckabee, then 11 years old, received his first electric guitar as a Christmas gift. Fascinated by everything music had to offer him, he practiced constantly, emulating his idols—The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Grand Funk Railroad. And as his playing ability grew, so did his confidence. In fact, he now credits playing music with giving him the strength to overcome an almost crippling shyness.
“The first time I played on a stage was in the 7th grade, at the junior high school in Hope,” he recalls. “As hard as some people might find this to believe now, I was a very bashful child. But I realized that if I wanted to be a musician, I was going to have to get up in front of people and play. Music has had a huge impact on my ability to do what I’m doing now.”
Though his eventual career path took him in a completely different direction—before turning his attention to politics, he was a Baptist pastor—there is no denying that Huckabee’s dream is still very much alive and well. Since that fateful day back in junior high, he has gone on to play with the likes of Alabama, REO Speedwagon, and Collin Raye. His band, Capitol Offense, has opened for acts that include Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels. And he’s even gotten a chance to play with one of his aforementioned idols, Grand Funk Railroad.
“That has to be my favorite music-related memory, getting to play on stage with Grand Funk Railroad,” he says. “I had just become governor. I was up there playing ‘Some Kind of Wonderful,’ and I remember looking around, and there’s Mark Farmer playing guitar and singing, and Don Brewer on drums, and Mel Schacher is letting me play his guitar! Suddenly it occurs to me: I’m playing with Grand Funk Railroad!”
Huckabee says that for him, music is more than just a hobby. It’s a way of life; an essential piece of the puzzle that helps him to stay focused—and stay fit. Finding that healthy balance is something he knows a lot about. After being diagnosed with type II diabetes in 2003, Huckabee lost an amazing 110 lbs. He has since authored a book on the subject, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork (Center Street, 2005), and says that just like living a healthier lifestyle, making music is an activity you must commit to wholeheartedly.
“Finding time for music is like finding time for exercise,” he explains. “You can look all you want, but you’ll never just find it. You have to make it. We make time for the things that are important in our lives; we make doctor’s appointments, and we keep them. Why? Because we know they’re important. If you don’t prioritize music in that way, if you don’t make it a part of your daily routine, you’ll never get to it.”
And that’s not where the connection between making music and staying in shape ends. As amateur and professional musicians alike can attest, the better you feel, the better you play. “The main thing [my weight loss] has done for me is that it’s given me so much more energy,” Huckabee says. “I’m more confident as a human being and I have stamina I never had before. I can stand on stage for hours and play without being in agony.”
Creating music is also a great way to keep your mind sharp, and Huckabee says that he is always striving to be a better musician. He listens to the classics, and even some newer artists—he calls the music of Little Rock natives Evanescence “truly captivating”—on his iPod, paying close attention to all of the bass runs and looking for new techniques or ideas that might be useful to him. The escape making music provides and the challenge of consistently improving have given him a new outlook on playing bass, one that is far different from the rock star fantasies of his 11-year-old self.
“I really enjoy making music now more than I did as a teenager,” he says. “Then there was so much pressure: can I make a living out of this? Will this go somewhere? Now I can be relatively certain that I’m not going to record a platinum album or win a Grammy, but I know that I can enjoy my music completely. I do it for me. I like to say, ‘I play for my amusement, and others’ amazement!’”
Making music is Mike Huckabee’s passion, but what about ensuring that the next generation will be given a chance to develop that same passion? Well, that’s Mike Huckabee’s mission.
“Music teaches discipline,” he says. “It teaches teamwork. For every moment of performance, there are hours of preparation, and that’s a valuable lesson to learn.” Research has long shown that children who study music do better in math, science, and other school subjects, and Huckabee believes that by cutting music and arts education in public schools, our children are being severely underserved.
Calling the arts “weapons of mass instruction,” Huckabee has made music and art education a pivotal issue in his presidential campaign. He says that the future economy of the US depends on a creative generation, and that music and the arts should not be seen as extracurricular activities. As Governor of Arkansas, he passed legislation mandating music and art programs, taught by certified teachers, for all Arkansas children in grades one through six. And as Chairman of the Education Commission of the States, he created a two-year initiative promoting the benefits of such education to all 50 states.
But having a high-powered political appointment is not necessary when it comes to making a difference, and Huckabee encourages anyone who loves music to get involved. “Everybody can be a strong advocate,” he says. “People of my generation—the Baby Boomer generation—don’t always realize how much weight they carry with their elected officials. Sometimes we don’t think that our voices make a difference, but stop and think how many of us there are—people like us who are musicians, who know the importance of music. We can make a real difference if we try.”
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