“Music is a universal language. To live it is a great thing. I’m grateful for a loving community.”
- Geoff McBride
For anyone who thinks the contestants on NBC’s The Voice are just superficial seekers of overnight fame, Geoff McBride provides an eloquent counter-example. The singer, a resident of the Santa Rosa Beach area, has been at his vocal trade since childhood—early childhood, in Southmont, North Carolina.
“I started singing at the age of six,” says McBride. His father was also a singer, who used to sit on the front porch and sing to Geoff’s mother. “It was trickle-down,” says McBride, adding, “It was a gift. You don’t take that lightly.”
He didn’t. Heeding his father’s admonition that he “hone his craft,” young Geoff started studying and making music, singing at church in the youth and adult choirs. He even sidelined in percussion. “My first drum was an oatmeal box,” he says.
In high school, he helped form Whisper Wind, a seven-piece band that traveled all over North Carolina, complete with parental chaperones. McBride put the oatmeal box aside and served as the band’s vocalist.
Once high school was finished, McBride considered studying medicine and becoming a pediatric surgeon. Nevertheless, he felt a desire that his musical gift be “utilized correctly.” This led him to take a big step.
“I moved to Atlanta with $54 in my pocket,” he says. In time, he was introduced to a man who had a recording studio, where McBride cut a demo. In 1989, he earned a major label deal with Arista Records. In 1990, he made a record, and had three Top 20 hits and one Top 10 song.
He traveled, playing with Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Holliday, Jermaine Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sarah McLachlan, and Al Jarreau. In 1996, McBride worked singing jingles and commercial vocals, and decided he wanted to start a family. He met his future wife Lisa at a health food store.
“I saw her and knew she was the one.” They married, and have “three beautiful children.” His three youngest—River, Zoe and Hunter—live with McBride and Lisa in Santa Rosa Beach. He also has an adult son, Romero, and two grandchildren.
“I love this area,” he says, having first experienced the Panhandle when he used to make trips to Panama City with a Christian youth group. When he moved here, McBride sang at various area venues while Lisa worked at For the Health of It. He performed for five years at Old Florida Fish House, and became friends with Tim Jackson, a guitarist and writer he met at church. Tim’s brother Tommy, founder of First Note Music Hall, offered McBride a gig doing original songs.
In choosing a song, McBride has a threepart test—a strong hook, a heartfelt lyric, and simplicity. He finds classic soul tunes satisfy all three requirements. “You never have to figure it out. It’s all there.”
McBride’s shot at The Voice came as a result of his submitting a demo (at Lisa’s suggestion) and landing an audition in Atlanta. McBride describes the tryout as “insane, nerve-wracking,” and the talent he faced as “unbelievable.” He had to make it through more than one audition. “You had to be prepared in all aspects.”
On The Voice, McBride debuted guns blazing, with a powerful cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” and earned a swivel-and-bid from two celebrity judges, Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. After hearing from both on what they could do for him, McBride chose Aguilera. “I kept an open mind,” he says, “but Christina turned around first.”
There followed a working session with Aguilera and Lionel Richie, which McBride describes as “the best thing that happened” in the process. He then went head to head with singer Sera Hill for a duet of “Chain of Fools,” a round from which Hill was chosen to move on.
McBride keeps only good memories. “I loved the duet,” he says, and wants to sing with Hill again. As for the whole Voice experience, he is making the most of it. “I didn’t feel competitive. We were happy, win or lose.”
In addition to his regular gig at First Note, McBride and Tim Jackson are still working together, and he plans to release an original single in the next few weeks. Meantime, when he isn’t singing or producing, his favorite pastime is “watching my kids run around. My day starts at 5 a.m.”