Trey Taylor's list of personal heroes includes some of the most accomplished giants of the country music genre.
Glen Campbell. Dolly Parton. Willie Nelson. Ronnie Milsap. The Oak Ridge Boys. All of these names make sense, considering Taylor's devotion to the art form and his own budding career as a country music star. Taylor, an Aurora native and a senior at Cherokee Trail High School, has spent the past several years balancing his life as a high school student with his music, finding time between classes and school events to record his debut album, perform across the country and travel to Nashville to meet his idols.
But Taylor's list of influences isn't purely musical. In interviews, Taylor always mentions another mentor, one who has nothing to do with country music. Dr. Tony Poole, now the director of Student Achievement Services and Special Education for the Cherry Creek School District, was the principal at Sky Vista Middle School when Taylor attended.
"When I take out my hand and count my heroes, he's in the same class as those artists," Taylor said. "He taught me about what the Cherry Creek School District stands for. When I was having trouble at home, he would stay at the school until 6 or 7 p.m. to make sure that I was OK. He deserves a lot of credit for the amount of support and encouragement he gave me."
Indeed, the first time that Taylor sang in front of an audience was at Sky Vista to pay tribute to Poole as he prepped to switch professional roles at CCSD. It was part of a larger pattern for Taylor, who credits the district with offering the guidance and support that was so critical to building a successful musical career.
"Dr. Poole taught us that we can do whatever we want to do. I came in there with a crazy dream and I remember the excitement he had when he found about it. He taught me about the bigger meaning of the district," Taylor said. "The Cherry Creek School District and Cherokee Trail High School have been big supporters for me. When we strive for excellence, it doesn't mean one thing. I've striving for excellence in music, and that is what CCSD instilled in me."
Judging from Taylor's success, he's taken those lessons to heart. In addition to releasing his first album, "Ocean In His Eyes," Taylor has made the kind of connections that most country music singers can only dream about. He's traveled to Nashville to explore the roots of the genre, he's swapped stories with Dolly Parton and he's recorded with the daughter of one of his personal heroes, Glen Campbell.
|" . . . Only through the Cherry Creek School District could a young African-American kid from Aurora become a country singer and become friends with Dolly Parton."|
The song "Guitar Pickin' Life" on his debut album features vocals by Debby Campbell, and the song serves as a tribute to the original "Rhinestone Cowboy." The duet came after Taylor got to see one of Campbell's final performances at a show in New Mexico. Campbell, whose battle with Alzheimer's eventually derailed his ability to perform in front of an audience, was Taylor's "Superman" when he was learning to sing and play guitar. Recording "Guitar Pickin' Life" with Campbell's daughter was a chance to express his gratitude and honor his icon.
"Glen Campbell's melodies were so beautiful. It was therapy to be playing along and playing those scales," Taylor recalled. "I would watch videos and pause the clip so that Glen could show me how to play the guitar. It was very difficult for me to watch his struggle with Alzheimer's."
Taylor found inspiration in that struggle. Watching a beloved artist remain true to his craft even as his mental faculties were failing was an important lesson, and it spurred Taylor to work even harder and stand out as a true original.
It's impossible to miss his enthusiasm. With a fondness for cowboy boots, gaudy colors and dazzling jewelry, Taylor stands out in a crowd, a fact that hasn't been lost on his peers at Cherokee Trail. They've embraced his singular style wholeheartedly, a warm reception that's helped guide Taylor on his creative path. As he looks to his plans after high school, schemes that include college and a more intense focus on his music, the lessons he learned in the Cherry Creek School District are foremost on his mind.
"If I'm not yet a star in Nashville, I'm a star at Cherokee Trail. That's been part of my encouragement," Taylor said with a broad grin. "That helps me moving forward. I realize, I can't let Cherokee Trail down … It's been such an amazing thing; Only through the Cherry Creek School District could a young African-American kid from Aurora become a country singer and become friends with Dolly Parton."