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Underdog Rising

The road to country stardom is never easy. But imagine traveling that already difficult road, as Billy Hoffman did, with more than a few physical challenges in tow.

"I was born with a hearing problem," confides Billy. "I'm only three percent away from being deaf."

He gets by with hearing aids (which he confesses he seldom wears) and by reading lips. "Hold your hands tight over your ears while someone talks to you," says Billy. "That's how it sounds to me."

Billy notes that songwriting comes naturally because he hears music in his head.

"I've played music all my life," he says.

Strangely enough, Billy's musical interest sprang from another physical obstacle.

"I was born with underdeveloped hands," he explains. "I started playing guitar when I was six to get dexterity in my hands."

Billy didn't start singing until years later. Once again, a physical problem got him started. "My senior year in high school I was in a bad car accident," he reveals. "I was hospitalized for six months. My music teacher put me in her class and brought over my homework so I could graduate. When I got out of the hospital, I had to be in choir."

At just over 30, Billy was older than most aspiring country singers when he came to Nashville. But his age was only one strike against him. "I weighed 350 pounds," he confesses. "They said, 'You're too fat.'"

Most people would have left town brokenhearted. Not Billy.

"I lost 125 pounds," he declares. "I lived on liquids for months. Then I tried eating only what I could fit on a coffee saucer. I love music that much."

Billy explains that he has more energy than ever -- which he puts to use in his lively stage show. "Someone once paid me a great compliment," recalls Billy. "They said, 'Put Garth Brooks and Neal McCoy in a blender. That's Billy Hoffman!'"

Billy is currently working on his second album for Critter Records, the company started by country singer Joe Stampley. The album's first single, "Barroom Athletes," has just been released.

"It's a song about all of us armchair quarterbacks!" chuckles Billy. Although he plays sports -- golf, softball, bowling -- he admits to also being one of the wannabes he sings about in the song. He also admits he can't help rooting for the team less likely to win.

"Being from Arkansas, I'm a big Razorback fan," he explains. "So, I'm used to rooting for the underdog! That's why I believe in Billy Hoffman."

-- M.B. Roberts