Ten years after Tom Higgenson formed a teen garage band playing covers in Villa Park, Ill., a chance encounter with a woman named Delilah has vaulted him and his band, Plain White T’s, to stardom.
“There was a real woman, real girl — whatever you want to call her — called Delilah,” he told TODAY’s Ann Curry before performing the hit single, “Hey There Delilah,” live in the TODAY studio.
“We never got together,” he told Curry. “I met her and I thought she was real pretty. I wrote the song, but nothing ever happened. But we’re No. 1 now.”
He wrote the song in 2005 and it has long been a favorite of the band’s fans, but it vaulted to No. 1 on Billboard 100, iTunes and Hot Digital Songs and No. 2 on Pop 100 when it was released on the Plain White T’s new album, “Every Second Counts.”
Higgenson’s mop of dark hair and formally casual attire of striped sweater, purple shirt open at the collar and tie made him look as if he’d fallen into a time warp in 1964 Liverpool and popped out in 2007 New York.
The song is gentle and haunting and lyrical, a tale of the unrequited love that characterizes much of Higgenson’s music. Asked once about his love life, he joked, “It's more of a ‘like’ life, as in, the ones I like never like me.”
Higgenson was inspired to be a musician by a trip to the Chicago rock club Metro. He recruited a group of high-school friends and formed a band, practicing in his parents’ home and playing covers.
Plain White T’s have worked hard to get where they are, touring constantly, playing the Nintendo Fusion tour and playing in whatever venue would have them.
The band’s members have changed over the years. They now include Dave Tirio on guitar, Mike Retondo on bass, De’Mar Hamilton on drums and Tim Lopez on guitar.
Higgenson’s own songwriting took a dramatic turn in 1999, after he survived a car crash that broke several vertebrae and forced him to wear a back brace and learn to walk again.
“It was one of those life-changing things," he has said. “And that was when I started writing songs that meant a little more to me. Instead of writing songs just to write songs, I was writing songs that were a little more personal and actually meant something to me.”
Recalling that time with Curry, he elaborated: “When I got more personal with the songs, they probably meant more to people. As weird as it is, the more personal you get in what you write about, the more people have probably gone through those same things, so they can relate to it.”