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Blues a 'style that doesn't change'

June 06, 1998

By SHEILA HOTCHKIN

Staff Writer

Friday night, New Yorker Michael P. Nordberg was introduced to Kevin Dillon, of San Francisco - the man with whom he shared a stage Saturday in Hagerstown at the 1998 Western Maryland Blues Fest.

The two men, who performed with Nick Gravenites, work as contract musicians, often playing 20 to 30 shows a week, but never settling down with one specific band.

"Anybody that calls, if I'm open, I play," Dillon, 45, said.

Contract musicians are found in all musical genres. But Gravenites, who hired the men for his Hagerstown gig, said blues lends itself to such a casual structure.

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"You can sit in and play with anyone anywhere around the country because the style doesn't change," he said.

Keeping up with a new band is not difficult, the contract musicians insist. But that does not mean contract musicians have it easy.

"There's some lean times in there," Nordberg said. In a slow month, the two men might go from doing as many as 30 jobs to as few as 10.

And sometimes, it's not even fun, Nordberg said, reflecting on some of the white-tie affairs where he has performed.

"You end up wearing ruffles sometimes and it's like, 'What am I doing here?'" he said. "And they won't let you eat the food that's like 5 feet away."

Both men gave their Hagerstown job high marks for hospitality, saying the people have been friendly and the atmosphere has been relaxed.

Despite the occasional bad gig, Nordberg said he hasn't wanted to do anything else since high school. Dillon once had other plans but left to follow his music career.

"I was in college to be an accountant, and I never finished," he said.

Gravenites said the ever-changing blues require musicians who can put something of themselves into the song, and sometimes "go nuts" during the performance.

"You've got to be a one-sided individual with one purpose, and that's to do what you please with your music," said the longtime blues man, who said he got his start in the ghettos of Chicago.

Nordberg, who is married to another contract musician, said he enjoys the freedom.

His unstructured career pays well for now, but living from paycheck to paycheck sometimes worries the 28-year-old musician, who has a 2-year-old son.

"All of a sudden, I'm thinking like an old man, like 'What am I going to do for him?'" he said, opening a wallet covered with comic book characters and pulling out several pictures of his wife and son. "I don't think I have any pension plan."

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