His dream wasn't unusual:Mike Mitchell wanted to be a country music star.
About six years ago, he decided to try to make it happen. Commuting to Nashville every chance he got, he began canvassing the major record labels and playing small gigs around town. What he found out was that lots of people shared his dream.
"They've got all these young people down there trying to make it. I was already in my upper 30s. I just said, 'I'm too old for this,'●" Mitchell, now 42, says. "It sounds odd, but people enjoy my music more up here. You're a dime a dozen down there. Up here, you're a star."
Mitchell has been playing music around Toledo for more than 15 years, starting in a 1980s-type cover band. But country has always been his thing. On a trip to Nashville in 1999, Mitchell recorded an album, "Wish I Were a Cowboy," which had 15 original songs. It sold 10,000 copies but got him no closer to signing a deal with a major recording studio.
In 2002, he was able to record another album, "Look What You've Done," with the help of Bobby Locke, a record executive from Sonic Records. The independent label helped him get some publicity for his songs. The title song plus "Kids of My Own" each hit No. 1 on various independent music charts.
After that taste of success, "I had a few people call me and say they were interested in signing me," Mitchell says. "I had all kinds of hits but never any big bites from the major labels."
The funny thing about chasing a dream is that the bills keep showing up in your mailbox back home. "I guess time just kind of ran out on me. I got tired of busting the pavement down there, and I had bills to pay up here," he says.
While opening a show for Mark Wills at the Lucas County Fair in 2003,Mitchell caught the attention of keyboardist Jakob Grimm, who later suggested they put a local band together. That band, Dowling Road (the name of the street on which Mitchell lived), quickly built a name for itself around the area. It broke up for a little while but has now returned with Mitchell on lead vocals, Grimm on keyboard, Dave Scoby on lead and rhythm guitar, Steven Guerrero on bass, and Bob Ezzonne on drums.
The band is planning to hit the festival scene hard next summer, probably some fairs in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. It will be taking part in the finals of Buckeye Country's karaoke contest at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 in Bowling Green's Woodland Mall. The finalists will be performing four songs each with Mike and his bandmates. It will have its own float and play live during Bowling Green's holiday parade on Nov. 19. Information about its upcoming shows can be found at www.dowling-road.com.
"For those who have never seen us, we're high energy, fun, famly oriented," Mitchell says. "You can bring anyone to our shows - from 75 down to 12 years old."
Every once in a while he thinks back to his shot at Music City stardom, but he has little regret. "I'm having a blast right now," he says. "I'm having the best time of my life."
Brian Dugger's column on country music appears in The Blade the final Saturday of each month.
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