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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

Double lives: They have normal jobs by day, but they're ready to rock out at night

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jamie Durham, who works in the Lucas County Treasurer's Office, is a member of the band Mindshift. Jamie Durham, who works in the Lucas County Treasurer's Office, is a member of the band Mindshift.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Jamie Durham serves society by rocking.

Except, that is, during normal business hours.

From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Durham - the lead singer in the alternative rock band Mindshift - serves society by collecting your property taxes and answering questions in the Lucas County Treasurer's Office.

"You have to make ends meet some way," he explained.

Not all rockers are lucky enough to be able to do what they love full time. Playing at a local club or coffee house a couple of times a week - or less - just doesn't cut it.

"The band is not even close to paying my rent these days," said Joel Roberts, a guitar and keyboards player in the electronic rock band Stylex who spends his days repairing ATMs.

For others, it's just a way to indulge a different side of their personality.

Either way, people like Durham end up living double lives. Maybe you know him as the guy in the Detroit Pistons T-shirt with the tattoos on his arms letting loose into the microphone on stage at Headliners. Or maybe you've just seen him in corporate mode: white dress shirt, tie, pictures of his 6-year-old son in his cubicle.

Mindshift was started about eight years ago, and at one point opened up for the rock band Limp Bizkit and played at the House of Blues in Chicago. Durham, 28, a Whitmer High School graduate, gave up "the college thing" to focus 100 percent on the band, which he said is ready for the big time.

"It's just a matter of getting that right break," he said.

Until then, though, there has been a succession of jobs to pay the bills. He delivered pizza once - for about a week. He worked in a window assembly factory for a couple of weeks. Then about five years ago, he landed the job in the treasurer's office.

"It's nice to have a steady schedule," he said.

But it can be tough to balance the two lifestyles.

Roberts, 27, of the Old West End, travels around northwest Ohio for his job. He would like to keep most of his focus on his music, but that's occasionally at odds with what his job expects of him.

"Sometimes, I kind of have to step back and say, 'Wow, I've really been thinking about work rather than the band,' " he said. "It's a battle."

So is surviving the late night, high-adrenaline performances and the subsequent early morning call to work.

"Musicians kind of have a cliche of being partiers," Durham said. "I can't be going out when I have to get up early in the morning."

That's not to say it didn't take him a few times before he figured that out.

Glenn McFarland, the "G" in the KGB Band, a Motown group that sings regularly at the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit, said it's not unusual for him to go to bed around 4 a.m. after a performance. He has to be at work at an American Petroleum gas station carry-out by 8 a.m. So how does he manage?

"I don't understand it myself," he said. "Sometimes it hurts, but my body is so adjusted to it. I guess it just comes naturally."

Maybe it's easier to survive this kind of lifestyle when the music's in your blood. McFarland, 49, of West Toledo, grew up with a grandmother who loved Jackie Wilson and Fats Domino so much there were pictures of them on the wall. He's been singing in talent shows since 5th or 6th grade and professionally for decades.

"I've been doing it so long, I don't know what else to do," he said.

His boss has always been understanding about his other interests and he likes the work, but he'd like nothing more than to be able to give it up and sing for a living.

"I'm prepared to tell the people here I work with: This is the time I've been looking for and my suitcase is packed," he said.

Local blues musician Patrick Lewandowski, 51, actually did that years ago. He had done work for the family business in surveying and engineering, but always just wanted to be a musician. In the mid-80s, he finally did it, working gigs six or seven nights a week.

A handful of years later, though, when his brother took over the business and asked him to come back, Lewandowski agreed. On one condition.

"I told him I'd come back if I could have Wednesday off," he said. That's because he played Tuesday nights at the former Frankie's on the East Side.

Actually, he said, the surveying work is pretty cool, not the least because it keeps him outside. And technically, he doesn't need to leave his music behind when he's on the job.

"I'm always thinking about music even when I'm thinking about what I'm doing on the job," he said.

The day job isn't always subservient to the musical dreams. Just ask Paul Unger. Or rather, step into his office. There is a photograph on his desk of him and his wife. Look a little bit closer and you'll see something else: just beneath that photo, there's a picture of him with B.B. King.

Kind of like the role blues play for Unger, 48 - always there, but just below the surface.

He's the provost at Owens Community College, the second-in-command. That means he has a nice office and wears suits every day. He has a Ph.D. and thinks about weighty matters.

On select weekends - never on a school night - he dons black jeans and picks up his electric guitar to join Big Blues Bob and the Thin Ice Band.

A musician since his parents bought him a baritone ukulele as a kid, he sold all his stuff in college, before starting to jam again during graduate school. Playing guitar is a hobby that he loves, but it's still just a hobby. "It's just something else that you do," he said.

It's a bonus that many who know him as an administrator who puts in 12 hours days are surprised by his extracurricular activities. "They see that I am not this stuffy individual," he said.

Laurie Swyers, 52, of Grand Rapids, once tried to make it full-time in the music world - she was about 19 or 20 and she left town for New York City - but it wasn't meant to be. Maybe that's because becoming a social worker was.

She's worked for Lucas County Children Services for more than 25 years, all the while moonlighting as a musician locally and regionally, most recently as part of the bands Blue Sun and Blue Moon.

It shows.

"I get a lot of good blues material from my job," said Swyer, who currently is on medical leave from her position as a supervisor of ongoing case workers.

And despite how much she loves her music, she considers her day job truly special.

"It's what I want on my tombstone," she said. "It's something I'm proud of."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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