New Bern, NC – INTRO - What does it take to make it as a musician in the big city? And once you've made it, what next? For one North Carolina blues guitarist & vocalist, what was next was coming home and making it all over again, and not just as a musician. George Olsen has more.
The old joke about it taking practice practice practice to get to Carnegie Hall has a lot of truth to it, but the reality is it does take a road map at some point all the practice in the world doesn't matter if you're not willing to travel to take the stage. Chatham County's Dmitri Resnik thought he had the guitar chops to make it anywhere, but he needed a stage to prove it.
"but how can you ever make it in New Orleans, you know, that's kind of an open ended question. There's so many outstanding musicians and so many haven't quote-unquote made it outside of the city, and even when you're making it quote-unquote in the city, its still a month-to-month struggle to get gigs and bookings and all that."
Resnik spent about a dozen years in New Orleans before returning to Chatham County in 2000. He says he thinks he made it in New Orleans - to a degree - he worked regularly, landing a gig within a few weeks of his arrival in 1989, he made a few CDs, he got to tour, and perhaps most importantly to him, he got to experience music he may never have been around if he had stayed in North Carolina.
"And the zydeco, remember when I told you I traveled with a band to Canada, that was a zydeco band, and I never heard much zydeco. I'd heard Buckwheat Zydeco before I went down there, but I hadn't sat down and seen 10 zydeco bands one after the other at a festival before to compare them all and see and get a big old dose of it, so that was all around."
When you go somewhere to see if you can make it there, walking away perhaps as not a household name might seem like you in fact did not pass the test. But Resnik says he feels fairly fortunate that he wasn't so overwhelmingly successful that he became a brand name Dmitri Resnick, blues guitarist.
"You look at other guys, once they've found a thing to make money off of and then they're so busy making money and being booked and playing that person that they've created musically, it's very hard for them to get out of being that person first of all, that's who the audiences expect, and second of all they're busy doing jobs all the time, that's all they have the time to think about when you're playing 250 nights a year like a lot of guys do, so I had smaller audiences, fewer jobs, never kind of got a musical persona that was so successful that I was married to it, stuck with it, so I was thinking that it was kind of fortunate that I never kind of got stuck in a rut."
To some degree, he never fully allowed himself the opportunity to become that brand name. He went to New Orleans to make music but he also knew while he was there that he didn't want to live the life of the proverbial starving artist.
"If you want to just be a musician and not have a trade like be a carpenter too, it's a very tough road to hoe. You're really jumping off a cliff. And I've been that guy, and at times I didn't have food to eat on Friday and had to wait to play a gig on Saturday, get paid, go to the A&P at 3 in the morning and these other guys I played with, they lived like that every week, on Saturday night they'd say can you take me to the A&P after the gig because being from NC I had a beat-up old car which was way more than most guys had, so I was driving guys to gigs and running errands and stuff, we'd be in there at 4 in the morning getting food and they hadn't eaten since Thursday, and that's no way to art is art, but you gotta have some kind of life too. I'm willing to make sacrifices to pursue my art, but not that much."
So he worked carpentry jobs while in Louisiana around his musical life, and when he returned to Chatham County in 2000, he put those skills to work, renovating old houses. For a year after returning, he didn't perform a single gig, but eventually the urge returned. But he found a different musical situation in Chapel Hill then in New Orleans. He said he found the quality of musicianship to be super high caliber but there wasn't the same depth of talent. So when it came time to form a band, he couldn't find a vocalist that he particularly wanted to work with so he decided to try the mike himself.
"I'd find someone who could tutor me and show them what I was working on and what material I'm trying to sing and they could show me exercises to help improve my voice, and that only happened in 2001, and over a few years I got to enjoying singing as much as I enjoy playing guitar."
It's part of what he's come to enjoy since returning the opportunity to try new things that he might not have had living the musician's life in New Orleans. For instance, since returning he's become a fairly accomplished glass blower.
"After awhile I got good enough at that where I started selling my work and all of a sudden I was like, golly, this is really hot, this is really hard, it's hard on your wrists because you have to turn the pipe constantly, so then I started thinking that's the last thing you want to do is burn your wrists out blowing glass and then not able to play music effectively which is really your first love in life."
And on top of that, a boat builder. It's nothing he's selling just yet. He built a 9-foot boat, then decided he needed a bigger one so a 14-footer followed but, again, that seemed a little small so now he's at work on a 20-foot wooden boat built entirely from rough sawn lumber.
"So every stick of wood on this boat started out as a rough cut piece that I had to put through planers and I don't know why I want to take on such a task. It must be some kind of border-line mental illness because I'm up there, land-locked, I'm three hours from the coast. What makes me want to build these boats up there, I have no idea, but I'm rolling with it and I'm having fun with it, and that's all I can it's kind of been my philosophy of life. If it's not fun, try to avoid doing it."
A philosophy heard also when tending to the first love in his life. I'm George Olsen.