Musicians Day Jobs

One night in September, after a jumping set with his band at Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti, sweat-soaked singer-guitarist Hank Milne stood on the sidewalk out front, pressing flesh and fielding compliments. Everyone, it seemed, had something nice to say about the Volunteers' debut concert. Except one attendee, who passed by and, with a grin, remarked to Milne: "Don't give up your day job." Normally the lowest of all the low blows that bruise players' egos, the comment was served in jest, and Milne responded with a laugh, adding, "Oh, I won't. I can't. I make too much money."

Funnin' aside, Milne is not locked into anything. If it came right down to a choice between his day job and his music, he says he would strike a compromise. He's an attorney.

If a major record company offered enough money for the Volunteers, Milne says, "I would negotiate the best position with the competing offers, I would try to negotiate a sabbatical with the firm." It would have to be a hell of an offer, not because Milne makes lots of money, which he does, but because of other, more personal reasons. Because of something his international clients - most of whom are battling the government over seizures in forfeiture cases - and the fans stomping along to the sounds of the Volunteers at Churchill's know nothing about.

That's the way it is for rock musicians, and, of course, for other people as well. Milne has had no trouble reconciling his life as a high-power partner in the giant, hundred-year-old law firm Squire Sanders Dempsey - he works in a coveted corner office overlooking Biscayne Bay from the Miami Center - and his night life as a dressed-down rock and roller ripping up some of the area's darkest dives. "Both are performance arts," Milne explains. "You use different costumes, and you're emoting to generate an effect on an audience, whether it's a jury or judge or on the stage. I don't believe in a `rock and roll lifestyle,' or in the 24-hour-a-day pinstriped lifestyle either."

Self-assurance shields the impact of perceptions, but it doesn't negate them. All lawyers are greedy exploiters. All rockers are drugged-out freaks. "People come to both those pursuits with mental barriers," Milne says. "If you tell someone you're a rock musician and they're talking about some $100 million problem, you don't engender their trust. And with a rock band, you tell someone you're a serious attorney with a serious outfit, they might discount the value of your music, think you only treat it as a hobby, so it's something less than something done to make money. I try not to tell people about the other thing I do until I know them, although I don't keep it quiet around the firm. Most law firms consist of pretty adult people. They take a look at you, and if you're a strength to the company, they're sort of proud of the other thing. Besides, I had a hand in hiring most of them."

Milne began playing guitar as a teen-ager in London, where he'd visit North End clubs to see upstart groups called Yes and Jethro Tull. Soon he turned to electric guitar and began writing his own songs. At the same time, he was studying, working toward becoming a barrister. Arriving in South Florida in 1978, when he was in his mid-twenties, Milne jammed in a series of rock bands, including Isolator and Perfect Strangers. He acquired his juris doctor degree from the University of Miami in 1980, and is now qualified to practice law virtually anywhere from Wales to Waxahachie. (He often travels to places as far as Hawaii, which he recently visited 28 times for hearings.)

By critical standards, at least, he's achieved similar success with the Volunteers, designed as an open-door band with a changing cast of players brandishing everything from mandolin to tin whistle. With a strong rock base and a tendency to delve into Celtic rhythms, the Vols surrender entertaining live sets around town on a fairly regular basis. Like any band, Milne and his cohorts want their music to be heard by as many people as possible. Toward that end, however, Milne isn't about to hop in a van and cruise the nation seeking exposure. It's not that he couldn't give up his pleasant view of Biscayne Bay. "I have two small children," the attorney explains, "one of them with Down's Syndrome, and they're my prime responsibility. I'm not free to do that."

Hank Milne is not the only lawyer juggling a duality. Jack Shawde, the energetic guitarist who has helped Little Nicky and the Slicks evolve from a blues outfit to a more rockin' affair, specializes in bankruptcy and civil litigation for Mershon Sawyer Johnston. And long-haired Joe Imperato, of the Source, which practices an acoustic-pop sound, is a Dade County public defender.

And then there's Charlie Pickett, who for a decade was perhaps the brightest light on the local-scene horizon. During the Eighties, Pickett, along with various sidemen, performed hundreds of shows in area clubs, earning from critic Jon Marlowe the accolade of "best bar band in America." Pickett and his groups recorded a number of albums, including Route 33 for the Minneapolis-based label Twin/Tone. About a year ago Pickett gave up his day job - operating a crane and other heavy equipment at a quarry - and his exalted place in the local musical milieu. He moved to Lansing, Michigan, and enrolled in Thomas Cooley law school, where he is currently at the top of his class.

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