For Billy T. Midnight, music is medicine - The SandPaper

For Billy T. Midnight, music is medicine – The SandPaper

STILL STILL: Troy Mezzanotte’s dream of a career in country music was derailed, but today despite his disability, he is finding happiness again. (Photo provided)

Billy T. Midnight is a memorable name for a man born Troy Mezzanotte, who forged his way out of darkness and into the light of redemption to forge his musical legacy.

Mezzanotte moved to Barnegat from Parsippany when he was 12, by which time he had already learned to play the guitar.

“I saw John Denver on TV in 1969, and that was the end of it,” he said.

Growing up, music was always her main focus. He was a singer waiter in Andorra, Pennsylvania, studying music at the County College of Morris and frequently entering songwriting contests, he said. When he returned to his hometown of Barnegat in 1985, he started playing regularly at Seaside Heights and before he knew it, at 24, he was really going there. He packed up his station wagon and hauled an RV to Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived out of his truck at a campground and played open-mic nights for practice and exposure.

He soon discovered “In Nashville, there really was no place for a Troy Mezzanotte from New Jersey.” There was a guy like him on every corner, he said, but the name Billy T. Midnight stood out. “Whether it was hokey or silly or whatever, that was the point.” Mezzanotte means midnight and his middle name is William.

He doesn’t necessarily carry the stage name as a character, but he embodies his love for the country and classic rock genres and the way playing music makes it feel.

“I’ve always been Mr. Happy,” he said.

He spent two years in the south before returning home. “With the talent that was there, I felt like I wasn’t ready,” he said. So he moved back to New Jersey and started performing nine shows a week, honing his craft.

“I was doing very well,” he recalls. “I was making a lot of money, but I still wanted that success in Nashville.”

When country hit mainstream in the ’90s, Mezzanotte felt called back to Nashville to be a part of it, he said. He followed opportunities where they led him, training with voice coach Billy Joel and other notable industry pros, making connections and “sticking to it,” he said. declared.

Reba McEntire and the Chicks producer John Guess heard Billy T. Midnight in Nashville and wanted him to record a five-song demo featuring the likes of Brent Mason and Paul Franklin. But just as he was beginning to gain national traction, signing autographs at the Fan Fair at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, a management deal soured and he found himself adrift.

Not to be defeated, Mezzanotte spent the next year and a half shuttling through numerous states each week: four nights on the shore and three in Nashville. When he was young and single and gas was cheap, he could afford it.

In a fateful turn of events, to supplement his musical career, he took a job as a bus mechanic, but he injured himself on the job and suffered nerve damage in his leg – reflex sympathetic dystrophy or RSD, also known as syndrome complex regional pain – which he describes as a condition where “instead of sending sympathy to the injury, it sends chronic burning pain”. No specific treatment has been effective.

In the blink of an eye, his dreams were derailed.

His workers’ compensation benefits prohibit him from earning any additional income of any kind. He is not allowed to play for pay or even sell an original song. Devastated, he gave up music and entered a 22-year downward spiral. His “low bottom” was a heart attack last July that landed him in Southern Ocean Medical Center for a month with congestive heart failure and fluid-filled lungs.

While in hospital, he made a decision: “Enough is enough.”

“I did it their way for 22 years, throwing drugs at me. So, I took it all off,” he said. “I did it their way, and now I’m going to do it my way: no drugs at all. I am stronger than 22 years ago. I think clearly; I am still writing; I’m doing open mics again.

To accommodate his chronic pain, he cut his left trouser leg down to the knee, so that no fabric touched his skin. (“It took me 16 years to put on a sandal,” he said.) During his personal transformation, he lost over 60 pounds and was “amazed by how the body reacts.” to stopping the drugs, he said.

“I’m happy beyond words,” he said.

Now he has a YouTube channel where he records his music for posterity. With his newfound freedom, he rediscovered his passion for music and the fulfillment it brought him before the accident.

“It’s time,” he said. “None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.”

At 60, Mezzanotte is no longer chasing a record deal; instead, he welcomes each new day as a gift. He’s at peace with his journey — “100%,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything and I would start over.”

According to him, he had to evolve through many iterations and stumble on the path to discover himself, the purpose of his life.

“I can take this (experience) with me,” he said. “You need this soul. You have to know sadness to sing a sad song. You have to live a song.

Another way to savor his creative renaissance is to attend Chris Rockwell’s Last Stand Open Mic at Union Market in Tuckerton on the last Tuesday of each month from 6-8 p.m. There he has a supportive community in which to grow as an artist.

“It’s the best open mic ever,” Mezzanotte said, describing a deeply positive vibe of mutual admiration and encouragement. Without a sign-up sheet, Rockwell sees who’s attending and organizes a lineup in his head. It staggers the acts to be poetry, comedy, music, etc. Newcomers always receive an enthusiastic welcome.

At last Sunday’s Artisans Festivus Market in West Creek, where Mezzanotte alternated sets with singer-guitarists Dave Jones and Chuck Paul, a fan of The Last Stand squealed in delight upon seeing him, and the two hugged like old friends.

“We are crazy about each other’s work,” said Jeanne Sutton. A poet and writer herself, she describes him as “a troubadour, in the tradition of the troubadours”. She agreed with his assessment of the open mic. “And the quality of the work! Suton said. “It’s free entertainment of a very high order,” with a minimum purchase of just $5.

For Billy T. Midnight, sharing his talent – whether it’s with other artists at an open mic, or with friends, as he did at last weekend’s party/shopping, or with an audience on the Internet – is its own reward.

“I don’t have kids, so what I leave behind is my music,” he said.

—Victoria Ford

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