New tunes tap old heartaches

Project: Songs on Bill Dickson's latest CD focus on human suffering and how to alleviate it.

March 22, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the lyrics of Bill Dickson's new compact disc, there is a story and a message.

The story is of his family, an alcoholic father who couldn't forgive himself his weaknesses and a mother who worked tirelessly to raise four children on her own. The message is that behind the face of a homeless person is a human being with family ties and dreams.

"My whole purpose with this CD is to call people's attention to the fact that all of us believe that we are capable of handling human frailties," Dickson said. "Each one of us is only one step away from falling."

"Embracing the Light," Dickson's latest musical project with his band MTT (Musical Think Tank), will be celebrated with a release party March 31 at Slayton House Theater in Columbia. Proceeds will go to Think About Them Inc., a Catonsville-based organization aimed at helping the homeless.

Homelessness is a subject Dickson knows much about.

"My father has, at many points, been homeless," said Dickson, who lives in Catonsville. "He's had difficulty functioning."

Growing up in Wicomico County, Dickson watched while his parents divorced when he was 9. Knowing that his father struggled with alcoholism, Dickson took solace in music.

"My twin brother and I started playing when we were 13," Dickson, 36, recalls. "We disagree because I say we made $10 and he says we made $8, but I remember that for our first gig we played a retirement party."

Over the years, Dickson watched while his father, John, floated in and out of county jails and drifted - sometimes living on the streets.

"To other people, he was just a homeless guy," Dickson said. "To me, he's my dad, and he has such a good heart."

About eight years ago, Dickson formed a band and began playing area spots with his brand of music, which he said is hard to fit into a genre, but he describes it as similar to the style of Sting and the Dave Matthews Band. A man of faith, Dickson continually drew on his spirituality and eventually decided to use his music as a ministry to help others.

Edward Stoecker, executive director of Connection Ministries in Harford County, said Dickson and his band have had success playing at the Connection Coffeehouse, where youths and young adults gather.

"Kids really respond to helping people," said Stoecker, whose organization is made up of church volunteers. "They'll come and listen to the music, but give them a cause they can sink their teeth into and they will respond."

Steve Kilgallon of Columbia has been a drummer with the band for the past two years and said the driving force is Dickson's passion for helping people.

"In the music industry today, there is so much self-indulgence," Kilgallon said. "His music really is a vehicle for a message, and it's really clicked."

Michael Gottleib, the keyboard player for the band and a Catonsville resident, said audiences have responded well to the music. It's a sound that appeals to both the young and the old, he said.

"I have an agreement with the people who I give the CD to," said Gottleib, who has been playing with Dickson since 1997. "I say, `Take it, listen to it and if you don't like it, return it to me. If not, pay me for it.' I've never had anyone return a CD to me."

As he toils in his Catonsville studio, Dickson has one fan he wishes could attend the release party. His father, John, is incarcerated, Dickson said, and has only recently felt strong enough to have his son visit.

"He's a man of pride, and it was hard for him to let me see him like that," Dickson said. "We're going to try and get him some help when he comes out."

Bill Dickson & MTT will perform from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. March 31 at Slayton House Theater, 10324 Wilde Lake Terrace in Columbia. Admission is $5; children younger than 12 will be admitted free. Reservations: 410-788- 2354.

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