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An almost rock star still doing the thing he loves

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Sun September 16, 2012
The Dantes, an Ohio band, in 1965, when they were aspiring to big things. Lead singer, Barry Hayden, is at left holding tambourine.
The Dantes, an Ohio band, in 1965, when they were aspiring to big things. Lead singer, Barry Hayden, is at left holding tambourine.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: The Dantes were local band which seemed bound for big time
  • This summer he saw Dantes singer playing with new band, The Professors, in an Ohio bar
  • Dantes didn't make big time, split up and singer Barry Hayden worked at different jobs
  • Greene: But Hayden was back performing, doing thing he loved. That should be mandatory

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams."

(CNN) -- We just knew they were going to be huge stars, internationally famous, wealthy beyond imagining.

It was summer's end, 1965. My buddies and I, along with hundreds of other people, gathered in the parking lot of the Northland shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, to watch the Battle of the Bands.

The bands were all local kids, just like us, and one of those bands -- the Dantes -- had something special going for it. The lead singer, 18-year-old Barry Hayden, possessed the onstage electricity, the lithe movements, the command of each moment, of a Midwestern Mick Jagger. You couldn't take your eyes off him.

The band had a terrific, hard-driving new song called "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" (it pre-dated the smooth Barry White tune with similar wording), and the Dantes went to No. 1 with it on the hometown rock station, WCOL. We stood there on the surface of the parking lot and watched them in that summer's waning days, and we felt elevated just to be spending the afternoon in their presence.

The Dantes would make two more records -- both of them Rolling Stones covers: "Under My Thumb" and "Connection" -- each of which also went to No. 1 on WCOL. They opened for Jimi Hendrix once at a show at Veterans Memorial auditorium in Columbus. But somehow, despite their talent, nothing happened for the Dantes nationally. Three years later, they disbanded.

And Barry Hayden?

We didn't know what became of him.

As this summer of 2012 was winding down, I was visiting central Ohio and saw that on a Friday night, at a place in the town of Gahanna called the FM All-American Bar and Grill, there was going to be a band called the Professors ("fully tenured rock and roll") playing. No cover charge, no minimum.

The lead singer's name was Barry Hayden.

So, just before 9 p.m., I walked in the door. I took a seat at the bar as the band was setting up.

Barry came over to say hello. He's 65. He said that for the last 16 years he has worked a daytime job at the Ohio Statehouse, arranging guided tours for the public. He's had a number of other jobs, including work at the Honda assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio.

"What are you doing here?" he said.

"Seeing you," I said. "It's the end of the summer, isn't it?"

He grinned, and I told him about watching him sing, 47 summers ago, at the Battle of the Bands at Northland. "You won," I said.

"We didn't win," he said. "The Rebounds beat us. But that was a good thing, because it made us work harder. We won the next Battle of the Bands at Valley Dale."

We stood there laughing together, and he told me that all of the guys in the Professors do this mainly because they just like it so much. The youngest member of the band is in his mid-50s; most of them work regular jobs during the week and do this on the weekends. There's not a lot of money in it.

"I'd do it for free," Barry said.

He had been away from music for decades, and he thought he had lost it forever. He was wrong. Three years ago, he formed this group.

"Better go play," he said.

He, and the Professors, did. They were wonderful, from the tough, insistent first chords. All of the songs were ones made famous by the most renowned bands of their boyhoods: The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," the Byrds' "Feel a Whole Lot Better," Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." To look into the faces of Barry and his new bandmates -- Bruce Roberts, Don Groner, Shane Sheaf and Billy Zenn -- was to see men who, far along in their lives, had given themselves, on this night, three hours of gladness.

They were giving it to their audience, too. People were up and dancing, singing along. Later Barry would tell me: "It's the one thing in my whole life that has ever made any sense. It's the one thing I'm good at.

"It's what I am."

He knows, now, that he will never be a rich man. He knows, now, that fame will not be arriving.

But he has found this again, after fearing it was gone for good.

And he has discovered an essential truth that all of us might do well to keep in mind:

Doing the thing you love -- finding, somehow, a way to do it -- should be mandatory.

You shouldn't put it off -- if you wait, if you think you'll get around to it someday, someday may never come.

As midnight approached in Gahanna, he was singing lead on the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time":

". . .this could be the last time, this could be the last time. . . "

He asked, into the microphone, how the volume was.

From the bar I caught his eye, smiled, and made a little clockwise motion with my thumb and forefinger. I pointed toward the ceiling. Meaning: Up. Louder.

He sang:

". . .may be the last time, I don't know. . . ."

None of us knows when that last time -- the last chance to do the thing we were meant to do, the thing that makes us whole -- will come.

This is the last full weekend of summer. Next weekend, autumn begins.

And opportunities for joy, like summer nights, are fleeting and finite.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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