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Billy Norris offered 'big gig' he can't refuse

Billy Norris is scheduled to play alongside pop star Gavin DeGraw in Fort Myers on Feb. 21.

Special to the Times

Billy Norris is scheduled to play alongside pop star Gavin DeGraw in Fort Myers on Feb. 21.

One afternoon in November, Billy Norris was sitting around his New York City apartment, looking forward to his last semester at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studies jazz bass.

Then a totally unexpected phone call came for Norris, who graduated from Seminole High in 2006 and was a fixture as a kid film critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Within a few hours, he was instead looking forward to going out on an extended tour of the United States and Europe, playing guitar with pop star Gavin DeGraw.

"Definitely, this was the last thing on my mind," Norris said in a phone interview from his parents' home in Seminole. "They say that things happen when you least expect them, and when they happen, they happen fast, and that's definitely true."

The initial phone call came from a friend who also happened to know DeGraw, the hugely popular singer-songwriter who's probably best known for his first hit, I Don't Want to Be, also the theme song for the teen drama One Tree Hill.

"He said, 'Hey man, I recommended you for this really big gig,' '' Norris said. "I was excited, of course, but I've heard things like that before so I took it with a grain of salt."

Then about an hour later, DeGraw's brother Joey phoned Norris and asked him to come downtown for an audition. In early December, Norris got the call for the job.

Norris is just 21, but he's no stranger to high-profile jobs. He started writing for the Times' X Team when he was 10 and became a respected movie critic in middle and high school. He even appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Norris' first performance with DeGraw is slated for Valentine's Day in New Orleans at the Family Gras concert. They'll be in Fort Myers Feb. 21 at the Edison Festival of Light show.

Marty Clear can be reached at

Billy Norris offered 'big gig' he can't refuse 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 7:18pm]
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