A Blue-collar Songwriter’s Living
Bryan Smith remembers meeting Lee Tyler Post sometime around 2004 when Smith and his brother performed security detail for a concert to benefit the Victory Junction Gang, a charity organization set up by car-racing legend Richard Petty.
There wasn’t much need for security, Smith recalls, because the audience numbered maybe four people. Soaking it in, he knew he was hooked. Over time, says Smith, a bus driver for the Greensboro Transit Authority who goes by the handle “Songbear,” the two men became what he calls “stage brothers.” Some four years later, Smith sits onstage with Post at a spot called Bistro 150 in Oak Ridge. He wears a shirt declaring “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional,” the sunglasses propped on his head bracketing a haircut that is business in front, party in the back. On his acoustic guitar he plucks some leads that might have pleased David Crosby back in the day.
The draw, all will agree, is Post, a 40-year-old salt-of-the-earth kind of cat, former construction worker, progeny of a Spanish New Mexican mother and half-Cherokee-half-white father whose own mother left the reservation in Oklahoma to seek her fortune in the southern base of California’s Central Valley. His thick, black hair hangs nearly to his bottom, longer than any woman’s in this haute-bubba joint, even as a black cap and sideburns affirm his dudeness. The only thing that’s not black in his ensemble is a turquoise arrowhead his parents brought back from an anniversary trip to Santa Fe. The hair and the hat obscure his face as leans over his acoustic guitar and tears into the soulful marrow of the lyric in his songs.
Post and wife Jackie have driven three hours from Asheville to be here, and it’s an event to the 40-some fans packed into the bistro: staid couples enjoying glasses of chardonnay, aging couples in the second flush of youth, young families with rambunctious toddlers, classy women wearing summer dresses and shorts. Bill Hunt, a DJ at NC A&T University’s campus station who hosts a blues show and goes by the moniker “Billy the Kid,” reclines on a brown Naugahyde couch beside the stage. He’s been a fan since he caught Post at the Reidsville Lake Music Festival last fall. The singer-songwriter puts them all at ease.
That, in part, explains why Post has been asked to play a benefit in New Jersey in September for a veteran who suffered a brain injury during combat operations in Iraq , why he draws crowds from the Bitter End in New York City to his hometown of San Diego. He has a knack for keeping track of people so that when fans come back to see him a second time it’s like they’re old friends. It’s Bryan, spelled B-R-Y-A-N, he notes when identifying his guest guitarist. And the woman singing harmony with him is Andi, spelled A-N-D-I, Reese. No, take that back, for print she prefers Andrea, A-N-D-R-E-A. Lee checks the spelling of the writer’s name. Is it G-R-E-E-N-E or G-R-E-E-N?
Jackie is similarly conscientious, noting the song titles as Lee plays, in case an audience member likes a particular song and wants to purchase it on any of the five CDs she’s hawking.
Smith and Reese always accompany him at these monthly Bistro 150 shows. That’s the way he always does when other musicians show up for his gigs. With no rehearsal, he invites them to sit in.
“If you did it as much as I do, even if the guy doesn’t play that well, I’m like, ‘Wow, you’re a musician, do you want to play?'” Post says. “Just like if I’m driving across the county, it’s good to have some company. Even if you don’t talk, that person’s there if you want to.”
Post came late to music, only developing an interest after his next-door neighbor heard him singing along with a record. He joined a band with his cousin that emulated the grunge bands in the Seattle scene of the early 1990s, but still worked construction. Then, at the age of 31 he and Jackie packed the car and drove to Nashville. They also took up residency in Seattle and Austin, Texas before moving to Asheville in April. Self-described “gypsies,” they cycle through music towns and systematically tour the country, gradually building a network of fans for Post’s music.
“I always wanted to be a blue-collar guy like my dad,” he says. “Get up and go to work. You’re accountable, and you get up and work ten hours a day, six days a week. I want to be a man. I never thought about having a talent. When I decided to go into music, I said, ‘Okay, I have to figure out how to make this into a job.’ I applied that same discipline. I want to be a man about it. I burn my own CDs. I do my own design. I have my own studio.”
Post has a big, gentle stage presence as he performs his songs while Fox News beams from a wall-mounted flat-screen, the pundits silently mouthing their disapproval of Obama’s planned speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Countervailing his personality, Perry’s music smolders with intensity – all propulsive power chords and smoky, vocal growls commanding his audience’s attention.
During a break a little after 9 p.m. Hunt is raving on the sidewalk about his hero in an emphatic and laughing voice: “Sultry. Sultry. He fell off the soul tree.”
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