Wheeler: A musical blessing flows through a Raleigh band


In his every gesture – eyes fervently closing, sure fingers working the guitar, toes tapping its open case – David Dyer displays how deeply he feels the words he is singing, words that he believes God gave him in whole songs of praise and healing.

For the longtime musician and award-winning songwriter, creating music usually is a piecemeal matter of combining hooks he can’t get out of his head with a line here or a melody there.

But the 10 original songs on “Taproot,” the third CD from Dyer and his Crooked Smile Band, were gifts with no assembly required.

“I feel like the good Lord was talking to me,” says Dyer, 50, who calls himself a Raleigh business development guy. “I just took them down.”

And now he’s trying to give them back.

Every penny of the proceeds from the first 1,000 sales of “Taproot” will go to Haven House, a Raleigh nonprofit that supports young people and their families in crisis, and Wee Care, which provides free, high-quality preschool to at-risk children. The kick-off concert is Wednesday at Hayes Barton Methodist Church in Raleigh.

“My hope is that this project of gratitude and praise will shine some of God’s light into this world and bring people closer to His strength, wisdom, beauty, joy and healing,” Dyer says.

This week, the band met to practice in the music room of Allyn Love, director of operations for the N.C. Symphony and the band’s pedal steel guitar player.

Love, 60, has played with the Grand Ole Opry, Brad Paisley and Jo Dee Messina. Bernie Petteway, 58, electric guitar, has been tearing it up in Triangle bands since 1972. Bassist Ken Weigand, 62, teaches music and voice as a career. Percussionist Fran Dyer, 42, no relation to David, also has numerous Triangle bands on his resume.

Together, the band – dubbed on its website as “Hank Sr. meets the Beatles” – has more than 220 years of music-making experience.

Sowing seeds of songs

On the “Taproot” ride, the Crooked Smiles have been passengers as David has intensely driven the CD – whose genre is somewhat undefinable inside Southern-roots-folk-gospel – over five years from idea to release.

“This is a distinguished project for David,” Fran says. “It’s something he needed to get out, and we were there to support him.”

“We’re all going for karma points,” interjects Ken, the band’s self-described doo-wap dude. “Is there an app for that?”

“He has contact with God now,” says Fran, who keeps the time through much of the practice with his flip-flops slapping the floor.

“I hope it’s good contact,” David says, laughing before getting serious.

“I don’t know that we’ve all sat down and had real deep theological discussions,” he says as he looks around at his band of musical brothers. “I’m pretty sure we’re from different places. That’s one thing I’d like to see Christians do is find the ways we’re alike rather than be exclusionary. We did that on this. I’m very grateful to these guys for that.”

In 2007, David was going through a valley he declines to discuss when Bernie, the son of a preacher, invited him to a Bible study. Bernie wasn’t playing with the Crooked Smile Band full-time then, and a conniving David was hoping to snag a commitment by attending.

“When I walked into that study with 500 guys singing, though, it blew me away,” says David, who still attends the men’s fellowship. “It wasn’t really a conversion experience. I was what they call a drug addict. My mom drug me to church by the ear. But I didn’t really connect all the dots until the Bible study.”

Delving into the books of Matthew then John, David found the spirit sowing in him songs that grew into titles such as “By the Light,” “Wash Over Me” and “Everyday Savior.”

“When I played them, they brought me a lot of comfort,” he says. “Sometimes music is a nonthreatening way to offer all kinds of things, healing, guidance.”

One word doesn’t do

At the practice, the band breezes through the song list for Wednesday, David’s lovely voice never wavering.

“Though his glory is grand, his manner is small,” he sings. “In the meek he resides, to rise we must fall, to our needs where we’ll find him in unlikely places, in the hands of a beggar or hungry folks’ faces.”

“Nice,” Fran says simply after the end notes stop ringing.

The word doesn’t do it justice. For these five men, music is breathing, they say.

For their listeners, it’s a language that each heart hears according to its own need. “On the way over,” Fran says, “I was listening to the album, and what struck me is that it’s probably gonna touch a lot of people in many different ways. That’s the beauty of music. People can make it their own.”

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