Mike Post Is Not Singing the Blues, Hill Street or Otherwise, as His TV Theme Music Goes Pop
"I'm a hard-ass," Post, 37, confesses. "I'm not afraid to say I'm good at something and that somebody else isn't." Tom Selleck, star of Magnum, P.I., another one of Post's clients, defends his longtime friend. "I don't think Mike is arrogant. But sometimes he's cocky," Selleck laughs. "That's because basically he's a pushover."
Singer Joey Scarbury values Mike's hard line. For 11 years Post has served as producer for Scarbury, whose The Greatest American Hero was one of the few TV themes ever to hit No. 1 as a pop single. (John Sebastian's Welcome Back from Welcome Back, Kotter in 1976 was another.) Scarbury says, "Mike is very patient in the studio but also very demanding. If he knows someone is not reaching his capabilities, he'll sit there until he gets what he wants." If the problems continue, Post adds, "I don't get enraged. I just get new people."
Post earned his self-assurance. He grew up in Southern California, where his father is an architect; he describes his youth as off-screen American Graffiti. "I loved the beach, fast cars, acting tough, girls and cruising."
He asked for piano lessons at 6, though, and by the time he was 15 he was playing in Hollywood club bands at night. He finished high school only to please his parents, and after a year in college he quit to form his own folk group, the Wellingbrook Singers. They, toured the U.S., then disbanded—Post to play backup guitar for Dick and Dee-dee and to record I Got You, Babe with Sonny and Cher.
Post tried a solo career which fizzled, so he turned to producing and formed the First Edition. The group's nominal star was Mike Settle, but a sideman named Kenny Rogers proved more commercial; when Rogers became lead singer, the group took off.
Post broke into television at 24, as musical director of the revived Andy Williams Show in 1969. The first program, featuring singer Ray Charles (long one of Mike's idols), was an organizational disaster. Ray chewed Post out in front of the studio audience after having to wait six hours in his dressing room. Later he and Charles made up and became friends. At one point Post suggested Ray return to the Williams show to sing a duet with a hot new rock performer, and Charles asked, "Michael, what's an Elton John?"
Post also backed into a lucrative friendship with TV producer Stephen J. Cannell when they were neighbors on Balboa Island and argued over whose piece of beach Cannell was spreading his towels on. Cannell hired Post and partner Pete Carpenter to score a pilot called Gypsy Warriors. Although that show failed, the relationship paid off when Cannell went on to hire the duo for such series as Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, Toma and The Rockford Files (Mike played synthesizer on its Top 10 theme song in 1975). "I don't work exclusively for friends," Post says. "But my business has a family element. I don't have a business manager, for instance. I have a brother."
Mike landed the Hill Street Blues job through Tenspeed co-producer Steven Bochco. Post wrote the original theme in two hours and now spends four or five hours writing the five minutes or so of new music per episode. In TV, Post says, half joking, "They don't want it good, they want it by 9 a.m."
He writes only the melodies. "I'm a terrible lyricist, but I didn't realize it until I'd written 250 songs," he says. In addition, he has produced records and acts for such performers as Dolly Parton and Ronnie Milsap. He played piano on the Hill Street Blues single and has just completed a solo album.
Post and wife Darla, whom he met 19 years ago when she walked into an L.A. night spot where he was performing, have two children. "I'm a responsible father, dependable worker and good husband," Post says proudly. "But once in a while I hear a song on the radio when I'm driving, and I just want to floor it, cruise around and be 16 again."