Photo courtesy of Kim Davison
Erica Sunshine Lee played a bit of guitar at Bean Street Coffee on B Street in downtown San Mateo last week.
When Burlingame resident Erica Lee lost her job in 2008, she took the opportunity to pursue her passion full time — music.
She had spent years selling cars at Putnam Chevrolet Cadillac and working as a recruiting manager for another company while she paid her way through Belmont’s Notre Dame de Namur University studying marketing and French. The tall Georgia native with her Southern drawl and long blonde hair also played softball and basketball for the university.
She also fronted a classic rock cover band called Pier Pressure that played all over the Bay Area.
She came out to the Peninsula for a summer to visit her airline hostess sister nine years ago and never left.
These days there is a “Sunshine” in between the names Erica and Lee and the music she pursues is a little more country and a little less rock.
She is currently in the midst of promoting her second studio album “Road to Recovery” recorded at Funhouse Studios in Nashville and Granada Studios in Half Moon Bay. Lee played a New Year’s Eve show in Reno and will play a show this Thursday night at the Broadway Grill in Burlingame with her full band. She is not shy to pull out her guitar, though, and play acoustically in the middle of a crowded downtown sidewalk.
Erica Sunshine Lee wants to be famous and isn’t afraid to say it. She hopes to use all those tools working in sales and studying marketing to hit the big time as a country star.
Not only does she write her own music, she learned how to play the guitar all on her own when she lost her patience with a former guitarist who couldn’t be there at those critical moments when Lee was feeling especially musically inspired.
She is intent on making it in Nashville as a country star but doesn’t mind branding herself “folk rock” when she plays gigs in the Bay Area.
Her first studio album, “Struggle Street,” took Lee on a tour of America through Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Philadelphia. She has also performed in Amsterdam, Costa Rica and Hawaii.
“I’ve done lots of road trippin’ and sleeping in the car,” Lee said. She has made friends, though, through social networking sites such as Facebook and has found new fans in new cities she visits who are willing to offer her a bed for the night.
Her songs mix the best of old traditional folk music and new country with an emphasis on family and lost love.
She sings about grandpa’s love of whiskey and waking up in strangers’ beds. And although she credits Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash as some of her main influences she grew up in a town of people who were more likely to listen to Mary J. Blige than Carrie Underwood.
“I never set out to be a country singer. It just ended up that way,” Lee said.
Like many aspiring singers, Lee auditioned for “American Idol” back in 2007 but didn’t make it to Hollywood.
“I crossed that one off the list,” she said.
But Lee isn’t necessarily interested in making it in Hollywood, it is Nashville she has her sights set on. And even if Nashville does not embrace Burlingame’s own budding country star, she’d be just as happy making ends meet playing shows right here in the Bay Area.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.