The Music Man

(page 1 of 6)

In the ’80s, Charlie Peacock was jamming with Randy Jackson in midtown Sacramento and being asked to open for a then-fledgling U2 in Davis. These days, he’s collaborating with the American Idol judge on TV projects and having Bono over to his house for breakfast. This is the unlikely tale of a kid from Yuba City who moved to Nashville to become a Grammy-nominated producer and multiplatinum songwriter, and his journey back home to where he once belonged.

S Suffice it to say, Charlie Peacock is having a very good year. In February, a band that he
discovered in the ’90s called Switchfoot won the 2011 Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album. The film Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman has been circumnavigating the globe with a song that his company placed on the soundtrack. An album that he produced last year by a band called The Civil Wars reached No. 1 on the iTunes album chart, and then the duo won the coveted spot as an open-ing act for this year’s tour of Adele, the British sensation who has sold more records than any other artist in the United States this year.

On her blog in May, having just knocked off Katy Perry for the No. 1 song in America, Adele wrote of the Peacock-produced pair: “Their record is beautiful … I’ve never been so blown away.”

Not bad for a kid who grew up in a peach orchard in rural Yuba City.

And seated today, in early April, at a friend’s house in Natomas, that’s exactly where Peacock’s head is at—that orchard. He is describing his uniquely northern Central Valley boyhood, the incongruous and potent mix of a pastoral upbringing and Watergate-era consciousness-raising. He describes what, in his teens and early 20s, it was like to have Jerry Brown as governor (the first time) and poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg buying property up the hill in Nevada City. “All these heroes from the Beat era were just cycling around,” he marvels.

Slowly, he set about making a name for himself, figuratively and literally. He may have been born Charles William Ashworth in the summer of 1956, but in the process of making music—jamming at Sacramento area clubs, garnering music industry success, and overcoming in 1981 the drug and alcohol addiction that derails so many promising young artists—he became Charlie Peacock.

It’s the name under which he would be nominated for a Grammy for his album The Secret of Time, co-produce a Grammy-winning album (Best Rock Gospel Album in 2004, for the band Audio Adrenaline), produce music by acts as varied as soul legend Al Green and African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, write hit songs for artists like Amy Grant, release more than a dozen of his own solo albums, and accumulate enough gold and platinum honors to account for a staggering 20 million in record sales.

And now, 22 years after he moved from Sacramento to Nashville, he’s back. At least part time.

It was actually five years ago that Peacock and his wife Andi quietly purchased a second home in Yuba City, far from their cen- tury-old country house in Nashville. Yuba is where the two grew up, went to school, met, had their first kiss—and where they still have an extended family, some 80 people by his accounting. “When my wife and I made the decision to buy a house in Yuba City,” he says, “it was really about me having a heartache about missing home.”

And while Yuba is undeniably his hometown, Sacramento is the place where Peacock, who turns 55 in August, traces the creative successes of his past and, on this sunny day, perhaps even gets a glimpse into his future. That’s because he’s in town this morning to meet with Attwater, the new Sacramento country band that he’s mentoring (that’s right, he left Nashville to find a country band in Northern California), which will release—under his guidance—its first single and video, “Never Gonna Happen,” on June 7.Bono chatting with Charlie Peacock at the latter’s house in Nashville

While the specific circumstances that connected him with this young duo may feel accidental (more on that a little later), it’s all part of a very purposeful desire on Peacock’s part to reconnect with his past, both geographically and culturally. That’s why, after years of coming West for a few weeks here and there, the plan now is for him and Andi to spend upwards of a quarter of their time in Sacramento and Yuba City, flying in for several weeks at a time every six weeks or so. And while the pair love spending time with family and reestablishing roots, make no mistake, they’re not slowing down one bit.

“There’s a sense that in some ways the initial work I went to Nashville to do has been accomplished,” he says. “So you can say, ‘Now what?’ We’re all just tiny little people and you can only spread yourself so thin. But on the other hand, there is so much that I admire about the West, and admire about Northern California. I would like to be plugged into it again, if that is what’s meant to be.”

***