The Music Man

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As for Peacock’s long- diminished solo work, he says, “I haven’t been super serious about a solo career for probably about 15 years. I believed some of the lies of the record business. Like, if you don’t become a superstar by the time you’re 38, don’t bother thinking you should go out and make music when clearly it’s a young person’s game.”Peacock working with Erika Attwater and Jonathan Richards of the Sacramento band Attwater in Peacock’s home in Yuba City

His own “young person” period had a major time-out, precipitated by a drug and alcohol addiction that eventually required him to seek rehabilitation. “That was in 1981,” he says. “My conversion experience was deeply woven into my drug and alcohol recovery.” For emphasis, he interlocks the fingers of his hands.

Eventually this Christian self-identification would bring him a new and sizable audience. He released albums on the labels A&M and Island, and wrote tracks under contract for CBS Songs. And in 1989 he signed with the Christian record label Sparrow, at whose suggestion he and his family moved to Nashville. What followed was a whirlwind, an extended one. “Literally, we checked into an apartment and I started working, and within days practically of being there, wrote ‘Every Heartbeat’ for Amy Grant,” says Peacock of the signature hit for the biggest Christian pop artist of the time. “And I was off and running. I mean I put my head down; 10 years later I brought my head up, and I had produced over 50 albums.”

All that production-work opportunity contributed to his decision to diminish his performing, though family life also played a role in the career shift. “I don’t think I could continue to go out, get on a bus Thursday, Friday, Saturday, come home on Sunday, play with the kids, then go to the studio Monday through Thursday, before I get on the bus at midnight, and go through that month after month,” he says. “Mostly what was in my head was taking care of my family. Because after being a drug addict and an alcoholic musician loser, it was kind of like my number one thing was being a good husband and being a good father.”

Peacock and  Randy Jackson in  a Sacramento studio in 1985 (Photo courtesy of Charlie Peacock)As time passed, though, Peacock grew less comfortable with the religious stance of the music scene in which he was thriving. He came to view contemporary Christian music as “building a separate community that sits as a satellite to the rest of the world.” He says he likes to think of himself as “someone who is willing to give voice to spirituality in the public square,” but criticizes the Christian-music industry of the era as “us-versus-them.” This tension between his ardent populism and the industry’s perceived self-isolation led to such a sense of fracture that he wrote a book about it. That book, At the Crossroads, which he co-authored with daughter Molly, looked deep into the contradictions he describes. It was published in 1999, and for him brought an end to that era.

“I can say, with all honesty, I have never said that I was a Christian musician,” he says. “My theology doesn’t even allow for it. It’s not who I am. It’s not what I would say. And finally, after a while, the audience for that music said, ‘You know what? We don’t think you are either.’ ”