Fourth of July weekend means it’s time to celebrate the heritage and traditions that make us a single people. “Americana,” we call it all, and what better transcends our differences than baseball and music? On both counts, you can paint Jake Peavy in red, white and U.S. blues.
We all know Peavy, who has won 151 games and a Cy Young Award in 15 major-league seasons. Peavy, who has started for two World Series championship teams, holds down a spot in the Giants’ starting rotation.
So much for Peavy’s arm. It’s his soul we’re talking about, and it has gushed forth the past couple of years into the emerging music genre that has laid claim to the very title of “Americana.” It brings together the sounds and stories of a working, praying, dancing, fighting, gambling, loving people. They’ve spun them for nearly three centuries from factories and farms, churches and social clubs, country towns and big cities. They sing them with a country twang and a gospel shout, backed at times by an Appalachian reel, powered at others by a rock ’n’ roll backbeat, often infused with a touch of the blues.
Old Timey has become New Timey, and don’t forget to throw some Zydecajun into the mix – and hip-hop, too.
Peavy, 35, feels American roots music in his bones. He grew up with it in the gospel he heard in church and in the Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings records he stacked on his pop’s record player in the living room of their home in Mobile, Ala.
He plays guitar and he sings, sometimes with accomplished artists such as Jackie Greene, the blues-centric Torch Club graduate. He’s set up a studio in Mobile in the hope of fostering a hometown sound to rival the upstate Alabama musical cradle of Muscle Shoals, a launching point for artists ranging from Percy Sledge to the Drive-By Truckers.
“We could have built a studio in a lot of places, but we want our hometown of Mobile, Ala., that has so much musical talent and so much musical history – we want to bring that to light and really just create a scene that promotes culture and promotes community, and music certainly helps that,” Peavy said.
Even the music capitals of Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., New Orleans and Austin, Texas, needed someone like Peavy to kick-start them toward greatness. So did Chicago, where Chess Records made history and where Peavy pitched for the White Sox. Then there is San Francisco, where the Sixties gave rise to psychedelic rock and where Peavy fell deeply into the never-ending groove laid down a half-century ago by the Grateful Dead.
“Americana, traditional-like music, is a lot of what the scene here was birthed on,” Peavy said. “The thing I love about being in San Francisco, really, is just getting closer to the scene of what the Grateful Dead and what all the bands in the early Sixties out here were able to do. When you look at the music that was played here during that time, or even the Grateful Dead’s catalog, you can hear almost every genre of music throughout their body of work. It’s been something that’s been great to explore.”
Peavy knows baseball provides the foundation for his rising musical celebrity. Pitching is his true gift, and baseball is his focus, “my first love,” he said – the thing that makes his musical passion resonate with baseball folk who share it.
He also knows that as surely as the C chord follows the G, stockpiling major-league innings one day will become only a memory. So he’s transitioning into music. Even during his precious remaining seasons in baseball, he’s using music and benefit concerts promoted through his Jake Peavy Foundation to raise money for U.S. military veterans, to bring some joy to the sick and dying, to help out young kids at risk.
“I just want to be an ambassador for music and just share it in any which way possible,” Peavy said. “Any great city you look at, any great, thriving community, has a base of music to be born out of, and through my foundation we’re promoting music and the arts, and getting a chance to go to these hospitals and play a song for a kid who is not having a good day, who is terminally ill. And it is life-changing, when you watch what music can do in that environment.”
The day after Wednesday’s frustrating loss to the A’s, Peavy ran himself into a lather in a workout room beneath the Oakland Coliseum. Sweat poured down his face and into his ear buds that pumped out prospective set lists for important upcoming gigs. He’s putting a band together for an Aug. 17 Jake Peavy Foundation/Rex Foundation benefit at the Fillmore, to be followed the next day by a Giants pregame tribute to Jerry Garcia.
Looking to expand his mix, Peavy listened closely to Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo.” The song was a favorite cover the late Grateful Dead lead guitar great played in his side band, and Peavy needed to get the feel of the original.
Island music meets Americana in the heart of a right-hander out of Mobile, now pitching for San Francisco. Talk about a musical melting pot. It’s something to wave that flag about on Monday.