Our colorful feathered friend
Onetime local renaissance musician Charlie Peacock returns to Sacramento to play a free concert
There was a moment in the mid-1980s when Charlie Peacock was going to be Sacramento’s next big musical export. And, in many ways, Peacock has lived up to that promise. His 1984 album, Lie Down in the Grass, came out of nowhere. It not only became a hit record, but also provided a notable shot in the arm for the Christian contemporary music (CCM) scene.
Since then, Peacock has shaped himself into a powerhouse producer, working with some of the best-known Christian and secular acts. He’s won the Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Pop Award four times; the BMI Two Million Airplays Award; nine Gospel Music Association Dove Awards; Gold and Platinum Honors, for 14 million album sales, from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; and a Grammy Award.
So, why are some of Peacock’s friends so disappointed?
In part, that disappointment stems from a common critical accusation: In going to Nashville and becoming a commercial pop-record producer, Peacock became that most damnable of artistic evils—a sellout. For some, the initial promise of Lie Down was sidestepped for super-polished pop offerings and productions, which seemed to be more about chasing the dollar than about chasing artistic integrity.
Certainly, Peacock’s Nashville successes are a far cry from his relatively humble beginnings in Yuba City and Sacramento, where the young musician, né Charles William Ashworth, first learned his chops by playing local clubs. “Hearing Charlie play piano and sing was like listening to Elvis Costello or Tom Waits,” producer and musician “Bongo” Bob Smith remembered. “He was that good.”
But Peacock is better known locally as part of the CCM scene around Warehouse Christian Ministries (www.warehouseministries.com), a sprawling music and worship space off Bradshaw Road in Rancho Cordova. During the mid-1980s, the Warehouse was a major hub of CCM activity. It had its own recording studio; its own live venue; and its own record label, Exit Records, which was nationally distributed—first through Word in the Christian market and A&M in secular stores and then via Island Records. Not only that, but the shockwaves of Warehouse’s local successes brought in some major industry moguls, the presence of which eventually caused the dream to disintegrate.
“We tried to present a united front and a united vision,” Peacock recalled, “but when Bill Graham Presents and Island Records came around, it ultimately came down to us as properties.” When the Warehouse scene started to fall apart, Peacock and others left for other opportunities. For Peacock, those opportunities led him to Nashville.
The Warehouse story is significant, because when Peacock returns to Sacramento on March 21, he will be returning to the Warehouse’s stage with a roster of players that include longtime friend Erik Kleven, ex-77s drummer Aaron Smith, current 77s guitarist and vocalist Michael Roe, Jimmy Abegg and Bongo Bob Smith. It is, in important ways, a gathering of that initial group of talented musicians who seemed, for a moment, to hold the future of CCM in the space of the Warehouse stage.
Some of those musicians, and many others, appear on a new tribute album, Full Circle: A Celebration of Songs and Friends. The CD features Peacock performing with some of his famous friends, including locals Abegg, Roe, Bongo Bob Smith and Brent Bourgeois, plus such national stars as Phil Keaggy, Sara Groves, Bela Fleck, Avalon and Sixpence None the Richer.
As for the notion of selling out, Peacock himself is pragmatic. “I hope that my reputation is such that I’ve been able to navigate the murky waters successfully,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that I’ve spent the last 15 years deeply embedded in Christian music. I may or may not be a part of that for the next 15 years.”
Either way, when Peacock appears onstage at the Warehouse later this week, he will bring his full 20 years of experience to the fore. Whether he is able to silence his critics is something listeners will have to decide for themselves.