Guitar Aficionado

Off the Field, SF Giants Pitcher Jake Peavy Finds His Passion in Guitars

The two-time World Series champion is a world-class hero to local musicians, disadvantaged youths, and military vets.

This is a feature from the January/February 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on the unique artistry and dedication of Tokyo’s ESP Custom Shop, Kentucky Headhunters lead guitarist Greg Martin and his fine vintage guitars; producer/guitarist Daniel Lanois and his passion for pedal-steel guitars, motorcycles, and recording technology… plus much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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GIANT STEPS: MLB pitcher JAKE PEAVY is a two-time World Series champion, but to local musicians, disadvantaged youths, and military veterans, he’s a world-class hero.

By Dan Epstein | Photos by John Fulton

“Music, to me, is the polar opposite of playing baseball,” San Francisco Giants pitcher Jake Peavy says. “It’s not competitive; it’s something to be shared. Playing music is just as intense as baseball for me, and I take it just as seriously, but it’s also been a noncompetitive release for me at the end of a lot of days.”

A three-time All Star, two-time World Series champion (earning rings with the 2013 Boston Red Sox and the 2014 Giants) and winner of the 2007 National League Cy Young Award, Peavy has more than made his mark in the big leagues. Now, the 35-year-old right-hander is trying to make a musical mark on his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.

A passionate music fan, avid guitar collector, and occasional performer with his band, the Outsiders, Peavy recently opened Dauphin Street Sound, Mobile’s first world-class recording facility. Designed by Gavin Haverstick of Haverstick Designs and Dauphin Street Sound chief engineer Keylan Laxton, the facility’s two studios feature Acoustical Fulfillment’s Flex-48 Adaptive Treatment System, which provides customizable variable acoustics in its live rooms and isolation booths. Outfitted with recording desks, monitors, and microphones hand-picked by Trina Shoemaker, the three-time Grammy-winner (Sheryl Crow, Stephen Curtis Chapman) who has joined the Dauphin Street Sound team as producer and engineer, the rustic-feeling complex also houses an impressive array of vintage guitars. Among the instruments are several rare axes from Peavy’s personal collection, including a 1955 Fender Telecaster (possibly the first Tele with a sunburst finish), a 1954 Fender Stratocaster previously owned by Eric Johnson, a 1956 Strat with original blonde finish and ash body, and a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe gold-top.

“This is not a guitar collection that sits hoarded at my house that I just share with my buddies when they come over,” Peavy explains. “These are workingman’s instruments, and they’re meant to be played and shared. If you record here in the studio, you can play ’em.” (Many of the guitars are also available for purchase via the Dauphin Street Sound website.)

If this all sounds like a recording musician’s dream, well, that’s been the intention since the spring of 2015, when Peavy bought and began renovating the storefront property at 651 Dauphin Street, in the heart of Mobile’s downtown entertainment district. Having recently moved back to Alabama (his home is the Southern Falls Plantation, a few hours drive from Mobile in Hartford, Alabama), Peavy needed a local office for the Jake Peavy Foundation, the charitable foundation he established in 2012 that primarily works with (and raises money for) disadvantaged youth and military veterans. The sprawling single-story building on Dauphin Street turned out to be the perfect fit. And, as it happened, the structure had formerly housed a small recording studio. “Of course, my team’s gonna find some offices with half of a makeshift studio in there already!” Peavy says, with a laugh. “I was like, ‘We could put a little money into it, and have a great one.’”

“There’s an incredible amount of talent down here,” says Dauphin Street Sound studio manager Ben Jernigan, a veteran of the Mobile music scene who plays lead guitar in Peavy’s band. “It’s a really thriving creative environment, but every time something really cool starts happening, it runs off to Nashville or Atlanta or New Orleans. We realized that if you’re going to keep musicians in Mobile rather than just have them passing through, you’ve gotta have a place for them to capture the music they’re making.”

“It’s a 300-year-old city,” Peavy adds, “so it has some history, soul, and spirit. But musically, we really haven’t had anything other than [Seventies southern rock band] Wet Willie coming out of here that’s a bona fide rock star. You have to have a place for music to be born out of, and I want this studio to be a home for artists of any genre. Come in and be yourself, and you’re going to be surrounded by people who want to let your artistic juices flow and make real music that you’re proud of.”

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In addition to being a focal point for the local music scene, Dauphin Street Sound is envisioned as becoming a destination for recording artists from all over the globe—just as Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was in the Sixties and Seventies—as well as a haven for Mobile’s session players.

“You’ve got all these heavy-hitting sidemen and studio guys that can’t make a living in Mobile, so they go where they can make a living,” Jernigan explains. “It’s terrible to see somebody like that leave, and we’re looking to keep that from happening—and maybe also recruit some new people who are tired of the big-city, corporate-studio thing.

“Back in the day, Muscle Shoals was a destination, because of the studio,” he continues, “but there’s nothing to do in Muscle Shoals! That’s the difference here. You can come to Mobile and not have the big-city distractions, like Nashville, but it’s also not just a total one-horse town, like Muscle Shoals. It’s hard to explain it until you come here and see it for yourself, but Mobile is more than just a small stopping point off the interstate. It has the kind of energy and vibe that you feel in other cultural epicenters like New Orleans. Slowly but surely, we’re trying to get all the pieces in place so you can make a living as a musician here.”

Jake Peavy traces his love of music back to the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson records his father used to play when he was a kid. But he didn’t actually pick up a guitar until 2002, when he was a rookie with the San Diego Padres. Impressed by the acoustic picking of Tim Flannery, the Padres’ third base coach, Peavy asked “Flan” to teach him how to play “Pancho and Lefty,” the Townes Van Zant classic popularized by Waylon and Willie.

“He said, ‘Sure, I can show you that, but why don’t you just learn to play guitar?’” Peavy recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t want to learn to play guitar, I just want to learn ‘Pancho and Lefty’!”

But learn to play, he did. Flannery showed Peavy how to play the song in DADGAD tuning, and once Peavy got the hang of it, Flannery gave him a Baby Taylor to practice on. The guitar bug bit Peavy hard, and soon he and Flannery were regularly jamming together on team road trips. After ballgames, the pair could usually be found in the stairwells of the hotels that the Padres were staying in, strumming away.

While baseball continued to be Peavy’s number-one priority, music became his main interest off the field, along with philanthropy. “In San Diego, I developed a real appreciation for the military through all the things that the Padres did with the veterans’ hospitals there,” he explains. “I started the Jake Peavy Foundation because I wanted to do something positive with the platform I have, something that would have a positive impact on the community. I really wanted to help veterans with PTSD and anyone who put in their service time and has come back struggling. I wanted to help them get reacquainted with society.”

Peavy with friends Sonny “Papa” Lolli (center) and Jimmie “Mack” McClain

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Like many ballplayers with charitable foundations, Peavy initially raised funds by organizing and hosting golf tournaments. (The fifth annual Jake Peavy Foundation Charity Golf Classic was held this November at Mobile’s Magnolia Grove Golf Course.) But it gradually dawned on Peavy that he could also combine music and philanthropy. “I didn’t understand why I was only doing a golf tournament when I love music so much,” he says. “I thought, Why couldn’t I do a fundraiser wrapped around music?”

Peavy’s burgeoning friendship with Jernigan helped point the way forward. “I was working as a firefighter,” Jernigan explains, “and I was playing guitar on my days off. I started off putting together these ‘super jam’ type of one-off events, where I would invite all of my friends from New Orleans or Atlanta. That led to me doing fundraisers for a variety of non-profits. Then I crossed paths with Jake through a mutual friend, and he helped me do a really cool New Orleans–themed fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation a few years ago. It was a big success, and it got to where we were hanging out more and more.”

With the help of Jernigan and Peavy’s younger brother Luke—who also serves as the general manager of Dauphin Street Sound—the Jake Peavy Foundation has organized or participated in several fundraising concerts over the past few years, including the Hero Jam concerts held during spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona. (The annual concerts, which benefit the USO, feature performances by the Outsiders and various musical guests.) In August 2016, the foundation partnered with the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation for Can’t Stop the Train: A Tribute to Jerry Garcia. Held at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the show featured a performance by Peavy and the Outsiders, who were joined onstage by a stellar cast of musicians, including Phil Lesh, Col. Bruce Hampton, Jeff Sipe, Jackie Greene, Cody and Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi All Stars, and Peavy’s old buddy Tim Flannery.

“I love to get in the mix and front these things with our band,” Peavy says, “but then I know when to get out of the way and let guys like Jackie Greene and Luther Dickinson trade licks. You watch all the musicians interacting and having fun, and the night gets greased up, man! It made for some really cool musical moments.

“It was such an amazing night,” he continues. “We sent every bit of money from it to Larkin Street Youth Services, who are getting homeless kids off the streets of San Francisco. We also put in some money to put together music programs at Larkin and give the kids some education—we bought guitars for these kids, and we give them instruction and try to help them find the same release and escape in music that I’ve found, when life gets overwhelming. I want to give kids hope for the future.”

“Everything Jake does with his foundation, and everything Jake does in Mobile, there was no manual for this, no rulebook,” Jernigan adds. “We just got together for one common goal of success, and we’re making it work.”

Indeed, Peavy’s foundation has been similarly active in bringing music to kids in Mobile, and the pitcher says he hopes to be even more of a presence in the Port City—in works both musical and charitable—when it comes time to retire.

“None of this would be possible if it weren’t for the gift of being able to play baseball, and I certainly understand that,” he says. “I’m not sure how many more years I’ll play for—maybe I’ll have another two or three years. Music is something that I fell in love with along my journey, and it’s been my release and escape. My experiences in those towns I’ve played in have certainly shaped my taste in music. But for now, my first commitment is to baseball. At the end of the day, I just want to be known as a baseball player who loves music and who wants to play a part in his community.”

This is a feature from the January/February 2017 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on the unique artistry and dedication of Tokyo’s ESP Custom Shop, Kentucky Headhunters lead guitarist Greg Martin and his fine vintage guitars; producer/guitarist Daniel Lanois and his passion for pedal-steel guitars, motorcycles, and recording technology… plus much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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