Charlie Peacock-Ashworth has earned a global reputation for his innovative and genre-transcending work as a songwriter, record producer, musician, and writer. Born Charles William Ashworth, August 10, 1956 in Yuba City, California, he is married to the former Andrea Berrier. The couple have two married children, Molly Nicholas (husband, Mark) and Sam Ashworth (wife, Meg). Peacock is a professional name used since 1979. Charlie and his wife (Andi), a writer-gardener, make their home in a remodeled country church outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Charlie performs several times a month and speaks regularly at arts conferences, retreats, and universities around the United States and abroad.
Charlie received a public school education and attended California State University at Sacramento before leaving to begin his professional music career at the age of twenty. He is presently working on a Masters degree in Theological Studies at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.
At the early age of 20, Charlie had already been recognized by San Francisco Chronicle jazz columnist Frank Kofsky as an improvising pianist of “no average ability.” Kofsky often took Charlie along with him to meet and interview the greats of jazz, usually at the famed Keystone Korner in San Francisco, or in the case of Andrew Hill, at the artist’s home.
“I was a mere novice who wanted to play something for Andrew Hill that he would think was cool. I’m not sure I met my goal on that particular day. Still, Andrew and his wife were incredibly kind and encouraging. Realistically, I was just starting to develop and he had to have known it. I think he wanted me to leave his home believing that anything was possible. And I did.”
In 1981 manager David Rubinson and producer David Kahne began developing Charlie as a solo singer-songwriter. Later, Charlie signed with Bill Graham Management, and with the help of Exit, a Sacramento production imprint, Charlie recorded solo pop albums for A&M and Island Records, toured the U.S. and Canada with The Fixx, General Public, Let’s Active, and Missing Persons, and signed his first songwriting agreement with CBS Songs. The 1980s also saw the start of Charlie’s production career.
After publishing relationships with CBS and SBK, the 1990s began Charlie’s decade of producing, recording, and songwriting for EMI’s gospel music division located in Nashville (primarily the Sparrow Label Group). In the song-oriented community of “Music City,” Charlie made good on his earlier songwriting promise when Amy Grant turned his “Every Heartbeat” into a worldwide smash pop hit.
Named by Billboard’s Encyclopedia of Record Producers as one of the 500 most important record producers in music history, Charlie is also the only three-time recipient of the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for Producer of the Year. His diverse production credits include the South-African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, R&B vocalists Al Green and CeCe Winans, Australian vocalist Michelle Tumes, modern rock bands Switchfoot and Audio Adrenaline, folk artist Sarah Masen, pop artist Brent Bourgeois, and the more traditional contemporary Christian artists Avalon and Twila Paris. His most recent production is a jazz recording featuring James Genus, Ravi Coltrane, Joey Baron, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Ralph Alessi.
As a result of his scholarship and interest in the intersection of faith and music, Charlie has become a widely sought after voice on the subject. He is the founder of the Art House, a study center dedicated to examining the artful life. He has contributed commentary and opinion to NPR’s All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation, as well to USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. As an artist, songwriter, producer, and lay theologian, Charlie has been featured in major newspapers and periodicals such as The Chicago Tribune, Mix, Electronic Musician, Melody Maker, Billboard, Details, Publishers Weekly, First Things, and Re:generation Quarterly. Peggy Wehmeyer of ABC World News called his writing and ideas “refreshing and challenging.” Charlie is the author of At The Crossroads, as well as featured essays in several other books including “It Was Good” a collection of essays on art-making. He also serves as Principal Artist Faculty of the Wheaton Conservatory of Music, International Improvisational Institute.
“It’s about coming back around. It’s about returning with fresh ears and an open heart to the songs that I’ve written over the last twenty years. It’s about coming back to all the reasons that I love creating music. In the widest sense, it’s about reconnecting with friends and returning to the relationships that have shaped me along the way as an artist, a follower, and a human being. This project is about art and faith, a celebration of community, and the expression of gratitude to Jesus for the gift of life.” - Charlie Peacock
It’s a lot to ask of a project: Distilling two decades of constant creative output and an ever-widening circle of friendships into the space of thirteen four-minute songs. Especially when you consider that as an artist, producer, author, teacher, mentor and visionary, Charlie Peacock has never been the type to chart his course based solely on the availability of paved roads. The journey has always been a big part of the goal. For Charlie it’s always been about exploring, discovering, dreaming big, thinking and rethinking, finding another way, asking “What if…?” and mustering the wherewithal to give it a shot.
And while his twenty year resume includes scads of Dove Awards, Grammy nominations, Number One singles, and production credits for heavy hitters like Avalon, Nicole Nordeman, Audio Adrenaline and Switchfoot, (as well as multiple books, a pioneering record label, and the creation of the Art House ministry), these artifacts themselves have never been the prize. At best they’re a natural byproduct, a mounting evidence of the constant creative activity that Peacock engages in. The central thing that Charlie does prize in the midst of all this is the relationships, the web of community that seems to spontaneously develop in and around and through these creative endeavors. At the core, it’s all about people and the God who made them. And that’s the fundamental context for Full Circle: A Celebration of Songs & Friendships, Peacock’s first Sparrow Records release in five years.
“Full Circle was originally conceived as a celebration of my 20th year in Christian music,” Charlie explains, “but it quickly became more of a tribute to the restless love and mercy of God through Jesus. What really excited me about this project was the idea of being able to reconnect and create with so many friends whose stories have become a part of my own. It’s a tapestry that stretches from Sara Groves who I just met and started writing with last year, to Mike Roe (the 77’s) who I haven’t made music with in sixteen years. What you hear on Full Circle really is a celebration of those friendships. In that sense full doesn’t mean the circle is complete - it means it’s actually full.”
Offering fresh interpretations of eleven of Charlie’s best-loved songs, (including “In The Light,” “Every Heartbeat,” and “One Man Gets Around”) as well as two new cuts (“God in The World,” and “Through It All”), Full Circle features the collaborative talents of such luminaries as tobyMac, Sara Groves, Jon and Tim Foreman, Michael Tait, Darwin Hobbs, Bela Fleck, Sixpence None The Richer, Avalon, Steve Taylor, Bart Millard, Phil Keaggy, Jimmy Abegg and numerous others. The common thread is that all of these are artists whose lives have been woven together with Peacock’s over the years.
Rather than offering a predictable rehashing of proven formulas, Charlie opted to start from ground zero and breathe new life into each of these songs. The result is something akin to reincarnation in an artistic sense; the soul of the songs remain intact, but they’ve been transmigrated into distinctly different, and often surprising, musical incarnations.
“The idea from the beginning was that nobody who played or sang on the original recording of a song could play on the new version,” Charlie explains. “That was a way of keeping things fresh and innovative. It also allowed for some interesting chemistry and role-casting. For instance I decided to sing “Almost Threw It All Away” with Brent Bourgeois because we share a prior history of alcohol and drug abuse that nearly destroyed our lives and families, so there was a strong emotional connection between Brent, myself, and that lyric. On the other hand I asked Tony Miracle of Venus Hum to work with me on “Lie Down in The Grass” because that was the first single from my first record, and Tony grew up listening to and being influenced by that record. So there are multiple layers of connections between the songs and the artists who are performing them.”
A hallmark of Peacock’s songs has always been the blending of poetry, honesty, and genre-crossing pop sensibilities that render even his most experimental material listenable and accessible. Full Circle provides a cross-section of two decades of such work, ranging from the instantly recognizable mega-hit “Every Heartbeat” (here performed with Sixpence None The Richer), to the darkly lyrical “Insult Like The Truth” (originally a brooding, almost mechanical sounding piece, but here reinterpreted by Jon and Tim Foreman with the feel of a laid back, sunny, coastal-California afternoon).
“When you string all these songs together,” Charlie observes, “I think you get a picture of an artist working across time, both as a craftsperson and as somebody who uses their songs to work out their faith. From a songwriting standpoint, I think you see that I clearly just love music and the making of music. I’ll be the first to admit that I really don’t have a particular style, but at the same time when you listen to each of these songs, whether it’s a sentimental ballad like “No Place Closer To Heaven,” an alternative modern rock song like “Monkeys At The Zoo,” or a big R&B influenced tune like “Down in The Lowlands,” it’s clearly me and not someone else behind it. I don’t know what the real common denominator is except that it all springs from my own sense of melody, it’s all music that I love, and it’s all somehow related to my attempts to work out this collision that happened twenty years ago between what was my previous self-serving art making, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
A highlight of recording Full Circle was the participation of Charlie’s son Sam on the project. When Charlie began his journey as a believer and a CCM artist, Sam was no more than three years old. Now a rising singer, songwriter and producer in his own right, Sam’s involvement on three of the songs brings a certain sense of nostalgia, as well as a sense of all that is good and right about living in community and investing in the lives of the next generations of believers, all ideas that Peacock is passionate about.
“In one way,” Charlie says, “working with my son on this project is a real fulfillment of what my wife Andi and I always hoped for in our marriage and with our children - that we would grow children who would stay in community, and those stories that we were a part of would continue to grow through them. We wanted to make people who would make things, who would contribute things to the world, who would change their world and their culture through imaginative, creative living.”
Charlie’s ongoing involvement with the Art House Ministries, with the mentoring and development of young artists and bands like Switchfoot springs from that same desire to teach, to pastor, to equip the Body of Christ to live out it’s calling in every vocation and segment of culture. Peacock’s book At The Crossroads (published six years ago and now being updated by his daughter Molly) gave him a new platform as a teacher and lecturer in colleges and churches alike. His new book, New Way To Be Human - A Provocative Look At What It Means To Follow Jesus, will likely broaden that platform of teaching and discipleship even further.
“I’m a lot less judgmental than I was twenty years ago,” Charlie concludes. “Probably because I recognize my own sin more than ever, and that recognition makes the gift of salvation all the more amazing. As student/followers of Jesus, we have the mind-bending privilege of laboring with and for God. As that awareness grows, it becomes less and less about me even being in the music business. More and more I see that wherever I’m at, whatever I’m doing, I’m in the disciple business. I’m waking up every day, trying to do my best to be what God wants me to be, speaking the words He wants me to speak, writing the music He wants me to write. Twenty years later, I’ve realized that I really don’t want to be the point anymore.”