Jake Peavy’s Second Act

How the Cy Young Award-winner and two-time World Series Champion is building a better Mobile through music.

Jake Peavy portrait
Jake Peavy // Photos by Matthew Coughlin

The pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium can feel like the loneliest place in the world. It’s a feeling Jake Peavy knows in his bones. A Mobile native and one of the most decorated professional athletes to ever come out of the Azalea City, Peavy wasn’t immune to the slings and arrows that come with being a big-league hurler, despite his many accolades. It’s midsummer, and we’re talking with the former pitcher in the mixing room at Dauphin Street Sound, the state-of-the-art studio in downtown Mobile that he and a team of local talent opened back in 2016.

Peavy is waxing about his days in the big leagues and what got him hooked on music in the first place. After winning titles with the Giants and Red Sox, the two-time World Series Champion retired from the game in 2016 after a 15-year professional career, but in his jeans and T-shirt, he still appears to be in fighting shape.  

“So here’s a picture of me going to Yankee Stadium and getting my butt kicked by the Yankees,” he continues with some animation. Peavy is a passionate storyteller; in fact, it’s clear after spending more than 10 minutes with him that he’s passionate about most anything he does. And while baseball may be a team sport, pitching is a solo act, and music became a way for him to unwind after three hours of hyper-focused intensity that, in the moment, felt like a matter of life and death. “It’s lonely on the mound, and it’s lonely with the press afterwards. It sucks leaving the stadium, getting on the bus, and then getting off the bus. And the last thing you’re going to do when you get to your hotel room is flip on the television and watch the sports channels and highlights.”

When Peavy first got called up in 2002, most of his teammates were 10, 15, 20 years older than him. He couldn’t go out to bars with the team, so he ended up spending a lot of time in his room by himself. It was in this scenario that the St. Paul’s alumnus found a creative outlet through music. Padres third-base coach Tim Flannery liked to pick country tunes in the hotel stairwell after games, and it was Flannery who gave Peavy his first six-string. “I could sit in there, play that guitar and not think about how I got my ass kicked,” he laughs.

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Through the years, music became a sort of parallel obsession to baseball for number 44 (the same number worn by the late Mobilian Hank Aaron). He immersed himself in the scenes of each of the cities he called home over his decade-and-a-half career. It was a way to connect with the culture of a community. With the Padres, Peavy plugged into the singer-songwriter scene of San Diego, a town that produced the likes of folk-pop star Jewel. With the White Sox in Chicago, he dove headlong into the blues, a period of musical fandom that rubbed off on his son Jacob, who is now deep into blues guitar. In Boston, the scene revolved more around rock and alternative. But it was in San Francisco and the Bay Area during his time with the Giants that Peavy first saw the power of music and how it can transform a community.

Grateful Dead Fan

For someone who competes on the diamond with such ferocity, it’s surprising to learn that Peavy is, well, something of a hippie. During his years in San Francisco, he spent time with the clan of the Grateful Dead, America’s foremost jam band that emerged in the hothouse of the 1960s counterculture. He hung out — and sometimes jammed! — with Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and songwriter John Perry Barlow. He became something of a buddy to Steve Parrish, the bodyguard, gear guy and right-hand man of the late Jerry Garcia. When the holy grail of guitars, Tiger, was brought to a tribute concert so Garcia’s family and bandmates could spend time with the cherished memento, it was Peavy who arranged for its loan from Colts owner Jim Irsay, who had purchased it at an auction in 2002 for an ungodly sum. 

For Peavy, music has a spiritual dimension, and his love for it is as palpable as anyone this writer has met during his years in the music industry. “Going to San Francisco and talking with [those Dead guys], you realize music was the vehicle they were carrying the counterculture through,” he says, noting that he was extremely touched that they treated him like a peer and not just a fan. “Music to me is the closest man-made thing we have to God. It can make you feel like you feel when you’re standing over the ocean or something. Watching, hearing those stories and knowing what that movement was about, my thought was, ‘I gotta bottle this up and take it to Mobile.’”

Before you break out the tie-dye and flare jeans, Peavy isn’t exactly talking about staging “Be-Ins” in Bienville Square, Summer of Love-style. He’s talking about building a musical infrastructure in downtown Mobile that can spur commerce, lifting all boats upon its basis. He’s talking about bridging economic and racial boundaries and engaging the youth of Mobile through music workshops, after-school instrument lessons and music business education seminars. He’s talking about making Mobile a music destination city with its own singular culture — a brackish melting pot where blues, rock, country and hip-hop feed off one another with a synthesis like no other place in America.

Portrait of Jake Peavy and Keylan Laxton
Jake Peavy and Keylan Laxton

Sounds Downtown

Jake Peavy is a self-effacing guy. He stresses repeatedly throughout the interview that the studio and his other musical ventures (live venue Cedar Street Social Club and the former Ten Sixty Five music festival) are team efforts and he’s only a facilitator. His younger brother, Luke, helps manage his many projects and keeps the ship running. Peavy has spoken before about the importance of trust and having family involved with the business. 

As for the centerpiece of the whole operation, he says, Dauphin Street Sound could not have happened without the drive and vision of its chief engineer, Keylan Laxton. Peavy connected with Laxton through longtime friend and local musician Ben Jernigan when Laxton was working for Jade Entertainment, the studio that once existed in Dauphin Street Sound’s current location. Laxton says of the initial connection, “Ben said, ‘We’re going to take the bones that were Jade and pump it full of steroids and make it stand up against the great studios in the world.’” 

Around this time, the team connected with Trina Shoemaker, the Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer who has made her home in Fairhope since 2005 when she and musician husband Grayson Capps were displaced from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Shoemaker comes from an analog, old-school style of production, while Laxton had cut his teeth more on the digital side of things. They salvaged wood from Peavy’s former ranch in Wilcox County and added cutting-edge technological features, creating two control rooms, four isolation booths and a live tracking room. The result of their collaboration is an original hybrid system that is now emulated in several other studios around the country. 

Now, Laxton works alongside house engineer Josh Daigrepont running the day-to-day operations, and in its six-year history, the business has seen its ups and downs. Like many other sectors of the American economy, the music industry has undergone dramatic change in the last decade, and everyone has had to adjust to survive. When the studio opened, the team was focused on producing blues-based rock and Americana acts. They have evolved from that marketing stance.

“The mistake we started with was that we were not operating with an open enough mind, and it was hindering our business model,” Peavy says. Back in the studio’s salad days, Peavy confesses that the team didn’t really understand the regional R&B and hip-hop scene. Once they partnered with the right individuals in those genres, things got better. “It didn’t start to happen until we reassessed how inclusive we were being with our marketing and with everything it involved,” he says. “We now make sure everyone feels welcome. We don’t care what type of music you make.”

Laxton says the cross-pollination of genres in the studio is where the magic’s been. He’s firm in his belief that there is no other market like Mobile’s and there is no other studio like Dauphin Street Sound. “When you go to these other bigger markets, [it’s usually], ‘This is a rock studio or a country studio.’ We do everything. And the great thing is seeing different artists come in and them running into someone who plays country guitar or blues guitar and all of a sudden he’s got a ‘Gold’ record.”

Over the past year, the studio worked on two records that went on to be certified “Gold” by the RIAA and one that went “Platinum.” Big Sean and local hip-hop phenom Flo Milli, who is signed to RCA Records, landed the “Gold” records. The song “You’re Mines Still,” a remix collaboration between Mobile rapper Yung Bleu and international superstar Drake, was certified “Platinum” with more than 2 million units sold.

“Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would have something go ‘Platinum,’” Laxton says. “You get behind your mission, and if you’re open-minded enough, you hold on for the ride.” 

The actor Morgan Freeman, who lives near Fort Morgan for part of the year, is a regular client at the studio, recording voice-over tracks for commercials and films. It’s the only place he works when he’s down here. “That’s something that makes me happy,” Peavy says.

With the studio running on firm ground, Peavy insists that he’s just getting started. The boy from Semmes knows that Mobile has often exported its creative talent in the past, and he wants to change that. He wants this block on lower Dauphin Street to be the entertainment and musical hub for the town. He’s got bigger plans for Cedar Street Social Club, and there is talk of recreating a music festival somewhere down the road. Recently, his team opened a musical instrument store in the front of the studio called Mobtown Music. Some of the after-school music sessions and lessons will have a charitable component in connection with The Jake Peavy Foundation. He wants the youth of Mobile to feel that they don’t have to leave town to follow their dreams. 

“I want to make sure that this is the city’s dream. This isn’t just my dream. I want to be part of something happening at a higher movement … This has taken so many different shapes and forms, and I’m just trying to enjoy the ride,” Peavy says. Indeed, he seems to be enjoying himself, as well he should, for it’s been a long, strange, rewarding trip for number 44, going back 20 years to those empty hotel rooms, where it was just him, a chord book and a guitar. And as they say in Nashville, it all starts with a song.

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