With his Tom Petty tribute show set to unfurl Wednesday at SpeakEZ Lounge, Local Spins asked guitarist-singer Jack Leaver to reveal the albums that inspired him. Learn more about Leaver; listen to his picks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases music that changed the world for West Michigan singer and guitarist Jack Leaver. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks.
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On Wednesday night, Grand Haven guitarist and singer Jack Leaver brings his American Heartbreakers Tom Petty tribute show to SpeakEZ Lounge for the Local Spins Wednesdays series. So, it’s no surprise that Petty would be among his top influences and personal favorites. But that’s just part of the picture.
Leaver grew up in a house surrounded by music. “I started playing, listening and singing as a kid. I’d listen to my dad’s country records,” he says, something which manifested in a love for Eddie Arnold, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, among others.
He also absorbed the pop sounds and show tunes of movies and Broadway. “Mom liked soundtracks: ‘South Pacific,’ ‘West Side Story,’” he says. Early on, he took piano lessons, tried cello, and at age 8 picked up a guitar, influenced in large part by The Beatles. Other early influences included The Beach Boys, Byrds, Rolling Stones, Hollies and singer-songwriters such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Merle Haggard.
Over the years, Leaver has contributed both live and on record to local legends such as Drew Nelson and Ralston Bowles. He’s also played in several area bands, including Mosey, the alternative country bands The Dushanes and The Skyscrapers, Diff & Dudley and rock/pop’s Zebra 3. Along the way, he’s shared the stage with Marshall Crenshaw, John Hammond, Jr., Mose Allison, Koko Taylor, Edgar Winter, even his early inspiration The Beach Boys. Comfortable as a solo performer, fronting rock and country bands, or just contributing tasty licks on guitar or slide to friends’ music, he’s a familiar face and voice across the region.
Whether playing originals or covers, there’s always one overriding concern: “I want it to be fun.” His American Heartbreakers Tom Petty tribute — with uncanny vocals that sound like the late Petty — hits the stage at SpeakEZ Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday (March 15).
1. Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush” (1970) – I didn’t start really playing guitar till I was 12 or 13. My brother and sister were a big influence, I’d listen to their records. My life completely changed when I fell in love with Neil Young. The opening “Tell Me Why,” that was the one that sucked me in. My first attempts at songwriting sounded like bad Neil Young songs (laughs). That was huge for me. Neil Young is the biggest influence on my guitar playing, both rhythm and lead guitar.
Listen: “Tell Me Why”
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Hard Promises” (1981) – I didn’t really start listening to Tom Petty till “Damn the Torpedoes.” I loved every track on “Hard Promises.” It was the Heartbreakers, too. My favorite is “The Waiting.” It’s so powerful. The guitar licks in the beginning, the lyrics just grabbed me. It’s the template of good songwriting. It’s very real. I started a Tom Petty band to play the catalog. He became the upper echelon of songwriters. Neil Young, Bruce, Dylan: They’re the top tier of songwriters. He’s at the top of the mountain.
Listen: “The Waiting”
3. David Bowie, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” (1972) – I’m a big Bowie fan. I absorbed country all my life, but I had to pick one other. On “Ziggy,” I can listen to every song. He and Neil Young were fans of each other. Mick Ronson’s guitars sounded like Neil. When Bowie died I did an entire (show) of the record.
Listen: “It Ain’t Easy”
Currently Loving: Julianna Riolino, “All Blue” (2022) – Currently I’m drifting back into alt-country. What strikes me about Julianna is –- I don’t like the term alt-country — but she goes into cosmic country, the folk/country of the mid-60s: The Byrds, Gram Parsons, the Burrito Brothers. It’s traditional country with a hippie bent, psychedelic. It’s like Pitchfork said in a review, “Dolly Parton hanging out in Laurel Canyon.” It’s got a traditional/Appalachian vibe which I really like, bluesy and bluegrassy. It’s really good songwriting, almost like Rockpile. Really good songs; that’s where it always starts. The production isn’t slick, but it’s not lo-fi, just organic.
Listen: “Memory of Blue”
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Jack Leaver’s Playlist on Spotify
NOTE: Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” isn’t available on Spotify, so we chose two songs from the album as performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
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