Jeff Churchwell remembers what he loved and admired most about the music which shaped him, and attempts to recapture, refine and re-invent it for 21st-century listeners. You'll be the judge of that, of course, but hey, he can dream. The marriage of evocative, thought-provoking lyrics to memorable melodies is the goal in all of his writing, be it satirical or social, personal or romantic. "Ooooh, baby, yeah, baby" has yet to make its way from Jeff's head to the page, but it could, if that's what is required to make a song work. What makes its way from his 6 and 12-string guitars is sophisticated fingerstyle accompaniment, from pop to rock and folk to bluegrass.
Jeff's influences include: Shawn Colvin, Neil Finn, Béla Fleck, Peter Gabriel, Mark Knopfler, Annie Lennox, Lyle Lovett, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Sting and Jimmy Webb, Rather than go all hyperbolic about aspiring to join this pantheon of greats, Jeff will shut up and let the songs do the talking. Enjoy.
The Authorized Biography
Jeff Churchwell was born in 1961 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was singing along with commercial jingles at age three, and writing songs of his own at age seven. His first two songs were blatant rip-offs of Barbra Streisand’s “People (Who Need People),” and The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Hey, at least he showed good taste.
At age 11, Jeff wanted to be Danny Partridge. OK, so good taste and common sense seem to have fled temporarily. Blame it on puberty, or on Jeff’s long red hair. More specifically, Jeff wanted to play a red Fender Mustang bass guitar. He had the catalog, he knew the specs, he begged his mother at every opportunity. How magical, then, when at Christmastime that year, Jeff tore off some wrapping paper, opened a box, and decanted, fresh from Montgomery Ward in Chicago, Illinois, a lovely five-string banjo.
Adolescent rock-star dreams notwithstanding, it seems Mom was on to something. Bluegrass was experiencing a resurgence, and the banjo finger picking style transferred quite neatly to folk guitar a couple of years later. Goodbye Danny Partridge, hello John Denver. Jeff played in bluegrass bands and folk groups all the way into college, when he finally discovered the rock and roll he’d missed during the 70s. While he was catching up on Pink Floyd, Genesis and Supertramp, the sounds of Punk, the New Wave and Modern Rock all washed over him. None of that stuck, for better or worse, but what did make an impression was the talent and longevity of artists such as Peter Gabriel, Bruce Hornsby, Sting and Neil Finn. Jeff decided not to go chasing genres, but began instead to aspire to the songcraft of those artists.
In June of 1999, Jeff moved himself and three cats to Chicago to re-start his life. Within a year, Jeff had become active in the folk and acoustic scene. He played open mics around the area, got great responses, and found a musical partner to team with. Jeff and his partner formed an acoustic pop duo called Westerly, and performed their original material in coffee houses and folk festivals around Chicago. Just before going into the studio to make an album, Jeff and his partner parted ways, and Jeff recorded “Clandestiny,” a CD featuring 12 of his original songs.
Currently, Jeff’s musical interests are quite broad. He enjoys singing lead and harmony vocals, as well as playing electric guitar, acoustic six and twelve-string guitars, and, yes, five-string banjo. Some things don’t change. Jeff has performed at local festivals and such well-known Chicago-area venues as Uncommon Ground, the Abbey Pub, Fitzgerald’s, the Heartland Café and the Two Way Street Coffee House.
Jeff is influenced these days by Shawn Colvin, Neil Finn, Béla Fleck, Peter Gabriel, Mark Knopfler, Alison Krauss + Union Station, Annie Lennox, Lyle Lovett, Sarah McLachlan, Stephen Stills, and Sting. Jeff’s songwriting has matured quite nicely over the years, so that it’s less immediately apparent whom he is ripping off.
Jeff’s other gig is full-time house-husband and stay-at-home dad. Jeff is married to a lovely middle-school science teacher, and they have produced two remarkable little doppelgangers, both boys.
Jeff joined Chicago-area pop/rock band "Melanie’s Waiting" in April, 2005. A hard-working, collaborative crew of all singer/songwriters, MW is helping Jeff find a new range of sounds in which to hatch new musical/lyrical ideas, and, one hopes, he is doing likewise for his bandmates. He also appreciates no longer being the sole wiseass in a group of one.