My name is Charles William Ashworth. I’m the first child of Alice and Bill, a wordsmith and a musician. I was born in Sutter County, California when the county seat of Yuba City was a proud farm town known as the Peach Capital of the World. If you’ve ever eaten a canned cling peach, a Thompson seedless grape, or a prune, you’ve tasted something of the history of Sutter County. Like me, each of these pioneering products went out into the world to make a name for itself.
Making a name for myself has been an endless, and often confusing mix of true musical calling, hard work, hubris, selfish ambition, insecurity, and survival. For most of my life, I’ve had a little engine under my skin driving me to prove I have a right to be alive. I do wish that making my particular career in music could have been done differently. There’s a reason God scatters and confuses the ambitious in the famous Babel story from the Torah. It’s a mercy to be relieved of seemingly endless options for ever-increasing achievement and ubiquity.
Still, to have done it differently would’ve drained the whole messy endeavor of its particularity. And particularity was essential to me in 1979. Back then, I sacrificed everything at the altar of individuality. This unique individual (cough) needed a new name to go with his self-assured originality (choke). And so it was that Charlie Peacock was born.
In the 1970s, it was rumored that Gary Peacock, a jazz bassist of some mild renown, had abandoned music to live in a commune near Chico, California – just fifty miles up the road from Yuba City. I knew of his association with the pianists Paul Bley and Bill Evans, and that’s about it. With no other connection or inspiration, I determined to change my name to Peacock. It was always about the sound of the name and how memorable it was. Never about the bird.
My father was born Calvin Willard Ashworth. His family called him Willie, which is the name entered in his earliest census appearance. He rarely used Calvin and despised Willard. The years passed and Willie became Bill. If he needed to provide his full name, dad would list himself as Calvin William Ashworth. I imagine he hoped to set things right by naming me, William. There are many generations of William in our family line – including my GGG-Grandfather’s infamous brother William for whom the Republic of Texas created the Ashworth Act in 1840. This was a controversial bit of legislation ensuring that the Ashworths, as free persons of color, would be allowed to keep their land and remain in Texas.
Like many young boys of my generation, I was periodically tasked with something called cleaning the garage. In each instance, I would rediscover a small tin soap container. I believe it was issued to dad when he enlisted in the Air Force band. Scratched into the lid was the name, Bill Ash. A name he used professionally, at least once, while performing in a residency at the Table Mountain Tavern in Oroville, California.
In my teens, I begin to understand why that soap tin said, Bill Ash. People too often misheard or misstated our last name. My dad, as Bill Ash, was trying to alleviate this exact problem. Ashhurst, Ashcroft, Ashbourne, and Ashbrooke are just a few of the substitutions I’ve heard. As it turns out, there are hundreds of British surnames beginning with Ash. My theory is, people hear the Ash they want to hear. It is a phenomenon. Our family is hyper-aware of it. We roll our eyes when a counter clerk or public servant morphs Ashworth into their preferred Ash name – “please sign here Ms. Ashwood.” As a defense, most of us have taken to saying Ashworth and then immediately spelling it.
In forty years I’ve yet to have Peacock mispronounced, mistaken or misspelled. Which is the exact outcome you’re looking for when making a name for yourself. But that’s about it. Otherwise, Peacock is a road sign pointing people to my music. Peacock is a suitcase of art and stories traveling the world while I’m home determining whether to make oatmeal or eggs. On its best days, the name is a sojourner packed with authentic relationships, humility and some small musical and lyrical help to the human fellowship. On its worst days, it’s a Me Machine I’ve long outgrown. Or a proverbial anchor tethering me to my musical past. Even so, I’m grateful for everyone and everything tied to the Peacock name that’s been true, excellent or praiseworthy. If there has been, I say to God, “You did that! Thank you. I’m honored to be one of the people on the planet caring for the music.”
In our late teens, Andi and I had our consciousness raised. This included the conviction that patriarchal forms of marriage needed to be dismantled, if not abandoned. Since our teenage love had already pushed our parents to their limits, we compromised with the former. We married but rejected other societal norms as the folly of unenlightened suburbia. Thank you, Jack Kerouac.
The first order of business was for Andi to keep her surname, Berrier. We were Andi Berrier and Chuck Ashworth. Poor Reverend Potter who married us. He was persona non grata for years after introducing us to the wedding well-wishers as Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Ashworth. Major fail there.
Nevertheless, we took up life together with our separate names, occasionally having to do battle with the system for the right to marriage and name liberation. We decided to give the children hyphenated last names. Our daughter Molly came first, with Ashworth-Berrier. In 1979, when I became Charlie Peacock, we added a 3rd last name to our family. In 1980 when son Sam was born, we reversed the last names (for equality and all), and he became Berrier-Ashworth. If you’re keeping count, we are now one family with five last names.
It wasn’t necessary for me to legally change Ashworth to Peacock. California allowed for the legal use of a professional name. I did have to show bona fide proof of my new identity though. This meant providing authorities with copies of magazine or newspaper clippings with my photo and a Peacock name caption. This secured me a passport with the phrase inscribed, The Bearer Is Also Known As Charlie Peacock. From there, all other business fell into place. There was the one time though, (back when we were still learning how to put enough money aside for self-employment quarterly tax payments), when the federal government requested Charlie Peacock (employer) attach the wages of Charles Ashworth (employee) until such time back taxes were paid in full. Charlie Peacock assured the government he’d take care of Mr. Ashworth post haste.
In 1982, Andi chose to become an Ashworth and took on the serpentine task of making our children Ashworths too. The confusion surrounding our five different names followed us for decades, creating all manner of problems. After years of back and forth with the federal government and the states of California and Tennessee, we finally had four proper, singular Ashworths in the family, complete with corresponding identification numbers. The only hitch was Peacock. By then he’d made a name for himself and was acting like a blood relative.
Which brings me to a declaration of sorts. With the publishing of this first blog post, I join Mrs. Ashworth in the mutual vocation of storytelling and gratefully assume the role of The Husband, Mr. Ashworth. Let it be known to all parties, I officially retire from any further need to make a name for myself. I have a name, always had it. Charles William Ashworth. Besides, I have every belief that Mr. Peacock will carry on just fine.