An Austin-based musician by way of his native New England, Cleaves has been making a name for himself as a folk singer since the early 1990s. Unfortunately, critical acclaim hasn't always translated into commercial success for Cleaves. While he's managed to build a career, he's not always been able to make a living from it. As a result, he's worked a number of jobs over the years, from day laborer to janitor to guinea pig for medical research.
But all that menial labor hasn't hurt his songwriting. In fact, experience has infused his songs with a cast of characters and fellow travelers; the down-on-their luck, the troubled and the lonely. Like his influences Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, whose music he heard as a child, Cleaves is champion of the disenfranchised; a defender of losers and outcasts on the fringes of society. His music is firmly rooted in American traditions, and draws from the genres of folk, blues and country.
It is not surprising, then, that a literate songwriter such as Cleaves would find a champion in the likes of Stephen King, who wrote the liner notes for his 2009 album, "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away." Hopefully that mainstream support is an indication that Cleaves' luck has turned, and that his songs may finally reach the larger audience they deserve.
All photos by Chris Bay.