DeGraw, Gavin

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Gavin DeGraw

Singer, songwriter

Gavin DeGraw slid onto the airwaves following the 2003 release of Chariot, which enjoyed a slow crawl up the charts. It took two years, but the pop-rock album was eventually certified platinum. DeGraw received a boost in recognition after the album single "I Don't Want to Be" was chosen as the theme song for the WB drama One Tree Hill and became a top ten hit. By 2008 DeGraw had a steady stream of fans awaiting the release of his third album, the rock-inflected, self-titled Gavin DeGraw, which entered the Billboard chart at number seven. The album's first single, "In Love with a Girl," peaked at number 15 on the Hot Digital Songs chart. Music critics have dubbed DeGraw the most talented singer/songwriter of his generation, though it is perhaps his stage presence that is most endearing to his fans. "DeGraw was born to be on stage," noted Boston Globe music critic Joan Anderman. "He's bawdy and humble and raw and adorable and a fearless singer."

Early Years Rooted in Music

The youngest of three, DeGraw was born into a musical family on February 4, 1977, in Middletown, New York, though he grew up in South Fallsburg, a small town located in the Catskills. His father, Wayne, made a living as a prison guard while his mother, Lynne, worked as a detoxification specialist. Early on, music became a staple in DeGraw's life. Both of his parents played guitar and sang and his father also played piano. During family singalongs they covered Billy Joel and Elton John songs as well as show tunes.

In addition, DeGraw's grandfather was a self-taught musician who played guitar, harmonica, and organ. Growing up, DeGraw and his siblings spent a lot of time in the care of their grandfather while their parents worked. DeGraw's older brother, Joey, learned the guitar from their grandfather, while Gavin DeGraw gravitated toward piano. Music played a role at nearly every gathering. DeGraw's earliest memories include reunions at his great uncle's farm where family members—armed with guitars—cranked out hits by Hank Williams and Willie Nelson.

All three DeGraw children took piano lessons, but Gavin DeGraw stood out as a natural. "He really liked the piano and we encouraged him to keep going," his mother told Sandy Tomcho of the Times Herald-Record. "It was clear there was something terrific going on." DeGraw's interest in piano was further piqued after attending a Billy Joel concert at age 15. "After that concert he went out and bought Billy Joel sheet music and learned his whole repertoire," Lynne DeGraw told the Times Herald-Record. "Then he did the same with Elton John and moved on to R&B and Marvin Gaye."

As teenagers, Gavin and Joey DeGraw made frequent trips to the local hangouts with their instruments in hand searching for gigs. In high school, the brothers had a cover band and performed at area bars, country clubs, and weddings. Gavin DeGraw also played solo, entertaining guests with piano tunes at the nearby Pines Hotel, a popular resort. When DeGraw was not busy with music, he worked as a lifeguard at the local pool.

After graduating from Fallsburg Central High School in 1995, DeGraw attended New York's Ithaca College on scholarship, studying voice. He dropped out after one semester and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, leaving after a year of study. "I just wasn't happy in the classroom environment," DeGraw told the Times Herald-Record. "They turned making music into a science and to me, that took the art out of it."

Moved to New York

In 1998 the DeGraw brothers moved to Manhattan, hoping to break into the music scene. Gavin DeGraw's career got off to a slow start, though, and he ended up waiting tables and running the cash register at newsstands. Between gigs, he made money as a bartender, bellhop, and dog-walker. Speaking to Newsday's Steve Knopper, DeGraw recalled his dismay. "I was freaking out … wondering if I was really going to do music for a living or not. But I loved it immediately. New York City's a place where, even if you're broke, it's fun."

Undaunted, DeGraw made some demo tapes, which his father helped peddle at New York City clubs. DeGraw's first break came after he played at an Upper West Side bar and impressed the owner so much she offered to become his manager and book his gigs. Soon DeGraw had recorded and pressed his own CD to sell at his shows. Slowly, he gained a small following on the New York club scene, as word of his soulful singing and songwriting spread. A few recording offers came through, though they did not feel right, so DeGraw turned them down. Other music scouts told DeGraw they loved his style, but could not figure out how to market his music because he did not fit any specific genre or mold—DeGraw did not play good boy pop or bad boy rock'n'roll.

In 2002 music mogul Clive Davis caught wind of DeGraw and came calling. DeGraw played about five songs for Davis and had a recording offer from Davis's J Records imprint by the end of the day. Davis felt certain he had another future star on his hands. Speaking to People, he recalled the first time he heard DeGraw sing. "He was closing his eyes and clearly feeling every lyric," Davis said. "He was the real deal." Teaming up with Davis provided a career boost for DeGraw, as Davis has helped guide the careers of countless artists, including Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Bruce Springsteen and Janis Joplin.

Hitched Hopes on Chariot

DeGraw released the eleven-track Chariot in 2003. Filled with heart-pumping love anthems, quicker-paced rock tunes, and soulful ballads, the album entered the Billboard charts at number 180 and peaked at 103. The first single from the album, "Follow Through," highlighted DeGraw's piano playing. He also found a hit with the autobiographical "I Don't Want to Be," which hit number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Mainstream Top 40 chart. The song also became a favorite among American Idol contestants.

After releasing the album, DeGraw toured incessantly and promoted his work through appearances on television and radio programs. He played for studio audiences in front of David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Ellen DeGeneres. For a time, his brother, Joey, joined him on the road playing guitar. Slowly, the music world took notice and DeGraw began to build a loyal following, particularly with the under-30 female crowd.

After the album's release DeGraw toured relentlessly, opening for such acts as Sister Hazel and Maroon 5. He told Andrew Murfett of Age, "I'm shackled to what I'm doing. It's not like I'm going to become a doctor. I'm happy to not be working a regular job. I was a cable guy, a dog walker, I worked lumber, I waited tables—I worked so many things. I'm just enjoying playing music and avoiding the real world for a change."

For the Record …

Born February 4, 1977, in Middletown, NY; son of Wayne (a prison guard) and Lynne (a detoxification specialist) DeGraw. Education: Attended Ithaca College, NY, 1995; attended Berklee College of Music, Boston, c. 1996.

Began career playing New York City club scene, late 1990s-early 2000s; signed with J Records, 2002; released debut album, Chariot, 2003; released acoustic version of debut album, Chariot Stripped, 2004; released Gavin DeGraw, 2008.

Addresses: Record company—J Records, 745 5th Ave., New York, NY 10151. Web site—Gavin DeGraw Official Web site:

DeGraw believed that touring and playing on television and radio programs has been a key to capturing listeners. DeGraw also got help from American Idol because contestants have frequently chosen to sing his songs. This extra exposure turned out to be vital to his success. "The era of a Wolfman Jack picking up a song and making someone's career by bringing it to a radio audience, that's just not happening anymore," DeGraw told the Los Angeles Times's Geoff Boucher. "Now you have to find different routes to your audience, and television and the Internet are the ones that seem to be working."

Along the way, DeGraw found time to step back into the studio—briefly. In 2004 he released a stripped-down acoustic version of Chariot, which he recorded in two days. While DeGraw liked the original version, he thought some of the more subtle elements included in his songs had remained hidden.

Sought Self-Styled Stardom

In 2008 DeGraw released a self-titled sophomore album, which spawned the catchy hit single "In Love With a Girl." The song opened with a hard-rock guitar intro, then moved into the edgy lyrics fans have come to love. "Young Love" had a bluesy feel. "Medicate the Kids" was a rant that rages against society's trend of giving kids prescription drugs for problems such as ADD.

DeGraw is a master songwriter and musician. When writing songs for his albums, he has not tried to force a genre, preferring to write the songs and see what follows. DeGraw wrote every song on his self-titled album and played guitar and piano throughout. "I wasn't trying to distinguish the album as a rock album or a soul album or a singer-songwriter album," he told Michigan's Grand Rapids Press. "I was intentionally trying to avoid the idea of being one genre, and just be someone who writes songs and will do whatever production suits the song."

One quirk of DeGraw's is that he rarely goes out in public without a hat on his head. He wears one on each album cover, in his videos, and when he performs. When it comes to hats, DeGraw is not picky. He wears baseball hats, wool stocking caps, trendy cadet caps, fedoras, and old-time newsboy hats. DeGraw believes it is easier and more efficient to cover up his head than fuss with styling his wavy brown locks.

As for the future, DeGraw hopes to follow in the footsteps of his piano-playing idol, Billy Joel. He told CBS News, "Someday, hopefully, [there will] be somebody sitting at a piano playing my songs like I spent a lot of my teenage years playing his songs."

Selected discography


"I Don't Want to Be," J Records, 2003.

"Follow Through," J Records, 2004.

"Chariot," J Records, 2005.

"We Belong Together," J Records, 2005.

"She Holds A Key," J Records, 2008.

"In Love with a Girl," J Records, 2008.


Chariot, J Records, 2003.

Chariot Stripped, J Records, 2004.

Gavin DeGraw, J Records, 2008.



Age (Melbourne, Australia), November 12, 2004, p. 4 (entertainment guide).

Billboard, June 4, 2005.

Boston Globe, August 12, 2004, p. D1.

CBS News Transcripts, May 7, 2008.

Grand Rapids Press (Michigan), May 17, 2008, p. B6.

Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2008, p. E7.

New Haven Register (Connecticut), July 6, 2007.

Newsday, March 16, 2005, p. B02.

People, August 9, 2004, p. 113.


"Biography," Gavin DeGraw Official Web site, (June 10, 2008).

"Gavin DeGraw Speaks Out on Life, Music,", (June 11, 2008).

"Music's New Piano Man," Times Herald-Record, (June 14, 2008).

—Lisa Frick

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