TRAVERSE CITY — Just what is that indefinable quality — that “it” that can propel a musician to the top of such a highly competitive industry? If that consists of talent, tenacity and a wide vocal range, Justin Avery has “it.”
The Traverse City native is busy making his mark on the music industry, similar to those he left on the music departments of both Western Michigan University and Traverse City West High School. The 32-year-old has spent the last three years touring as keyboardist with Rock icon Meatloaf, steadily carving out a musical career that has shown promise since his early childhood.
“Working with Meatloaf has given me the opportunity to tour bigger venues,” Avery said. “It’s a confidence-building thing. Everyone in the band is amazing, and it provides a great networking opportunity.”
Since moving to Los Angeles in 2005 to continue recording with the band, Population Game, that he formed while attending Western Michigan University, Avery’s also written and arranged music and played for artists Katy Perry, Sheila E, The Emotions, Billy Ray Cyrus and others while not on tour.
When he finds the time, Avery also works on his solo career, writing and recording his own style of music.
“Justin’s music — the body of work he’s currently doing — it’s something we’re not hearing on the radio right now,” said Traverse City resident Larry Avery, Justin’s father.
Avery’s long-term enterprise is a seven-album series of CDs, each featuring a different genre, titled “World in a Suitcase.”
“I’ve liked the idea of creating a concept, developing something bigger,” Avery said.
“Over,” the first CD of 10 original jazzy/soul compositions released in November 2012, reveals Avery’s love of jazz, his music major at WMU, along with early influences by Stevie Wonder, Prince, Sting, Sly and the Family Stone and Michael Jackson,. He says the second CD, “Careless,” will take on a rock-opera feel reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Queen.
“I’ve never liked putting myself in one certain genre,” Avery said. “And putting work in a large format allows for never-ending creativity.”
Musical creativity is something Avery’s demonstrated since childhood.
“He definitely was in love with music at an early age,” Larry Avery recalled. “By the time he was 4 or 5 years old, he was playing the chords and singing the words to “It’s Too Late” by Carole King.”
When he owned the former Dill’s Old Town Saloon (now site of the Blue Tractor) on Union Street, Dad Larry would produce variety-type shows every summer that featured young talent from around the country.
“Justin grew up in the nightclub, and for about 14 years got to see some of the most talented collegiate kids performing in the styles of Steely Dan or The Manhattan Transfer,” Larry Avery said. “It made an impression on him.”
By the time he entered sixth grade, Justin was serious about music and one of the first students pianist David Chown taught when he moved to Traverse City in 1992.
“I realized early on that Justin had a gift for performing, writing and arranging music,” Chown said. “I remember Justin playing some really funky type of pop music that he was improvising, and I asked him, ‘Where did that come from?’ He replied that it came from raiding his dad’s record collection and listening to Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire and the Doobie Brothers. Justin was always very open to learning the traditions of music.”
Russ Larimer, the choral program director at Traverse City West Senior High School, recognized the budding talent and gave him a free hand writing and arranging music for the various choral groups.
“Justin was arguably the most important catalyst in the formative days of our very large, nationally and internationally recognized music program,” Larimer said. “To me, he, more than anyone else, has subtly paced our music department to what it is today. Thirteen years after his graduation, kids still know who he is.”
Larimer said that Avery continues to help the department by offering his time and talents in arranging new songs and coming on site to help with training and teaching.
Now, eight years after leaving Michigan, the glamour, the packed touring venues and working with some of the biggest names in the music business don’t seem to have changed him much.
“He comes home every Christmas and we go out to Orchard Creek and play for the residents’ New Year’s Eve afternoon get together,” said Larry Avery who plays guitar. Added Justin, “Traverse City will always be home.”
Listen to Justin Avery’s music at his website, www.justinavery.com.