Maybe it's something in the water. Something that ignites the right side of the brain with intense musicality and creativity. Whatever the reason, Mount Dora seems to be an incubator for emerging music artists.
One local singer and songwriter, Jeff Whitfield, apparently drank much more than his share of the water. His ease and honesty radiates in his music which commands even the passive listener to stop, pay attention and remember it. Whitfield credits the influences of music icons Dan Fogelberg, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Ray Vaughan with influencing his soulful style.
At 39, the humble and humorous Mount Dora High graduate is about to embark on a new chapter of his career. After 18 months of writing and recording, Whitfield, who lives in Mount Plymouth with his wife Tracy and their children Chelsea and Aidan, will release his album of original music, "Choices", in October.
The album kicks off with a pre-release jam at Ruby Street Grille on Oct. 14, followed by an album release concert featuring the full band at the Mount Dora Community Building on Oct. 16. The start of Whitfield's new chapter marked the perfect time for Mount Dora Buzz to sit down with him so his many fans and friends could get to know him a little better.
MDB: With your voice, you could live anywhere, but have chosen to stay local. Why?
JW: If I’m broken down on the side of the road, there’s a good likelihood someone will help me. I’m a small town guy. And I’m not that smart, I need everything where I can find it. (laughs)
MDB: Other than your own home, what single place do you feel most comfortable.
JW: The woods. The further in the better.
MDB: Where did you play your first local paid gig?
JW: (Smiles) Eduardo’s Station (currently the Lost Parrot on Donnelly St.) when I was 17 years old. Vicky, the manager, wouldn't give me more gigs until I showed her my report card that showed I was passing. I was paid 75 bucks.
MDB: What came first: guitar, singing or songwriting?
JW: Singing, followed by guitar and piano, then writing. I was 13 when I started.
MDB: You're an incredibly soulful artist. Where does that come from?
JW: Early Motown was a big influence. When it’s done right, it comes from the heart. It’s a very honest music.
MDB: What two artists would you gladly walk over hot coals to perform with?
JW: Bonnie Raitt. I wanna be the male version of her. (Smiles) And Django Reinhardt.
MDB: What three words best describe your music?
JW: I hope people think it’s soulful, musical and serious Music should be fun, but it’s nice to be taken seriously.
MDB: You and David Oliver Willis have complementary musical styles and have collaborated successfully on a lot of local endeavors. What bonds this artistic bromance, we dubbed “Whitlis”?
JW: (Laughs) He and I started down the same path. I really dig how he goes out and drums up support for music and the community. David has a lot of talent and gets even better every day.
MDB: 3 words to describe yourself?
JW: I’m gonna go with what I hope: Funny, loving, honest.
MDB: 3 words your wife would use?
JW: (Laughs) Forgetful. Heartfelt. Kind.
MDB: Where do you draw inspirations for your songwriting?
JW: Usually love or pain. My wife creeps into every song I write, whether I like it or not. Occassionally, I like to be whimsical.
MDB: Some people define musical success by how far up the charts an artist climbs. How will you personally define the success of “Choices”?
JW: As an artist, being able to listen to it and get that feeling of an album that I really love and I hope others feel the same.
MDB: What's the most valuable lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you?
JW: Try your hardest to do what you say you’re going to do. My father taught me that in a very inadvertent way.
MDB: What are you afraid of ?
JW: Dying. There’s a great Sam Cooke line, “It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die 'cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky.”
MDB: What’s your guilty pleasure?
JW: (Quickly) Potato Chips! The only kind that should be abolished are ‘Salt & Vinegar’. (laughs)
MDB: What's something about you that most people don't know?
JW: That I’m a committed father. I do a lot of ‘Mr. Mom’ during the day. My wife works days so we split parenting duties.
MDB: It's time for a speed round of “Would you Rather...”
Super Bowl or US Open Golf? JW: US Open
Meditation or push ups? JW: Both
Boxers or briefs? JW: Neither
Tailgate or Broadway? JW: Broadway
Rollercoaster or carousel? JW: (sighs) Carousel
Beach chair or surfboard? JW: Surfboard!
Heights or speed? JW: Almost neither, but I’ll take speed
Shaken or stirred? JW: Shaken
Hug or handshake? JW: Hug
Purell or 5 second rule? JW: 5 second rule
Dumbells or down dog? JW: Dumbells
Betty White or Barry White? JW: I want them to be married and come to my house for dinner.
T-Bone or Tofu? JW: T-Bone
Paris or Peru? JW: Paris
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Above: Whitfield with another local talent, David Oliver Willis