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Slaid Cleaves is an American singer-songwriter born in Washington, D.C. and raised in South Berwick, Maine and Round Pond, Maine, United States. An alumnus of Tufts University, where he majored in English and philosophy, Cleaves lives in Austin, Texas.
His full name is Richard Slaid Cleaves, but Slaid is the name that he has used his entire life. Cleaves is a full-time touring musician, but like most musicians has held many day jobs: janitor, warehouse rat, ice cream truck driver, rope-tow operator, film developer, groundskeeper, meter reader, and pizza delivery driver. He was even a human guinea pig. He was paid to be a subject in drug studies by a pharmaceutical company.
Cleaves's musical roots extend back prior to his days playing in a high school "garage band" with his childhood friend Rod Picott. The two shared a love of music, especially Bruce Springsteen and named their band The Magic Rats, after a character in Springsteen's song "Jungleland." He brought his love of American artists such as Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more with him to Cork, Ireland, where he spent his junior year of college. To help pass the time he learned how to play the songs on guitar and on November 18, 1985 he made his debut as a busker—a street singer—in Cork City, Ireland.
In 2000, Cleaves had an Americana charts hit with his album Broke Down and song of the same name. The title track was co-written with his childhood friend Picott, whom he grew up with in Maine. Cleaves continued to gain notice with his follow-up album, 2004's Wishbones, appearing on the ESPN2 show Cold Pizza, and his music is praised by Nicholson Baker in his 2009 novel, The Anthologist.
In 2006 Cleaves released Unsung, a collection of songs written by other singer-songwriters including Graham Weber, J. J. Baron, Michael O'Connor (who often tours with Cleaves), Adam Carroll, and Nicole St. Pierre. Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay, released in early 2016 on Austin-based Eight 30 Records, features Cleaves' version of "Lost," his co-write with Finlay. Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll, released in late 2016 on Austin-based Eight 30 Records, features Cleaves' version of "South of Town." Cleaves tours nationally performing solo and with a band in many configurations.
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