Maybe there’s something in the water. Maybe there’s a genetic predisposition developed from living in a particular geographic area. Or maybe it’s just that like-minded, creative people attract one another, like magnets. Regardless of the reason, Hallowell is a remarkably fertile town for music, with a multitude of local bands and artists, several venues, and a recording studio all within its borders.
Singer-songwriter J.T. Lockwood is one of those musicians who was born and bred in Hallowell, and though it took a few years away for him to realize it, while he was growing up he had the best musical education a guy could ask for. Between music in his family and the overarching influence of Steve Jones, a Hallowell resident who founded perennially popular Maine band the Boneheads, Lockwood honed his chops at a very young age.
“As a teenager, I think there was just always music around, so it sparked my interest. My older brothers played guitar, so I probably wanted to emulate them,” said Lockwood, who now plays with the J.T. Lockwood Band. “I was playing bars when I was a kid. By the time I was 21, I’d played in a band for five years and had already put out a couple albums. I had really good training.”
In 2004, Lockwood went out on his own, living in Florida and Boston and trying his hand at a solo career. It resulted in one album, a 2006 LP. By 2008, Lockwood knew he was missing a crucial element of why he got into music in the first place: playing in a real band. When he returned to Hallowell that year, he ran into Bert McDonald, an Oakland-based guitarist he’d casually known for years but had never really played with. After an evening of jamming, they realized they complimented each other’s styles very well, and decided to put together a real band – not just a bunch of hired guns to pump up Lockwood’s songs.
“You can always hire musicians to play with you, but nothing beats having a real band,” said Lockwood. “You practice, you develop chemistry, you begin to be able to read each other. You can’t force that. That just comes naturally.”
Lockwood and McDonald were joined by brothers Justin and Thom Bureau on bass and drums, respectively, and have since spent the past three years developing that rapport Lockwood missed so much from his younger years playing music. Last year, they recorded a self-titled debut, which they released in October. The album is a limber, funky collection of songs that are rooted in rock, but fleshed out by some reggae and jam band-influenced grooves, as on the horn-laden “Figured Out” and the rootsy “Better Off.” Lockwood writes from the gut, so what his songs lack in cerebral wordplay they make up for in heartfelt playing and accessibility.
“I’m not overly theoretical,” said Lockwood. “I’m obsessed with melody. That’s what comes first for me. I listen to cheesy pop songs don’t care about anything but the melody.”
Lockwood and his band have been playing live regularly, with two shows coming up next weekend, including Friday, Feb. 1 at T&D’s in Waterville, and Saturday, Feb. 2 at The Rack in Carrabassett. Recording and releasing an album is all well and good, but playing live is what Lockwood really relishes – something he’s been doing since he was a kid, absorbing music in Hallowell.
“I’m lucky that I got to learn all this from such talented people,” he said. “What I love about Hallowell is that you don’t have to look on TV for the people you look up to. They’re the ones recording your album. I think it’s only gotten more momentum now, as time has progressed. It’s made me who I am.”