A dynamic guitar player, a clear-voiced singer and a respected songwriter, Lowell has played every stage from “A Prairie Home Companion” to the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival along with hundreds of other performances in the last 30 years in locations “from Shetland to San Bernardino.”
On Thursday, November 5, John Lowell along with special guest Joanne Lowell, will play their second installment of the Montana Happy Hour.
Lowell sat down with Montana Press (virtually) and talked about his progression in the music industry and where he sees the paths of musisicans going forward in a new world of social distancing and online performances.
MONTANA PRESS: Can you tell us a little about how you’ve evolved to the point you are now in your music?
JOHN LOWELL: Just like any journey, there are twists, turns, and forks in the road. I originally picked up the guitar at 13 and taught myself John Denver songs, and then in high school was bitten by the Bluegrass bug. For years that’s all I listened to or played. But around 1985, I met some musicians (who are my close friends to this day) who played bluegrass but had many other influences like Americana, Folk, Celtic, and really any style of good, well- performed music. It opened my eyes to how much other good stuff is out there. From then on, I’ve developed into a more well rounded musician, songwriter, and recording engineer. Also, traveling the world playing music with musicians in other countries has a big impact on a person’s development.
MP: What/who are some of the major influences, past and present, that affect your sound?
LOWELL: Once I got into Bluegrass and discovered Tony Rice, he was my only influence for years. I made the mistake of trying to sound like one person, instead of taking bits from many master musicians and making my own sound – which I have since done. I had to literally stop listening to Tony Rice to shed his influence. These days, I’ll take little tidbits of ideas from people like Mark Knopfler, Molly Tuttle, David Grier, and musicians who play instruments besides the guitar, such as clarinet great Pete Fountain.
MP: Tell us about your playing and recording schedule right now, especially with COVID restrictions - where have you been and where are you headed? What are some of the challenges to performing at this time and some of the lessons already learned from the new music landscape?
LOWELL: My performing schedule was completely wiped out from March of 2020 and through this coming winter. There are many gigs that were just postponed a year, so hopefully they can happen next year at the same time.
My last true gig was in Kerrville, Texas last March, and I got home just as the pandemic was blowing up for the first time. I had a three-week tour in Germany planned that I had to pull the plug on myself, and it’s a good thing because the pandemic is increasing there as well as here and I’d be over there right now. That tour has been moved to next year as well.
Fortunately, I have a recording studio here at the house, so I’ve been writing/collaborating/recording pretty actively. I just finished an international collaboration with some guys I know to write an all-original recording for use as a soundtrack in British movies, and we’re starting on a new one now. I also have a recording project of Western songs that I’m working on.
The challenges of performing in these times is finding an outlet, so the shows online are really nice to do. The lesson that I’ve learned in all of this is that a person has to be resourceful and has to keep busy. And, in a departure from what I would normally do, my wife Joanne and I went to Nashville for the last half of August/first half of September where she produced the International Bluegrass Music Association 2020 virtual award show.
I was the associate producer, music supervisor and stage manager. We’re very happy with how it turned out. For anyone who is interested in seeing the show, you can watch on YouTube here and there is a TON of good music on the show.
MP: What can listeners look forward to in your upcoming at live/online performances in the future?
LOWELL: With the news that Facebook was going to crack down on people performing cover songs by blocking their show (I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, and how they’d enforce it anyway), I decided the show on November 5 would be all original. Every song is one that I wrote, except for one and that one was written by our old and departed friend, Ben Bullington. I have several new songs, but unfortunately I don’t feel I can comfortably put them out in the world over the internet until I have them recorded myself. I’ll be playing guitar and singing, and my wife Joanne will be joining me on vocals.
MP: What are you looking forward to this winter in Montana?
LOWELL: Writing, recording, making music with my wife, waiting for the live music to come back and staying warm.
John Lowell’s November 5, 2020 Happy Hour performance is available to view at