Jeremiah Lockwood playing with Carolina Slim in the subway at Penn Station near the Long Island Railroad.
Subway blues man surfaces on new album
By AILEEN TORRES
On a given day, you just may see Jeremiah Lockwood doing his Americana blues routine up the stairs from the N,R,W platform at Union Square. Hes part of the Metropolitan Transit Authoritys Music Under New York arts program.
Lockwood, whose debut solo album, American Primitive, has recently been released on Vee-Ron Records, a Brooklyn-based label, is used to performing as a street musician. I started working as a musician more or less professionally from when I started playing in the street, and I started doing that seriously at the age of 13, said Lockwood, now in his mid-twenties. His dad bought him a guitar when he was 12, and the young boy decided then and there that he would be a guitar player. There was no doubt in his mind that this was what he was going to be in life.
So, he would go out every weekend to busk throughout New York. The first spot he ever played was Columbus Circle. His parents were very supportive, which isnt so surprising, given that Lockwoods father is a musician and a classically trained composer. The streets didnt intimidate the young Lockwood, either, because hes been a New Yorker his entire life.
When I first started playing, I was only playing blues, only listening to blues, said Lockwood. And then, I met Carolina Slim. And what a very fortuitous meeting that was.
Carolina Slim, another musician who performs in the subway as part of Music Under New York, is, for all intents and purposes, Lockwoods guru. Carolina Slim is definitely my biggest influence, said Lockwood. The two met when Lockwood was 13 or 14, and theyve been performing together ever since. Carolina Slim took Lockwood under his wing, and one of the first lessons he drilled into his protégé was the need to dress the part of the blues man.
The first time he showed up to play with Carolina Slim, Lockwood arrived wearing blue jeans, and a black tee-shirt; his normal teenage uniform. But the elder blues man would have none of that. He told Lockwood to get some new clothes, and get the look right. Carolina Slim was not really subtle, recalls Lockwood. At first, I was pretty grudging about it. I didnt want to. It took a lot of prodding for me to do it. And then, after a while, I got some very nice clothes, button-down shirt and a hat. Found some of my dads old pants. Now, Ive been dressing like this for over a decade.
I guess I see myself as a cross between a blues man and just being an old New York Jewish guy, like my grandfather, said Lockwood, with a laugh. Hes definitely outgrown the tee-shirt-and-jeans outfit. I like the Old School kind of clothes, he said.
Lockwoods original guitar teacher was a student of the Rev. Gary Davis, who gave him plenty of excellent records to listen to. He became steeped in the music of Son House, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, among other blues greats.
Then, theres the old bluegrass and Americana tunes that are really influential on his album American Primitive. The Carter Family, especially. The first song on the record, You Are My Shadow is Lockwoods personal take on You Are My Sunshine, with a twist. Its simultaneously sweet and sad, very much like the rest of the album, full of tender songs with lots of old-time rhythms as well as grittier blues numbers and a bit of funk and soul, too. A strong album, musically and lyrically, for someone relatively young. Not surprising, though, for a serious student of music, as Lockwood considers himself to be.
Im very interested in rhythm, he explained. I think thats one of the things that makes my approach to playing blues different from other young musicians. Im kind of studying rhythm by taking it apart, like I dont already know it. The point is, You have to have awareness of your ignorance, and respect for your ignorance.
Ive spent years and years and years listening and paying attention to music, thinking about it, and learning about it slowly. And then, Ive spent years and years trying to develop my voice as a songwriter and singer. Those two paths of development, one with respect for history, one with self-exploration, are key to Lockwoods artistry.
But his music isnt created in a vacuum. I definitely have to mention the producer Stuart Bogie cause hes very instrumental in creating that balance in the record [American Primitive] between tender and gritty, said Lockwood. If Id produced all my songs, it might have been all the gritty sounds. He spent a lot of energy creating the right atmosphere for me to be able to feel comfortable doing some stuff that was more revealing and more intimate. And we just had a blast making that record. We were just in his apartment last summer, sweating like crazy and inviting different friends over to play on the record. It was really wonderful. It was a great experience.
The raw sound of the album can be traced back to the eight-track machine on which it was recorded. A primitive move in these days of high-tech digital recordings, but a smart one for an album that was intended to have the edge of an unpolished sound. Its kind of like doing it with your arm tied behind your back, said Lockwood of recording on an eight-track. It has an amazing, beautiful, distinctive, warm sound. But its also really raw. And we wanted that. Im really in love with the eight-track tape recorder.
As for the title of the album, The main reason I chose that title was because of a book of poetry by Mary Oliver, a wonderful American poet who writes nature poems where Nature becomes an allegorical place of talking about the subconscious. So, I felt, in using Americana musical forms, Im using that as a tool towards getting to different places inside myself, explained Lockwood.
Hes most at-home playing the blues, but this musician keeps very busy via constant involvement in several projects at once. He has a band called the Sway Machinery, a trio thats been together since 1996, and theyre working on a new album. Its more experimental rock music, compared to his solo worka kind of modern take on klezmer, or Jewish traditional music, as Lockwood described. He also works on film scores and composes for plays.
Lockwood will be playing at the record release party for American Primitive on Sept. 29 at Union Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His album can be purchased online at www.vee-ronrecords.com.