Music at the Museum Artist Feature: Lakota John

By Karl Galloway

It was such an exciting evening of music at the NC Museum of Art with Lakota John! John Lakota Locklear hails from both the Lakota and Lumbee tribes, and grew up in Pembroke, NC, near the Lumber River. John’s a blues and roots musician, and someone who truly believes that “change is inevitable, but growth optional” We sat down to chat before the performance, and he had some words of wisdom to share with us.

Lakota John has been involved with music all his life. Primarily a roots and blues musician, his first musical discoveries were housed in his dad’s collection, which included classic rock, classical, and jazz. John’s fascination with the blues and roots didn’t come until he was around 14 years old, and spending time with older blues musicians. It was a journey to a blues workshop in Port Townsend, Washington that opened his eyes to what had been around him all along. As he put it “I had to fly 3000 miles to hear about all those blues guys and about Piedmont roots music.” After that he began connecting dots, recognizing the heritage that drove groups like the Allman Brothers (part of his dad’s collection) to create their music.

The past months have found him performing virtually (as he did for the Singing on the Land Series), writing, composing music, working on small films and documentaries, planting, working out, seasoning cast iron (he’s an aficionado) and spending ample time in Lumberton, his stomping grounds.

In terms of how the pandemic has affected his work, John is back to basics. Following his mentor’s counseling, he writes first and picks up an instrument after. “If the story is strong enough, the music should support the story. It’s part of the process of stripping down the idea of music, and storytelling, and oral tradition. Less is more.” Writing is all important for Lakota John. He may have gleaned his respect for prose from his mother, a poet herself.

Lakota John at Music at the Museum

Of course, any artist needs inspiration. These days, John’s getting his energy from 90’s and 2000's jams. D’angelo, Tupac, Biggie, and Snoop are on repeat. He’s drawn to their stories, but also the audio mix. To his mind, R&B, and rap music all have extremely tight arrangements. “The bass is out front and no one is stepping on each other’s toes.” He feels similarly about music from the 70’s, whose analog core produced a tight, structured sound. When taken as a whole, the raspy quality and the rawness of roots music, the stories and vibe of 70’s (John’s original roots) tunes, and the overall cleanliness and mix of 2000’s music, one starts to understand Lakota John’s sonic origins.

A man who likes his “me time,” he’s found some joy in these distanced times, and in virtual performances. If anything, he’s been driven to find his own creative energy, without relying on live audiences. In his opinion, if he can feed his creative soul, then he will be that much more prepared to get back out there and connect with the public. When he does get back on the road, however, he’s excited to bring the energy. His original song Back in My Heart, an upbeat and lively tune that he’s performed at the Library of Congress, will likely be first on the set list. In his words, “it won’t be as long as it has been.” We can’t wait.

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