Johnny Lowebow is the stage name for John Lowe, musician and bookstore owner from Memphis TN who has become known for his unusual electric cigar box guitars called :Lowebows”. His live shows have been described as “brutal blues blasts” by fellow cigar box guitarist, Shane Speal.
Johnny Lowebow’s set-up is a mixture of old drum parts, milk crates, guitar amps and his ever present Lowebow.
The Lowebow cigar box guitar is a bizarre instrument made from two oak dowel rods, a wooden cigar box, three guitar strings and a bass string. It is played with a slide in the old blues tradition, but that’s about the only thing traditional about it. Lowe wires each instrument with hand-made pickups so that the Lowebow is broadcast through two amplifiers. The result is a massive wall of sound, one side low and grumbly, the other side screaming like a jet.
There isn’t a style of music Lowe won’t try. His set lists contain everything from Johnny Cash to punk pioneer, Iggy Pop. Lowe regularly sets up on Beale Street, playing for passers-by.
His life reads like an old blues legend: He grew up listening to Shreveport radio stations and picking cotton on his grandfather’s farm. At the age of three, his uncle exposed him to boogie woogie piano and guitar. His childhood was spent moving back and forth from Texarkana and Washington D.C. As he grew, he steadily became more proficient musically and spent much of the 1970’s in various bands and in various places such as Austin and California. Eventually, he relocated to Memphis where he continued the music and worked his own book store, Xanadu Books and Music.
After chance meetings with cigar box guitar artist, Jay Kirgis*, Lowe designed the Lowebow instrument, which in turn was used by another musician, Richard Johnston, to win a major blues competition in Memphis. Since then, Lowe has attained a cult status among blues afficianados and has adopted the Lowebow as his main instrument. He can be seen busking along Beale Street, performing at the Kalamazoo Blues Fest and even the Uno A Go Go One Man Band Fest in Chicago.
Lowebow instruments have made their way into the hands of Lyle Lovett, The North Mississippi Allstars, Jim Dickenson, France’s Thundercrack and Jug Fusion.