Jake Williams

Equinox Staff


Plan B is an alternative plan of action, a contingency if Plan A may be unsuccessful.

If nothing else, the preparation alone leaves the door open to go in a different direction.

Although this description doesn’t exactly suit the journey of 30-year-old guitarist and musician Thomas Jay Kowalchuk, looking back, he always had a Plan B.

“From the time I was young I always played [base]ball. I loved it, that’s what I really wanted to do.”

[singlepic id=1184 w=320 h=240 float=right]

At Fritz: The Place to Eat on Sept. 21, the NY-based musician, TJay, played in a part open-mic series. He played a mix of covers and his own songs, using his own blend of rock, blues, and jazz; all songs played with pop sensibility and a seemingly unapologetic admiration for the pop rock of the late 1990s and early 2000s. On his website, TJay is described as a one-man jam-band. This description arises from his use of looping pedals— akin to artists such as Keller Williams and Zach Deputy.

These foot pedals allow him to exist in more than one place in a single song.  He can lay down the guitar melody, a bass track, and even some percussion by using the surface area of his guitar as a hand-drum.

This permits flexibility, providing Kowalchuk the opportunity to display his chops as a frontman, all the while being his own rhythm section.

Audience member and friend, Ed Garza, from Stoddard, N.H., said TJay’s overall feel for music is the one thing that allows him to perform this seamlessly, and from an outsider’s perspective, that is a complicated task.

TJay had a scholarship to play baseball at Division I Binghamton University in N.Y., where he played for four years. He now writes, records, and plays music around the New England area. He has opened for a wide-array of well-known acts, ranging from bands such as the Rusted Root of 1990s alternative jam band fame to 1970s legends the Doobie Brothers and Little Feat.

These influences could be heard in the crafting of his set this Friday. Kowalchuk’s set ranged from songs such as the Counting Crows’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Coldshot.”

Kowalchuk said his musical experience began playing trumpet as a formality of his second grade music class in his hometown of Cold Spring, N.Y.  Kowalchuk said he can still play trumpet, “if you give [him] a few takes,” even fitting in a spot during his performance of his original song “Put You Down” to test his skills at mouth trumpet.

Kowalchuk said when he was ten years old, it was required they learn to play the ukulele in his music class. This was when his transition to guitar first took place.

“Half of the year of music class was ukulele and you had to start playing ukulele and that’s just four strings of the guitar,” Kowalchuk said.

“My father had a guitar at home and I just picked it up one day. I just applied [ukulele] and was just making it work.”

Kowalchuk explained his family has heavily influenced him musically, obtaining a lot of his musical tastes from his father. He also benefitted musically through his relationship with his cousin keyboardist Bill— a former house keyboard player at the Lane Hotel in Keene.

Kowalchuk said as a student-athlete, there wasn’t much time to play his music, though he always kept his guitar with him. It was during his junior year at Binghamton University that he really began to play live music.

On Monday nights, he and his teammates would flock to a local town bar where he would jam live.

Still, baseball remained the central focus.

“By my senior year I wanted to play ball and for whatever reason it didn’t work out but I was trying,” Kowalchuk said. Come draft time, Kowalchuk had calls from Major League teams such as the Oakland Athletics saying they were going to draft him, but “they just never did.”

He spent the time following going to whatever tryouts he could, using his music to support his baseball career.

“I had a couple of disappointing chains of events that almost took my heart out of me,” Kowalchuk said.

This was when the paradigm shifted and music replaced baseball as the primary focus.

“When I moved back home it was music,” Kowalchuk said.

“I started playing in a couple of cover bands, I was playing my own stuff and people started saying ‘Hey, where’s your CD, you need a record.’”

“He seems like he was really born to play music,” audience member Heather Banks said. Together with his friend, Jess, he recorded his first EP titled “Plan B: Ignition,” which he laments was put together with the care, yet unfortunate efficiency, of an elementary level mix CD given to a friend.

This record contains two of the tracks that TJay performed during his set, “Grady on the Run” and “Put you Down.” Ed Garza cited “Grady on the Run” as his favorite song of the set.

“It’s one of those songs you just want to move to,” Garza said. Following his original EP, Kowalchuk recorded two more records: 2009’s “Take a Seat” and his most recent effort “Pivot,” which features harmonica savant and Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, as well as Matchbox 20 member Ryan Macmillan. Kowalchuk brooded with confidence while describing “Pivot.”

He exhaled a deep, venerable breath while holding the record up like a proud parent.

“They say you want to improve every time and I feel like I improved, so I’m happy.”

Whether Plan A or Plan B, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Life is about improvement. What else can we ask for?


Jake Williams can be contacted at



Share and Enjoy !