Exploring the creative side of Maine’s lobstermen: Frank Gotwals

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2011

We all know the clichéd vision of Maine lobstermen so popular in the general imagination: sturdy, taciturn, stoic about both the hardships and beauty integral to lobster fishing. They work hard, talk about engines and haulers, and when not fishing, are getting ready to go fish. Yet many if not most lobstermen have hidden talents. This article continues our series about Maine lobstermen who are not only successful fishermen but singers, poets, performers and artists.

There was a point in my life that I realized I was never not going to play music,” said Frank Gotwals, 56, a musician and lobsterman from Stonington. Gotwals’ parents were both musicians, so he was exposed to music at a young age. “I took piano lessons and I was in the school band,” he said. “I was in rock bands when I was young, but that’s a whole other story.”

Frank Gotwals at work. Photo courtesy of F. Gotwals

Gotwals was also introduced to the fishing industry at a young age. His mother’s family is from the Stonington area and he recalls spending summers there as a kid. “Lobstering always intrigued me,” he said. “I guess I was always aware it was a possibility to be a lobsterman.” Gotwals spent summers fishing with his great-grandfather. He quickly found that he enjoyed hunting for something and being able to pull it out of the water.

Balancing his interest in music with fishing hasn’t always been easy. “I was invited to join a band and tour the state of Maine,” Gotwals said “But I found it was too much to travel and fish so I had to make a decision.” He chose to go lobstering. Yet the urge to make music never died out.

“I play with a couple of groups locally now,” said Gotwals. “There’s an acoustic group, Archipelago, and a jazz group, Isle of Jazz.” While Gotwals can play the piano, trombone and harmonica, he mostly plays guitar in various styles. “I do different styles of music, jazz, rock, blues,” he said. At one point, Gotwals and a friend were part of an original rock band and wrote music for the group. The band was popular around the state. “We got as far as talking record deals,” Gotwals recalled. Unfortunately, his friend was diagnosed with cancer and the group decided not to continue.

Frank wrote this song for the launching of the Auntumn Dawn, his friend Steve Robbin III's lobster boat

“I do a lot of solo work now, mostly playing acoustic guitar,” Gotwals said. He has recorded four solo CDs thus far. In early November, Gotwals and several other people who make their living on the water got together in Rockland. “Working on the Water” was organized by Camden musician Gordon Bok and took place at the Sail, Power, and Steam Museum.“There are a lot of things I like about music,” said Gotwals. “I play for fun, for enjoyment. I like playing and communicating with other musicians.” He said he has been fortunate to meet musicians from all over the country and always enjoys talking with them. “It’s also fun to entertain people,” he said. “I find that I write songs that are meaningful to people. I like to put out positive things.”

Gotwals said only about 20 percent of the songs he writes are directly related to lobstering. “Jack Merrill and I were just talking about that,” he said. “That’s what we do all day, so when we come in we want to do something else.” Gotwals sells his CDs at local stores in the Stonington area and online at www.cdbaby.com.

Listen to Fisherman’s Prayer (Homeward Bound) here