Recalling Jay Owens
December 21, 2009
I think that a good bluesman is like a shaman. Fundamentally, this is a straightforward music which makes simple appeal to the human soul and the effects can, on rare occasions, be transcendental. Such as the time, in 1992, that I saw Jay Owens play in a small pub in Fratton, Portsmouth.
Jay Owens (1947-2005) was a much underestimated singer, songwriter and guitarist. He went to his grave having recorded three albums and, doubtless, with a song still in him. Owens was a modern blues performer – his best-selling album was called The Blues Soul of Jay Owens – but he didn’t come across (like many of this type) as a converted R&B man. Rather, he tapped into the ethereal world of the blues spirit.
Re: shamanism, you know when you’re in the presence of a great blues artist when the music takes you out of yourself. I have one abiding memory of Jay Owens night in Portsmouth (and then, necessarily, a partial one). At some point, I remember my wife and I being carried, somehow, to the small dance area in front of the stage. Looking back, the slow number was probably Owens’ marvellous ballad The Same Thing, but we didn’t know at the time. The music was all of a piece, every element drawn from the man’s beautiful soul.
There is a little glimpse of Jay Owens available on the WWW. Follow this link and you may catch some of the feeling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNDtWK1wfj0. This song is an opener and, as such, not his best. But it’s typical by dint of its snappy turnaround and tricky ending. One reviewer suggested that Blues Soul sounded a little like Steely Dan. There is a hint of that, but Owens’ clever chord substitutions and key changes were never gratuitous.
Sadly, I will never have the chance to see Jay Owens again. But his music demonstrated the essential timelessness of the blues. In this way, I remain hopeful that I will, at least, see and hear his like again.