Richie Owens can’t help who he is!! The man was born into a family whose lineage has pre-determined his path in life. How far do you want to go back? How about the American Civil War? The true story of “Cold Mountain” (movie) is a good start. The fiddle player portrayed and killed in the movie is George Grooms. George was shot with his brother, Henry by Captain Teague’s Raiders, after playing “Bonaparte’s Retreat”. Henry Grooms is the Great–Great-Great Grandfather of Richie Owens. After the American Civil War, Richie’s family moved from North Carolina into the Madison and Cocke County area of Tennessee. The lives of this Tennessee family are just as colorful with occupations ranging from moonshining, share cropping, and preaching the Gospel, all the while playing and writing classic mountain music. Richie’s grandfather wrote songs for Kitty Wells. Richie was born the son of Louis and Colleen Owens, half raised in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. As a child, one of Richie’s early experiences was singing and playing on the radio at the age of 8! Another early experience was playing on The Ralph Emery Morning Show in Nashville and as a teen backing Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, and Leon Russell. As a young man Richie went to work in the Shobud guitar factory. The owner, Shot Jackson, was a friend of the Owens Family. The guitar building and design bug took hold as Richie went on to work for Dobro. Richie has built Resonators for Ron Wood, Sonny Landreth, and Jerry Douglas. Richie later built his own “Owens Guitars” for folks like Niles Lofgren (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young), and Bob Weir (Grateful Dead). Washburn guitars were so impressed with Richie that they created his own signature model mandolin and signature resonator guitar model which he currently plays. Richie’s talent doesn’t stop there. He has an incredible ear in the studio also. Richie’s studio credits include engineering The Georgia Satellites platinum and gold records,to producing Dolly Parton’s “Hungry Again” on Decca Records. Richie has also engineered for Jason and The Scorchers, Vince Gill, Michael Stipe (REM), Social Distortion, and The Bangles. Richie has spent a big portion of his life in the background as a band member for Dolly Parton. Dolly has always been a fan and supporter of Richie and his music. Richie’s ideas of music and playing throughout his life have led him to his current project, ”Richie Owens and The Farm Bureau”. The Farm Bureau has turned out to be the perfect outlet for his rich blend of mountain/country/bluegrass/rock music. Richie has been able to write the music that will define his life and at the same time pay homage to his fore fathers’ heritage.
Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau: The Story
In a town famous for musical transplants, Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau are 100-percent homegrown Nashville—the living, breathing and rocking embodiment of the sound that earned Music City its nickname at the turn of the previous century. Because, truth be told, the “Nashville Sound” has always been a convergence of musical styles, and Owens’s fusions of rock, country, folk, blues and pop have a distinctive character that could only come from a multi-talented artist whose pedigree blends the diverse heartbeat of a city with music in its veins, the soul of his musical family’s East Tennessee roots and a mind open to myriad possibilities.
Owens’ family tree is filled with musicians, singers and songwriters, including his great–great-great grandfather, Henry Grooms, the inspiration for the murdered fiddler in the historical novel and film Cold Mountain, and his grandfather, the Rev. Jake Owens, a preacher, country music songwriter and the inspiration for Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s hit “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man.” Richie father’s, Louis Owens, was a musician, publisher, songwriter, producer and manager who helped guide the early career of Richie’s first cousin, Dolly.
But beyond his musical heritage, Owens came of age during the 1960s and ’70s, absorbing the “pow” of the British Invasion, the swirl of psychedelic folk-rock, the glitter and Marshall stacks of glam and classic rock, the attitude and craftsman of punk and new wave, and the bedrock country that was still in its golden era during those years. That gave the singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist a huge musical vocabulary that’s been reflected in his free-ranging career, from leading his first band, playing bluegrass, at age 15 to jump-starting Nashville’s punk and alternative-rock scene of the 1980s as the leader of trailblazing bands the Resistors and the Movement. Besides continuously fronting his own band, including the long-lived Farm Bureau and a recent run fronting Smoky White Devils, he’s served as engineer or producer for a roster of artists that includes the Georgia Satellites, Dolly Parton, Social Distortion, Vince Gill and Richard Lloyd.
After a serious of recent personal tragedies and challenges, Owens began to reflect on his varied career and determined to shake the shackles of music business conventions. “I’ve never purposely chased trends,” he says, “but I had record and management deals and they wanted to put me in just one genre. I would write all kinds of songs and they would say, ‘You need to release these songs, not those, because that’s what’s going to get you on Americana radio or sell to the roots/alternative blues market, or whatever else seemed hot to them.”
Over the past few years, as he wrote new songs and re-examined his backlog of tunes, Owens came to a deeper understanding of his work. “It made me realize the music I really enjoy the most is the stuff I loved when I was 8 to 14 years old—made roughly from 1968 to 1974. That influenced everything that came later, and when I wrote and played songs strongly rooted in the sounds of that era, I was happiest as an artist. I felt like I was completely myself and doing exactly what I wanted to do.”
At the same time, a new incarnation of the Farm Bureau was beginning to take shape, with Nashville music-scene veteran (and former member of the Movement) Bob Ocker (guitar) joining long-time bandmembers John Reed (bass) and Brian O’Hanlon (also a former Movement member).
“I’ve had people ask me about the possibility of a Movement revival over the years,” Owens says. “I really didn’t want to recreate the past, but here we are, 35 years after the first Movement gig, heading in new and different directions together. And in these new songs, especially on Reconstruction, I realized there’s a little bit of the Movement in there along with the earlier versions of the Farm Bureau. It’s all inside of me, and it’s aching to come out now.”
The resulting Reconstruction is an 11-song collection fusing all of Owens’ influences in a way that delights while defying simple categorization, and stands as an inviting and infectious statement of the “Owens Sound.”
“If I wear my influences on my sleeve, that’s okay,” he says. “I’m just going to write songs I want to write, and I’m going to put out the music that I believe in. Period. Great music should always pull you back to those warm fuzzy moments when you first fell in love with a certain song or style. That’s the music that I love the most, and my version of that sound—the way it’s reflected in my heart and in my art—is what I want to share with others.”
—Nashville, Tennessee, May 2020