With the exception of Robert Jr. Lockwood and David “Honeyboy” Edwards it’s pretty damn hard to find rural Mississippi bluesmen anymore. At the ripe age of 90 Jack Owens offers the real deal, untainted by the years of city living that have changed Lockwood and Edwards, who’ve become living slices of history. By staying home Owens has remained just an ordinary fellow who knows how to play guitar and sing. Discovered by David Evans near the end of the folk-blues revival of the 60s, Owens rattled blues historians by offering a similar repertoire and many of the same licks and melodies used by Skip James, proving that the quirky music was indigenous to Bentonia and that James, the only artist from the area who had made records, was just one example of the style. Evans began to record Owens, and an album’s worth of material was released in 1971 on Testament (an excellent appended CD version was released last year). Don’t let these facts and comparisons deter you. There’s a purity and power in Owens’s music that requires little explanation. From his percussive, trance-inducing guitar playing to the pain and celebration captured in his soaring, melismatic vocals, Jack Owens offers an opportunity to hear the dying craft of a master. A tune on the sound track of Robert Palmer’s 1992 documentary Deep Blues suggests that Owens hasn’t lost any of his fire. He performs as part of the 36th annual University of Chicago Folk Festival. Friday, 8:15 PM, and Sunday, 6:15 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 702-7300. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.