"Texas Blues is more guitar driven and maybe less of the harp? It has more of a country and western swing with a touch of Rock n Roll."
Abby Owen: Lone Star on her Heart
Abby Owen is the owner of The Texas Blues Roadhouse, an online resource for Texas blues (www.texasbluesroadhouse.com) and is also the Texas Blues Writer for American Blues News, a national online blues magazine and the Blog feeds on to this ReverbNation profile. Also help to manage top Texas blues musicians and groups like: Mark May, Shannon G, Richard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir, Brad Absher Band and Hoodoo Voodoo. Abby Owen Agency is registered with The Texas Music Office.
Let's talk about Texas blues with Abby...
Abby, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?
I had gone to an ‘Open Mic’ on a Thursday night in August 2009, after searching on the internet for the closest one. My little brother was an aspiring musician, writing some of his own songs, so I was trying to find an outlet for him to hone his craft. Think Tom-Petty-meets-Merle-Haggard and that’s my little bro John King. He lives in Alaska currently, near the rest of my family, pursuing his dream. One of the artists I recently added to my promotional roster, Steve Straker, reminds me a lot of John. Anyway, we found Mark May and ¾ of his band hosting a Blues jam in a little hole-in-the-wall, icehouse/biker bar in Spring TX, because it was the closest. I remember coming away from those first few jams wondering, “What is this guy doing HERE?” Mark May I mean. He opened the jam with a set first, before they let the jammers get on stage. He was so good on his guitar and vocals, and the songs that he’d written. Of course, I had no idea who he was and that he’s been pretty big in Houston for many years. I learned about all that slowly, as I got to know him & the guys better.
I began to help promote the jam by shooting photos and updating his ‘MySpace’ page, (before Facebook) writing down the names of the jammers and putting captions on the pictures so that people knew who was there each week. It helped to create a ‘buzz’ and I think it brought more folks out. I don’t want to give the impression that I ‘discovered’ them or anything. As I said, Mark had already made a name for himself in the Houston Blues scene and beyond. I know by the comments that were left on his MySpace page that my participation succeeded in re-connecting Mark to some old friends and players he’d known in the past. I like to think by showing he was busy and moving forward it got the attention of some folks that had maybe forgotten about him, and before long he was selected to open for the Allman Brothers Band again (he had toured with them back in the late nineties) by the end of that year. Mark had quit drinking right about the time we first met him, so he was already becoming more serious about his career again. Things were moving forward for him even before I met them, but I think it was meant to be, me meeting him there, at that time and place. Clyde Dempsey, Mark’s drummer, used to say that all the time. That “Abby coming into the picture was for a reason.” It wasn’t an accident. Unfortunately, Clyde passed away Midsummer Evening, 2010, may he rest in peace.
As far as who were my first idols? I think when I realized the undeniable talent in a young guitarist by the name of Eddie Van Halen I was hooked on electric guitar, big time! The ‘Van Halen’ album came out the year I graduated High School in 1979. I listened to Rock and then Country after moving to Texas, but I didn’t start listening to real Blues until we met Mark May. Funny thing is, the Rock bands I liked (I found out later) had definite beginnings in Blues, so maybe that’s what drew me to them. Bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC and ZZ Top.
From whom have you learned the most secrets about blues music?
My husband Jerry Owen, because he and I are just alike with the YouTube searches. He is so full of information because he will follow a thread and end up somewhere where he’ll say, “Hey! Listen to this. Did you know….” And proceed to tell me of a connection I never know existed about a song or a group. We both do that all the time. I dearly LOVE YouTube!
Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new? What was the last record you bought?
Old, I would have to say Muddy. New would be Keb Mo. The last record I bought was Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Memphis Blues’, which I thought was brilliant. She really caught the feel of the old-time blues on this release. I think it may not have done as well as it might have if her fans were looking for the Lauper sound of old. It was nothing like her earlier music, so may have disappointed some, but I absolutely LOVED it. I love it more the more I play it.
What made you fall in love with the blues music?
I think it happens to a lot of us as we get older. I mean, besides the fact that I don’t look as cool dancing to funk as I once did, (Funk/Motown was my first love) the Blues resonates within us more as we’ve had heartaches and disappointments through our lives. Being young is about partying and having fun, or being angry in some cases, so that kind of music works for us then. Blues is something we can relate to more now as older folks. I keep trying to get my kids to look into learning and/or recording Blues, but they have other ideas. My son Adam is into Death Metal, my son Miki is beginning a hip-hop career, my daughter Moana has started a family, (but is probably the closest to wanting to sing Blues, being a huge Adele fan), and my daughter Lavalea wants to be an actress/dancer and is heavily into Taylor Swift, but isn’t in a hurry to sing, even though she has a beautiful voice. They all do, really. If there is one thing they ALL got from their mother it was great lungs!
Do any blues standards have personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
Being that I came from a love of Rock, Funk and Motown, I have to admit I do not feel as close a kinship with what you might consider ‘Blues standards’. In fact, I am pretty vocal about my preference for more of the Blues/Rock genre. Beginning with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, who were simply doing Blues a new way, I’d have to say that my personal feelings connect best with songs such as ZZ Top’s ‘Waitin’ On The Bus’ which is more on the ‘Funk’ side of things. Then I like the swingy stuff too, like ‘You’re Leaving Baby’. I forget who wrote that originally, but Mark does a great cover of it. I like songs with a lot of personality in them too, like Cyndi Lauper just covered ‘Early In The Mornin’ on her ‘Memphis Blues’ album. I liked the album so much, and that song in particular as it was one that Earl Gilliam, a Houston Blues legend who recently passed used to play often. I guess it is as close to what you mean by a ‘Blues standard’ as I can think of. I recorded a cover of it myself (in the style of Lauper), with Mark May accompanying me on vocals and on guitar. I’ve recorded three songs so far, and maybe I’ll keep going until I have a whole album. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just use them as demos for getting backup-vocal gigs. We’ll see.
Do you remember anything funny or interesting from Richard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir, since you’ve said you are good friends?
I met Richard Cagle for the first time when he answered a ‘Craigslist’ ad that my husband placed to sell an amplifier. I thought he was cool, very laid back, and as we talked he mentioned he used to manage Carolyn Wonderland. I was like, no way! He was like, WAY! We connected instantly, because he kind of has this California cool, beachcomber vibe that I identify with, being from Cali myself. He is a Texan, born and raised, but you know what I mean? Like, dude! Totally. No, wait…GLORIOUS! That’s what he always says. “It’s going to be glorious!” He holds court every Thursday with his inner circle of friends and various oddfellows (and gals on occasion) at a Montrose neighborhood pub called Rudyards British Pub. This is where some of his best ideas are formed and plotted. It has been a while since I have gone, but it’s the kind of group that always seems happy to see you, no matter how long it’s been. The other thing I like about Rich is that he is a real true person. What you see is what you get. He’s not hiding anything from anybody. And he is very kindhearted. He never says a bad thing about anybody. At least, not that I’ve ever heard. He is pretty much golden in my book. And no, he didn’t pay me to say all of that. (Yet. Payday’s not until NEXT Friday.) *laughing*
What are some of the most memorable bookings you've had?
My most memorable booking was my first booking after opening my artist management agency in 2010. It was incredible. I had finally decided to take my blues promotion to the next level, got my company formed and registered, and approached House Of Blues, Houston with some ideas. I pitched five or six shows to the contact guy there. Amazingly, he decided to develop two of them. Everyone in Blues had been trying to get shows there and on my first try, BAM! The first was a bringing together of three of the top Houston Hispanic Blues/Jazz guitarists John Calderon, Jonn Del Toro Richardson and Paul Ramirez. It was a fantastic night and one I will remember for a very long time. Three of my four kiddos were there too. It really put my agency on the map, and in a very big way. It was a partnership with Houston Blues Society and KPFT who had been involved with the ‘Blues Monday’ shows in which HOB was trying to bring the local Blues community into the venue on a night that would be easier to balance possible lower numbers of attendees, but big enough to showcase and applaud the local efforts of keeping the Blues alive. The Houston Blues fans and supporters did indeed show support, and began to look forward to the last Monday of every month to share in this unique fellowship. Unfortunately, they cancelled the ‘Blue Monday’ shows after less than a year of local Houston Blues. They have to run a business in the black like everyone else, and from what I know, they just couldn’t make the numbers work and ended up losing money on the endeavor. I think they must be given credit nonetheless for at least giving it a shot. The second show for House of Blues happened the next month. It was what I called the ‘Hoodoo Voodoo Mojo Magick’ show. It was a Blues/Rock show featuring Richard Cagle & The Voodoo Choir, Hoodoo Voodoo and Uncle Mojo. It was a really good mix and was another successful compilation of bands, put together by Abby Owen Agency. I should mention here that my husband Jerry Owen is guitar player in Hoodoo Voodoo. He was inspired by Mark May, even took a few lessons from him, picked up his guitar again after 20 years of not playing, due to family and career, and has been steadily improving once more on his musical path. He prefers a fast-paced approach to Blues and Blues/Rock similar to Gary Moore or Johnny Winter’s style. He and Mark are great friends, and Mark has been very giving with his encouragement and his friendship with Jerry.
Are there any memories from Mark May, which you’d like to share with us?
Oh man. There are so many! Okay, while we’re on the subject of Jerry and Mark, I’ll try to relate a story about something funny that happened between them. Mark and his band-mates had gone into the studio with Jerry (Owen) to help him record a demo of three songs. They are still on their Hoodoo Voodoo ReverbNation page at the bottom of the song selections. Anyway, ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of them. Jerry had come up with a riff during his lead guitar part that was a bit different than the way Mark or Paul played it. Not a particularly brilliant riff, just a riff. Later that same year we had gone to the annual Lone Star Rally in Galveston, TX, which is one of the biggest biker rallies in the state. Mark May Band was playing at one of the clubs and we were there watching the show. Jerry and I were chatting away during their performance of the same song, and when they got to the lead part of which I mentioned earlier, Mark started to play it the way Jerry had in the studio, and Jerry and I looked at each other and Jerry said, he stole my lick! I said, are you sure? He said, yeah…he’s playing my lick. We were intently looking at each other and discussing this and when we looked up at the band, they were all laughing at us. They had done it on purpose to get a rise out of him! It was hilarious! To all of us at least. They did it several times more at gigs, and we’d always laugh. That’s the thing I love most about hanging with musicians; all of those little inner-circle private jokes. Oh, and one more interesting fact about Me and Mark May is that we were born within 24 hrs of each other, same year. Different States, but yeah! I’m a day older. His bass player Dan Cooper too. He is about a month before us. Cool huh?
What mistake of Texas blues (community) you want to correct? Give one wish for the TEXAS BLUES.
I think too much time is wasted on trying to put a label on Blues. Music in general is so creative and flowing, it is idiotic to try and say one type of sound is more authentic or right over another style. I have said I prefer a more Blues/Rock sound, because it is what I like, but I would never try to say it is the only valid choice. I prefer the sound of Guitar Shorty because he rocks it hard. If you prefer harp players, by all means go for it. Listen to what you like, and stop trying to discredit the choices of others.
What characterizes the sound of Texas blues?
To me, Texas Blues is more guitar driven and maybe less of the harp? It has more of a country and western swing with a touch of Rock n Roll. Guitar Shorty is a prime example. Somebody is bound to disagree, but this is what comes to MY mind when I think of Texas Blues.
Tell me about the beginning of The Texas Blues Roadhouse. How did you choose the name and where did it start?
I had just started writing for American Blues News as their Texas Blues Writer, which I’ll have to admit I don’t do much of anymore. I’ve gotten so busy with my Artist Agency here lately. But soon after I started with them I found this site out of Dallas, the Texas Blues Roadhouse. I was all excited about my writing and interviews and contacted the owner/creator Michael Schaefer to see if he’d like me to post some of my stuff there too. I was thinking it would help him, and drive more traffic to Ameriblues.com as well, which it did. We became good internet friends, and I helped out over there to post content on the front page every once in a while. I loved the sense of ‘family’ there, and when things got too busy for Michael to keep active with the site, he said he was pulling the plug. I said WAIT…let me keep it open! So he transferred ownership over to me and I’ve been trying to come up with ways to make it work ever since. We had about 400+ members when I took it over and now there are 600+. Not a huge increase, but I am happy to say that after being mostly Dallas based in the beginning, we now have members from San Antonio, Austin, Houston…all over the state really, and some like yourself from MUCH farther away. We are truly worldwide and growing every day. If you Google ‘Texas Blues’ we come up first (after wiki and images) as the first privately owned website. I think that should be enough to get people who want to be seen and heard to get over there and create a membership profile. The site belongs to everyone. You can make your own place there on the web, if you are a Texas Blues musician, and have a much better chance of being found. Friends and fans are welcome too, of course. Sometimes life gets busy and things don’t seem to be moving there very much, but if nothing else, I try to post the occasional article/blog and events for local and statewide benefits and charity shows. It’s how I do my part to help out. Anyone can write articles or post interviews…whatever. We connect it to ReverbNation Artist Pages too. Also, you can ‘Share’ anything you do there to Facebook and Twitter.
Any comments about your experiences from The Texas Blues Roadhouse?
Yes, there is one more thing/person I’d like to mention. Rockin’ Robert T has been Michael’s right hand man since the Dallas days of the Texas Blues Roadhouse, and he’s never stopped being a great help to me there too. I call him ‘Sherriff’ since he has Admin rights along with me and Michael, and he has been very diligent in helping me welcome new members, and try to keep a handle on the spammers that sometimes slip through. He never fails to kick in $10 a month to help me pay for the site. He’s been the only one donating since I took it over. I am charged $24.95 a month to keep Google adds off the site. Not very much, but it would be nice to get just a little more help with that. There is a tip jar on the Home page if you scroll down to donate there. Robert is not a rich man, on a fixed income I think, and I’m usually struggling too. Okay, enough of the woe-is-me stuff.
Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
Oh. Easy! Stevie Ray Vaughan. I have only really started listening to his music for the last few years, and I wish I had known about him back when he was playing here in Houston regularly. As I’ve said. Blues/Rock is my thing. Loud guitars. Yes indeed. Of course, Lightnin’ Hopkins would have been pretty cool too, or Albert Collins. Rory Gallagher, Janis…the list goes on.
Of all the people you’ve met, who do you admire the most?
I would have to say the (volunteer) broadcasting team of James ‘Blueshound’ Nagle and his wife Colleen ‘Baby Girl’ Nagle. They do a regular Sunday Blues show called ‘Howlin’ The Blues’ on the local community supported [KPFT - 90.1] radio station. Blueshound is usually always there at the Houston area benefits and bigger Blues Shows, and always ready to M.C. or otherwise officiate and lend a voice to the celebration. His beautiful ‘Baby Girl’ has been his co-pilot in the control room at the station and so supportive of the events too. She is always by his side with a smile to outshine the sun. They really ‘make’ an event when they show up. You probably meant ‘artist’ when you asked the question, but being from the media myself, I had to represent! The press are people too you know. Of the artists I would have to say The Mighty Orq. He is so personable, and really connects with his audience to make them feel like they are old friends, even if it’s the first time they’ve seen him. He’s such a nice guy.
I cannot fail to mention Boyd Bluestein, and yes that is his real name. He is the Houston Blues Society President, and does a fine job as ambassador for that very large and growing organization. He is the heart and soul, if you ask me. He also does a wonderful job as M.C. at events, and doesn’t wait to be asked twice. He lives and breathes Blues music, among other genres, and really feels music down to his soul. He is another great friend of mine.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
I think because it is such a basic sound. It comes from the soul, and if done well, conveys more feeling than almost any other type of music. Blues are had by all of us at one time or other. Putting a voice to them that we all can understand is magical.
What is your opinion about blues.gr & do you have a message for the Greek fans?
I am very impressed with Blues.GR and your willingness to open this communication between our members and yours, in the spirit of Blues appreciation and fellowship. Blues lovers are a very BIG and diverse family. I am overjoyed to see friends of mine being interviewed by people so far away, and am happy to offer any stories or information in return. I want to help support your growth and will do all I can to keep this new and wonderful friendship. Thank you for reading my very LONG interview and I will look forward to reading more about Blues artists from all around the globe.
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