By STEVE MCVICKER
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
Tary Owens, a chronicler
of Texas roots music and friend to blues artists such as the late Janis
Joplin and Mance
Lipscomb, died Sept. 21 at a Houston hospice after suffering complications from cancer. He was 60.
A native of Ohio, Owens grew
up in Port Arthur and attended high school with Joplin. He moved to Austin
in 1962, not
long after Joplin, who sometimes served as his baby-sitter.
Owens attended the University
of Texas and became a disciple of Americo Paredes, founder of the university's
International Studies of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. During that time, he went to Texas prisons to capture the river
songs and chants of black inmates that had been passed down orally since the time of slavery.
Owens, who also was a musician
in his own right, was open about his battles with substance abuse, even
once stealing Lipscomb's guitar for drug money. He had been sober since the mid-1980s and devoted himself to helping
others with similar problems and to reviving the careers of forgotten musicians.
"Tary's life was about rebirth,"
said Casey Monahan, director of the state-funded Texas Music Office. "He
artists second chances. He had a keen ear for music indigenous to our state. He had the will to not just enjoy it, but
create the means for other people to enjoy it. And he emerged from his own lost years with such an incredible desire to
document and release Texas blues and other roots music."
Monahan cites Owens' recordings
and promotion of barrelhouse blues pianist Roosevelt Williams, aka Grey
some of Owens' most important work. Austin music writer Rob Patterson also points to Owens' recordings of Lipscomb,
now archived at UT's Barker Center, as some of the best versions of the great Delta blues guitarist he has ever heard.
"Tary was so free-wheeling,
he would try anything in the studio," said Jonathan Foose, Owens' production
helped him record musicians such as San Antonio violinist Sebastian Campesi and bluesmen T.D. Bell, Lonnie Brooks,
Long John Hunter, Ervin Charles and Albert Lavada, aka Dr. Hepcat, who also was one of the first black disc jockeys in
"If we're judged in the end
by the number of friends we have, Tary is probably the richest man to ever
die," said his
brother Tim Owens.
Owens is survived by his
wife, Maryanne Price, formerly of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and Asleep
at the Wheel. A
memorial service will be held at Owens' east Austin home at 3 p.m. Oct. 11, said Tim Owens.
This article on the Houston Chronicle website