A black cat stares out from the front porch of blues singer Jack Owens as he plays his dark and haunting blues with harmonica accompanist Bud Spires. Owens, whose canon of songs comes from the minor-keyed Bentonia tradition made famous by the delta legend Skip James, sings in his signature song, “It must have been the devil, changed that woman’s mind/ I’d rather be the devil than to be that woman’s friend.” Songs in the Bentonia tradition are suffused with brooding images of the supernatural. Robert Johnson drew from this tradition in composing his most haunting blues, “Hellhound on my trail.”
– photo from http://www.billsteber.com
Jack Owens (November 17, 1904 (?) – Yazoo City, Mississippi February 9, 1997) (born L. F. Nelson) was a Delta blues singer and guitarist from Bentonia, Mississippi, USA.
Never a professional recording artist, Owens farmed, bootlegged and ran a weekend juke joint in Bentonia for most of his life. He wasn’t recorded until the blues revival of the sixties, being rediscovered by David Evans in 1966, who was led to him by either Skip James or Cornelius Bright. Evans recorded Owen’s first LP Goin’ Up the Country that same year and It Must Have Been the Devil (with Bud Spires) in 1970. He made other registrations (some by Alan Lomax) in the 1960s and ’70s, and performed at several music festivals in the United States and Europe until his death in 1997.
Owens shared many elements of his guitar style and repertoire with fellow Bentonian Skip James, utilizing open D-minor tuning (DADFAD). He was often accompanied on harmonica by his friend Bud Spires.
Biography by Richie Unterberger
Like Skip James, Owens hails from Bentonia, MS. Owens is much less famous than James, but he’s often compared to Skip due to his high, rich vocals and intricate guitar styles, which finds him using several tunings and occasional minor keys. His material, it must be noted, is not nearly as strong or tightly constructed as James’, although it draws from some of the same sources. Noted folklorist and blues scholar David Evans made several recordings with Owens in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Jack Owens On muddy Sava riverbank