WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
The band has been nominated 2014 Best Live Blues Performance for the Nashville Independent Music Awards. They played the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and are out on the road each month, delivering their unique brand of whisky-infused, swampy blues to crowds appreciative of the band’s authenticity.
Richie Owens grew up in the business, running through the Grand Ole Opry as a kid, hanging with his Dad who worked with such artist as Dolly Parton to Merle Haggard and working as a young instrumental artisan at Sho-bud Guitar Factory. His band in the ’80s, the Movement, included a storied percussionist named Brian O’Hanlon. They shared gigs, and lots of college radio airplay, with Raging Fire, a quartet whose low end was anchored by hotshot bassist John Reed. Back then, Nashville only had one punk club, two mid-sized concert halls, and everyone gathered at the Gold Rush Bar on weekends, with plenty of room to spare.
In 2012, Richie, Brian, and John came together again as Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau. Full circle—and to everyone’s pleasure, it clicked immediately. John credits the three members’ “commonality of experience” for their onstage cohesion—“knowing what has come before us.” Richie appreciates the focus found in a three-piece band. “Magic and synergy. The three of us play together like a well-oiled machine.” Brian calls the music “the root of blues and soul.”
Individually, the members of the Farm Bureau have played with Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, Joe and Rose Maphis, Townes Van Zant, Jimmy Tittle, Johnny Cash, Cindy Cash, Robert Earl Keen, Jim Varney, and members of The Meters, George Porter and Zigaboo Modaliste.
Collectively, they forge their own groove, You can call it full circle, or whatever you like. For Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau, it’s genuine home cookin...
Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau can be found on facebook and reverbnation. The band can be heard on iheart radio and Sirius radio’s “Outlaw Country,” among others.
Richie Owens and his Farm Bureau dig deeper into their roots on latest LP
Day of the BluesBy TED DROZDOWSKI
PHOTO: HEATHER LOSE
Richie Owens makes his metal-bodied resonator guitar growl like a rottweiler stealing a bone from a pit bull. And that sound is all over Dia De Los Azules, the new album by Owens and his band the Farm Bureau. The recording is a stylistic rebirth for the trio, whose roots go back to the Nashville indie rock scene of the '80s, when drummer Brian O'Hanlon and Owens propelled The Movement and bassist John Reed cranked the heat in Raging Fire. The album is also part of a lifelong musical evolution for the colorful Owens, who earned the right to wear an Amish-style Stetson with a feather tucked in its band while learning to play bluegrass, country and old-time-y music as a kid growing up in the hills of East Tennessee.
Over the decades, Owens has mastered guitar, banjo, lap and pedal steel guitar, mandolin, round- and square-neck resonators and harmonica. Washburn Guitars currently sells two signature model resonators, a banjo and a mandolin bearing his name. He's developed a twangy, direct vocal style, too. It rings with the truth in his lyrics — whether he's telling real stories about floods, murders and early railroading cribbed from his father, grandfather and other forebears, as he did on the group's 2014 album, Tennessee, or spinning yarns with Reed and O'Hanlon that balance his love of roots music and pop hooks, like Dia De Los Azules' devoted mad-dash rocker "She Overruns My Heart" and "See You on the Other Side." The latter mashes up a hypnotic Junior Kimbrough blues vibe, old school boogie-woogie (courtesy of guest pianist Peter Keys) and pure Southern stomp. Another highlight is the silky grooved "Blame It on Being Free," a commentary on faith, confusion and liberty that starts with needlepoint guitar notes and cruises through its choruses on grinding slide resonator chords. The song also gets sugar from the backing vocals of Rebecca Seaver, a seamstress who works with Owens' "Cousin Dolly" (Parton), whom Owens' dad, Louis, managed early in her career.
If music isn't in Owens' blood, it's certainly in his DNA. His great-great-great grandfather was George Grooms, the fiddler portrayed by Jack White in the film Cold Mountain, and his grandfather was a fire-and-brimstone preacher who belonged to a 1920s string band and later wrote songs for Kitty Wells.
But all that rootsy stuff didn't stop Owens from falling for punk rock as a teenager, and hasn't kept that style's bratty intensity from also seeping into the sonic soul stew of the Farm Bureau, which made its debut album in 2008 as an Americana-tinged singer-songwriter-fueled sextet and whittled itself down to the raucous compadres who co-wrote the songs on Dia De Los Azules.
Owens also produced the album — of course — adding yet another credit to a studio résumé that includes projects for "Cousin Dolly," The Georgia Satellites, Jason and the Scorchers, Vince Gill, Social Distortion and The Bangles. And he mixed it in the studio above the current East Nashville location of his Old Time Pickin' Parlor music shop, a Nashville institution since the 1970s that he took over in 2001.
"Dia De Los Azules speaks to all of the musical influences I've had the privilege to experience in my life," Owens tells the Scene. "It also comes from the partnership and bond that John, Brian and I share and have been exploring over the past three years, since we became a trio. I haven't walked away from my beginnings with this album, but have embraced and retooled them. I think what we are trying to do with this band and with this album is to pull from our Tennessee music roots and history and combine it with the hill-country blues and roots music that we all grew up with."
There's also the hill-country blues they didn't grow up with. In the late Aughts, Owens and his fellow native Tennesseans in the Farm Bureau fell under the spell of the twin pinnacles of North Mississippi's Fat Possum label, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, who were masters of the trance-inducing, distinctly African-sounding blues that's been distilled just to the south of Memphis since before electricity. So parts of their one-chord repertoire, like Burnside's slashing "Goin' Down South" and Kimbrough's rumbling "All Night Long," had a literal and psychic effect on the Farm Bureau.
"Besides getting into the Mississippi hill-country blues stuff, over the past three years we have been developing our sound by playing as many live gigs as possible to a very diverse audience," explains Owens, who has led the group through roots festivals, hillbilly jams, juke joints, hipster rock clubs and honky-tonks in the past two years. "Those experiences influenced the music, feel and soul of Dia De Los Azules."