Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

1May/1049

R.I.P. Will Owsley

When the emails started coming in last night, I couldn't believe it.  The word was starting to get around that Nashville-based musician Will Owsley (probably best known to most as Amy Grant's guitar player) had taken his own life, leaving behind a family including two kids.  Grant released a short statement earlier today:

"We are all reeling today from the news of Will Owsley’s death. So many of us in Nashville worked with Will, lived with him on the road, celebrated his talents and knew his anguish. Please join us in praying for his family and his children"

In addition to being Grant's touring guitarist since 1994, Will had also recorded two wonderful albums of power pop perfection - the self-titled Owsley album, released in 1999 on Giant Records, and the independently released 2004 follow-up, The Hard Way.

Both albums were filled with lyrics that addressed both the hardship and joys of life, with a lyrical positivity drawn no doubt from his own faith.  Listening to those albums offered me a personal new perspective for where I was in life at the time that I first heard each of those albums.

Owsley as a musician wasn't a household name, but in my experiences and conversations with fellow music fans, those who heard the two albums that Will put out, loved them to pieces just as much as I did. (Attn: Fans of Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, the Grays, etc - this stuff is for you!)  Steady touring work with Grant helped to pave the way financially for him to build his own studio space, giving him a home base to work on Owsley music.

Before all of that, Owsley was a member of The Semantics, a Nashville group that featured Ben Folds in an early lineup, collaborator Millard Powers and Ringo offspring/future Who drummer Zak Starkey.  Google "semantics powerbill," and you'll come up with a lengthy list of raves for the group's lone release Powerbill, an album that was released in Japan only in 1993.

I first heard the Owsley album during my time in radio, a discovery in the usual way - I had been opening that day's mail, and in one of the packages was the Owsley disc.  Since my earliest days working in record stores, I've always had a habit of popping in every CD that comes in, to give it at least a quick spin-through, 20 seconds per track, to see what each release is all about.  And this method brought me my proper introduction to the Owsley album.  A great release that tanked miserably, Owsley became one of those "whatever happened to" artists until The Hard Way finally came along in 2004.  As great as Owsley was, The Hard Way was 10 times better in my opinion (although many seem to prefer the self-titled disc).

The Hard Way packed a sonic punch that saw me putting my fist in the air three tracks in as "She's The One" kicked in.  I'm not going to lie - 2003 was a shitty year, and if you've been in that place, perhaps you can appreciate getting that one album at just the right time when you need it.  The Hard Way was that album for me - as I recall, I bought a pre-release copy in 2003 via CDBaby (or perhaps had an early advance promo), and I listened to that album over and over whether I was at home or on the go in the car, with a frequency that I hadn't given to any album in a long time.

I had just put "She's The One" on a mix late last year, and only just a few weeks ago, I had gone off in fanboy pursuit of Owsley.  It had been a few years since Owsley's last bit of music - a digital only two-song release, and the last update from 2006 on his Myspace page, indicated that he was working on new music.  It occurred to me that there had been a contact email address on his website, so I went to the site, clicked on the email address and sent an email of inquiry to Will.  The email immediately bounced back - the address was dead, and I moved on to other activities.

Those final Myspace updates from 2006 had word of an additional planned two-song release, as well as news of an acoustic album:

He is also currently working on a new project - it’s going to be a full album, all acoustic, and the sound will be a bit of a departure from what we’re used to. He has not named the project yet (so he’s not sure if it’ll be an “Owsley” album or released under a band name) but it’ll include a re-recording of a song or two from his first solo release along with brand new songs. Those of you who remember Doli from the live gigs, he’ll be playing upright bass in this latest endeavor. Owsley is working on this project every day and is really excited about it.

Besides the above rumored acoustic album, Owsley certainly leaves behind some recorded music that hasn't been heard by people - I was interested to learn that Owsley recorded 32 mastered songs for Warner Brothers while working on the follow-up to Owsley, and portions of those sessions eventually found their way to release via The Hard Way.  Recently, Will had been doing a steady amount of session work in Los Angeles, including some recording with The Jonas Brothers.

I really hate suicide.  22 years removed from the first time that suicide touched my life personally, I don't understand it any better -  how and why suicide becomes the final solution, particularly for someone that has kids.  In situations where I knew the particulars, it doesn't make sense, and for someone like Will Owsley, where I don't know the situation, it just makes me sad.  I hope for the best for his family and friends as they deal with this unexpected event.  So sorry, Will - hope that you've found peace.

I'll leave you with a few of my Owsley favorites, and if you dig these, you'll definitely want to add the Owsley and The Hard Way albums to your purchase pile - both are power pop gems that are nearly guaranteed enjoyment waiting to happen. Will grew up on a steady diet of bands like Wings, Kiss and The Cars (and according to Wikipedia, he was a big Eddie Van Halen fan as well, which means we would have had plenty to talk about!) - and you can definitely hear the McCartney influence on tracks like "Rainy Day People," while "Good Old Days" found a place with me instantly, because of how much it reminded me of Kevin Gilbert and Toy Matinee.

Owsley - I'm Alright (from Owsley)
Owsley - She's the One (from The Hard Way)
Owsley - Good Old Days (from Owsley)
Owsley - Rainy Day People / Band on the Run (Wings cover) (from The Hard Way)

Additional Listening:

Amy Grant - Time Again... (live recordings featuring Will Owsley on guitar)

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