Steve Owen – Bastard on a budget
The San Francisco country scene is a misnomer. Yes, a growing number of bands play their own blend of country-rock/hillbilly-folk/ alternative-twang, but the idea that these bands belong to some sort of badge-carrying Bay Area alternative-country collective and sit around the front porch jamming together is a misconception. If youre not one of the three or four bands that play the circuit, chances are most of your potential fans havent even heard you.
Steve Owen, singer, songwriter and guitarist with the band Bottomless Joe, is one of the guys you havent heard. Owens music is hard to classify. He pays respect to traditional bluegrass, folk and country, but takes a fresh step in an offbeat direction. I kind of like that bastardization of things, he says. What we do, no one really does. I dont think its ego talking.
In San Francisco, I couldnt get ants to crawl on top of me if I was covered with honey. Im kind of happy living in San Francisco and not playing there. Im not going to kill myself trying to get gigs. Ive done that. We get better gigs in Seattle, Eugene and Portland.
Which is why he called me from Kickapoo, Illinois, “the crotch of luxury.” Owen took a leave of absence from his day job and is touring around the country on his own, playing coffeehouses, small clubs and songwriter showcases. Its time to shit or get off the pot, Owen says. Its like a friend said to me. When youre 65, very few people are going to say, Gee, I wish I worked more.
Owen is his own booking agent and tour manager. He sleeps in his reliable 86 Ford Econoline van and takes occasional showers at a national chain of health clubs. The club in Omaha even had free beach volleyball by the pool. I hate to ruin my rock n roll image, but when you are a low-level musician, you can sleep anywhere, he says. You have to take care of everything. Steves road mottos are $1.99 are you out of your mind? and Safeway Select. It’s cheaper than water.
Steve Owen & Bottomless Joe (Steve Owen, vocals and guitar; Tom Lucas, fiddle and banjo; Steve Braa, drums, coffee can and spoons; Greg Rodriguez, bass, vocals and baritone) have one self-issued album out and will be recording a new one when Owen returns from tour. Besides the trademark baritone (a sax/tuba-like horn) that complements a couple of tunes on their last album, the band is thinking about adding more electric guitar, and perhaps some accordion too. One song already completed is a gospel number with a full horn section and roadhouse piano.
This is the kind of music to listen to while driving down back roads and barren highways. Pop it in the cassette deck between Steve Earle and Tom T. Hall. Yesterday Des Moines, today Kickapoo, tomorrow Topeka; then that West Coast polar gravity brings you back home.