Richie Owens

'Oatmeal Slim'

Richie Owens can’t help who he is! The man was born into a family whose lineage has pre-determined the path of his life. How far do you want to go back? Let’s start with the American Civil War and the true story of the historic novel and film, Cold Mountain. The fiddle player portrayed and killed in Cold Mountain is George Grooms. George was shot with his brother Henry by Captain Teague’s Raiders after playing “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Henry Grooms happens to be the Great–Great-Great Grandfather of Richie Owens! After the American Civil War, Richie’s family moved from North Carolina into the Madison and Cocke County area of Tennessee. The lives of this Tennessee family are just as colorful with occupations ranging from moonshining, share cropping, and preaching the Gospel, all-the-while playing and writing classic Smoky Mountains music.  

Richie’s family tree is filled with musicians, singers, and songwriters. He was born the son of Louis and Colleen Owens, half raised in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, and his father, Louis Owens, was a musician, publisher, songwriter, producer, and manager who helped guide the early career of Richie’s first cousin, Dolly Parton. Richie’s grandfather, Reverend Jake Owens, was also a musician, preacher, country music songwriter, and the inspiration for Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s hit song, “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man.” As a child, one of Richie’s early experiences was singing and playing on the radio at the age of 8. Another early experience was playing on The Ralph Emery Morning Show in Nashville, and as a teen backing Joe and Rose Lee Maphis and Leon Russell. But beyond his musical heritage, Owens came of age during the 1960s and ’70s, absorbing the “pow” of the British Invasion, the swirl of psychedelic folk-rock, the glitter and Marshall stacks of glam and classic rock, the attitude and craftsmanship of punk and new wave, and the bedrock country that was still in its golden era during those years. Radical exposure to a melting pot of musical expansion gave the singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist a huge musical vocabulary that has reflected in his free-ranging career since the beginning.

As a young man, Richie would go on to work in the Shobud guitar factory where he began to learn the art of guitar building and luthiership. The owner, Shot Jackson, was a friend of the Owens Family, and it was then that the guitar building and design bug took hold as Richie went on to work for Dobro. Richie has built Resonator guitars for Ron Wood, Sonny Landreth, and Jerry Douglas, and later built his own “Owens Guitars” for folks like Niles Lofgen (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young) and Bob Weir (Grateful Dead). Washburn Guitars were so impressed with Richie’s work that they created his own signature model mandolin and signature resonator guitar.

Richie’s talent doesn’t stop there, however. A fifth generation Smoky Mountains musician, Owens has produced several of Dolly Parton’s hit records, the Kentucky Headhunters' album 'Dixie Lullabies', and engineered the Georgia Satellites' platinum debut American record, to name a few. Richie has also engineered for Jason and The Scorchers, Vince Gill, Michael Stipe (REM), Social Distortion, and The Bangles, and holds multiple gold and platinum records from his work as a songwriter, producer, and engineer. Richie has been a member of Dolly Parton’s touring band since 1997, and Dolly has always been a fan and supporter of him and his music. As he continues to create and pay homage to his fore fathers' heritage, he and his band, Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau, are preparing to release their next studio album come the Spring of 2022.

The Farm Bureau

In a town famous for musical transplants, Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau are 100% homegrown Nashville—the living, breathing and rocking embodiment of the sound that earned Music City its nickname at the turn of the century. The “Nashville Sound” has always been a convergence of musical styles, and Owens’ fusions of rock, country, folk, blues and pop have a distinctive character that could only come from a multi-talented artist whose pedigree blends the diverse heartbeat of a city with music in its veins, the soul of his musical family’s East Tennessee roots, and a mind open to a myriad of possibilities.

After a series of personal tragedies and challenges, Owens would reflect on his varied career with determination to shake the shackles of music business conventions. “I’ve never purposely chased trends,” he said, “but I had record and management deals and they wanted to put me in just one genre. I would write all kinds of songs and they would say, ‘You need to release these songs, not those, because that’s what’s going to get you on Americana radio or sell to the roots/alternative blues market, or whatever else seemed hot to them.”

Over the past few years, as he wrote new songs and re-examined his backlog of tunes, Owens came into a deeper understanding of his work. “It made me realize the music I really enjoy the most is the stuff I loved when I was 8 to 14 years old—made roughly from 1968 to 1974. It influenced everything that came later, and when I wrote and played songs strongly rooted in the sounds of that era, I was most fulfilled as an artist. I felt like I was completely myself and doing exactly what I wanted to do.”

At the same time, a new incarnation of the Farm Bureau was beginning to take shape, with Nashville music-scene veteran (and former member of the Movement) Bob Ocker (guitar) joining long-time band members John Reed (bass) and Brian O’Hanlon (also a former Movement member).

“I’ve had people ask me about the possibility of a Movement revival over the years,” Owens says. “I really didn’t want to recreate the past, but here we are, 35 years after the first Movement gig, heading into a new and different direction together. In these new songs, especially on Reconstruction, I realized there’s a little bit of the Movement in there along with the earlier versions of the Farm Bureau. It’s all inside of me, and it’s aching to come out now.”

The resulting Reconstruction is an 11-song record fusing each of Owens’ influences in a way that delights while defying simple categorization. It stands as an inviting and infectious statement of the Owens sound.

“If I wear my influences on my sleeve, that’s okay,” he said. “I’m just going to write songs I want to write, and I’m going to put out the music that I believe in. Period. Great music should always pull you back to those warm fuzzy moments when you first fell in love with a certain song or style. That’s the music that I love the most, and my version of that sound—the way it’s reflected in my heart and in my art—is what I want to share with others.”

—Nashville, Tennessee, May 2020

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