Photo Credit: Justin Evans
On Monday, Mar. 21, longtime Athens musician Allen Owens passed away following a brief illness. Owens was remembered incredibly fondly by everyone who spoke with me for this column; it's difficult to recall another time of memorial when everyone's sentiments were so universally positive. It's both natural and human to speak of one's friends in the nicest terms, but the notes and phone calls I fielded from Owens’ friends from across the country all spoke to one thing: He was the greatest guy.
Born in November 1970 at Augusta’s Northside Hospital, Owens’ family moved to the Athens area in 1977. As a child he attended Timothy Road Elementary, then St. Joseph's Catholic School and Clarke Central High School. His family notes that his lifelong love of football started during his time with the YMCA sports program, and his love of music began in earnest around age 12. In high school, time commitments required him to make a choice between music and football, and he chose the guitar.
After high school, his first band to play out was Lagerhead, through which Athens musician Nick Bielli first met him. “Kevin [Sweeney] and I met Allen and his bandmate Tim Payne at a house party jam session in 1989,” Bielli says. “They were really the first ‘Athens’ people I ever knew. We all hit it off, being of like temperaments, backgrounds and musical influences. We were all pretty blown away by Allen's abilities, though. The thing I liked about him right away was that he had all of this knowledge and talent, yet he didn't lord it over you.”
In the 1990s, Owens worked his way from dishwasher to night manager at The Grill. The number of people he managed and whose lives he touched during this time is practically unmeasurable, and by all accounts he was gracious and fair in all his dealings. Between 1999–2006, he left Athens to pursue music more professionally, enrolling in the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Tempe, AZ, then moving to Los Angeles to complete a film and music industry internship for that program. He then worked for audio equipment manufacturer Tascam, providing technical support for musicians and studios worldwide.
During this time, he met his friend and eventual roommate Angela Gomes. “The main thing is that he was very special to me,” she says. “In this life you'll have a lot of friends, but they're not all gonna be 'ride or die.' Very few are going to be there 100 percent of the time. A lot of people felt the same way about him. We each have our own special relationship with him because he was so kind, because he was so generous.”
Musician Steven Haas met Owens as a classmate at CRAS. “After that first day of school ended, Allen followed me back to my apartment across the street from the campus,” Haas recalls. “The minute I saw Allen’s fingers touch a fretboard, I immediately reeled back, thinking, ‘What the hell did I get myself into? I’m not even on this guy’s level.’ Lucky for me, Allen just wasn’t like that. Rather than [make] me feel small about my playing, he actually just jammed with me and gave me words of support and opened me up to a whole new world, which eventually helped mold me into the musician I am today.”
After returning to Athens in 2006 to be closer to family, Owens began teaching music—guitar, bass and ukelele—to students young and old. His love for teaching seems to have been spurred by his desire to participate in the youth-music programs offered by Nuçi's Space; several former students have remarked upon what a kind, generous, encouraging and patient instructor and friend he was.
Bielli, who played with Owens in the AC/DC tribute band Powerload, says, “A couple years after I stopped playing in Powerload, my son started attending Camp Amped. This is when I think I saw Allen at his best. Out of all the memories I have to choose from, this is how I think I'll remember him. As anyone who was around Allen during his tenure at Camp Amped will tell you, he was awesome with those kids… As corny as it may sound, it was a real "full-circle" thing, and I'll always be grateful for Allen having had that relationship with my son.”
Owens is survived by his father, Al Owens, his mother, Nancy Wood Owens, brothers Carlton and Michael, sister Katherine, sister-in-law Jenny and nephews Walker and Julian Owens. There’s not space here to print all the loving tributes and memories that poured in after the news of Owens’ passing broke: In actuality, given his vast world of bandmates, friends, acquaintances, associates and students, he is survived by hundreds.