For an interview in 2011, at 10 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, Isaiah “Ikey” Owens insisted on meeting for drinks at the V Room, a dive bar on 4th Street in Long Beach.
As he sipped a Jim Beam neat, he talked about hanging out in the early days with pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas (who were playing the Super Bowl halftime show that year), why he was considering leaving the behemoth prog-rock arena band The Mars Volta, and the creative inroads he was making through his new fledging career as a producer and mentor.
He also discussed at length his not-so-solo-anymore project, Free Moral Agents, which grew from a bedroom recording experiment into a psych-y, jazzy, beat-pummeling collective that was already playing places like Low End Theory. Having spent most of his time on stage as someone else's hired gun, he liked that it allowed him to do the hiring for once.
Few L.A. session musicians built out their careers by working across genres and in roles as diverse as those tackled by Owens.
For the last two decades, the 38-year-old Long Beach-bred keyboardist and producer collaborated and performed with dozens of bands both local and large, earning his most public praise (and one Grammy) for his work with Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Mars Volta and, most recently, Jack White.
Owens died the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 14, while on tour in Mexico with White. The outpouring of grief from across the musical spectrum (?uestlove, JonWayne and Flea all tweeted about their sadness at his passing) only hints at the range of projects touched by this eclectic multi-talent.
Google will tell you about his work with the aforementioned major-name acts, but Owens' oeuvre cast a much wider net — from appearances on albums by Mastodon and Reel Big Fish to DJ stints at dub clubs and noodling sets at dive bar jazz jams.
Locally, he is remembered as not just a musical legend, but as everyone's friend; a man who spent most of the year on the road, but always made sure to land back in his hometown, where he would gladly play free shows, mentor upcoming producers and uplift the art scene in oft-forgotten Long Beach.
A graduate of Long Beach's Poly High School — the same school attended by Snoop Dogg and norteño superstar Jenni Rivera — Owens used his love of everything from rock to rap to reggae as cultural ammo, leading him from teenage performances with third-wave ska band Pocket Lent to professional studios and arena stages around the world.
In the early 2000s,after the live dub band De Facto had already morphed into The Mars Volta, he began producing acts he was not playing with, starting with electro-clash band Gravy Train!!!, whom he helped record their first album, Hello Doctor. Shortly after, he teamed up with The Visionaries' 2Mex (a fellow Long Beach native) for a futuristic hip-hop project called Look Daggers, which he had revived again late last year. Free Moral Agents was founded around this time too, and the list of local and national albums featuring his keyboard or production input only grew.
Never a frontman but always in the mix, Owens was the ultimate sonic wingman. His talent, experience and endless kindness will continue to be celebrated by all who knew him. Below are eight tracks that Ikey either performed on, wrote or produced.
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