Lost Legends

Tary Owens helped rescue the early roots of Texas music. Then those songs saved Owens from himself.

His diabetes and depression were followed by hepatitis C. And early last January he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and what his doctor termed "essential tremors," which have left him basically unable to work for the past year.

He is in a battle with his insurance company over whether he is entitled to disability benefits. There are continuing medical bills, the mortgage and other mounting debts.

Owens does have a family now to provide moral support. His wife, Maryann Price, was a member of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and Asleep at the Wheel. Her 34-year-old mentally retarded daughter, Cissy, lives in a nearby group home but is a frequent visitor to their house. She is, Owens says, an inspiration.

Owens with the tools of his trade: a recorder and tapes.
Owens with the tools of his trade: a recorder and tapes.
Owens stocked UT's archives with the central Texas music of fiddler Teodar Jackson.
Courtesy of Tary Owens
Owens stocked UT's archives with the central Texas music of fiddler Teodar Jackson.


Obligatory Warning: The following were recorded at Wynne State Farm (Huntsville, Texas) on August 23, 1965. They may contain strong language.

The Signifyin' Monkey excerpt, vocal by Ebby Veasley.
(449K aiff file)

Stewball excerpt, vocals by Ebby Veasley (leads) Mitchell, Marshall Phillips, Dave Tippins (chorus).
(449K aiff file)

Winehead Girl excerpt, vocal by Phillips.
(321K aiff file)

Tom Moore Blues excerpt, info not available.
(449K aiff file)

Recently Owens found out the full scope of his extended family, developed during his decades of failures and rebound. As his financial problems threatened to claim his home, friends rallied.

In November they ushered him into Antone's, the home of the Austin blues scene. Awaiting him were performers such as Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely, Jimmie Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball and Ervin Charles, the blues guitarist whose career Owens had rescued.

Freelance music writer Rob Patterson (a Houston Press contributing editor) organized the event hosted by Patoski and nightclub founder Clifford Antone. The music and a silent auction raised more than $20,000 for Owens.

"I think it helped buy Tary some time," says Patterson. "The outpouring of people wanting to give to this. To the musicians on stage, to the people working the auction. I think it did Tary's soul a lot of good."

"I can't say enough good words about him," says Charles, of Beaumont. "There's no better guy than Tary. He's a heck of a dude, man, and I love him."

Owens seemed somewhat embarrassed to the have been the focus of what he calls "an incredible outpouring of love." The man who helped preserve Texas music tradition just wishes it hadn't taken him so long to figure out how to free himself from his prison of addiction -- and rediscover the music that gave him new life.

"Sometimes I get angry with myself," he says. "But I'm grateful for every day I have. Every day is grace."

E-mail Steve McVicker at steve.mcvicker@houstonpress.com.

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