Near Bentonia in Yazoo County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
Jack Owens became one of Mississippi's most venerated blues artists in the 1980s and ‘90s after spending most of his life as a farmer in Yazoo County. Born November 17, 1904, or 1906 according to some sources, Owens did not perform outside the state of Mississippi until 1988. During his final years he and his harmonica player, Bud Spires, traveled together to many festivals and performed on Owens’s front porch for hundreds of visitors. Owens died on February 9, 1997.
Jack Owens belonged to the pioneering generation of Bentonia bluesmen, which included Nehemiah “Skip” James (1902-1969) and Henry Stuckey (1897-1966). Stuckey is often regarded as the seminal local blues figure, but researchers have yet to discover any recordings or photographs of him. James ranks as Bentonia’s most internationally renowned musician, known for the striking quality of the music on his 1931 recordings for the Paramount label and for a briefly rejuvenated career during the blues revival of the 1960s. Just as James’s recording career was nearing its end, Owens was beginning his, in 1966; his first
The music of Owens and James, as Evans wrote, was distinguished by “haunting, brooding lyrics dealing with such themes as loneliness, death and the supernatural...Altogether it is one of the eeriest, loneliest and deepest blues sounds ever recorded.” Neither Owens’s music nor his lifestyle in Bentonia changed much over the years. He clung to old ways and superstitions, including burying money in the ground and hanging bottles from his trees, and was reputed to be the last farmer in the area to plow with a mule. He once made moonshine and ran juke joints in or near his house. Even in his nineties he kept a pistol or shotgun at hand but claimed he had not shot anyone in several years. Documentary filmmakers were duly fascinated, and Owens appeared in Alan Lomax’s Land Where the Blues Began and Robert Mugge’s Deep Blues, as well as a commercial for Levi’s 501 Blues. After making a few festival appearances in Mississippi, he accepted offers to perform in Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago,
Owens is buried in the Day Cemetery east of Bentonia. Only at his funeral was his real name, L. F. Nelson, revealed. He left protégés Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, proprietor of the Blue Front café, and harmonica player Benjamin “Bud” Spires to carry on the Bentonia blues tradition. Spires, who was born in Anding on May 20, 1931, was Owens’s steadfast musical companion for some thirty years. He was the son of guitarist Arthur “Big Boy” Spires (1912-1990), a Yazoo County native who moved to Chicago and recorded several songs that are considered classics of down-home postwar blues.
Erected 2009 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 67.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
Location. 32° 39.381′ N, 90° 20.828′ W. Marker is near Bentonia, Mississippi, in Yazoo County. Marker is at the intersection of State Highway 433 and Rosehill Road, on the left when traveling east on State Highway 433. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 6 Rosehill Road, Bentonia MS 39040, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker The Blue Front Café (approx. 1½ miles away); Nehemiah “Skip” James (approx. 1.8 miles away); Tinsley Oil Field (approx. 3.8 miles away); Skirmish at Concord Baptist Church (approx. 4.8 miles away); Environmental Archaeology (approx. 13.3 miles away); Pocahontas Mounds (approx. 13.3 miles away); The Evolution of the Pocahontas Site (approx. 13.3 miles away); Midden: Sifting Through the Trash (approx. 13.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bentonia.
Also see . . .
1. Wikipedia entry on Jack Owens. (Submitted on September 19, 2014, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
2. Mississippi Blues Trail. (Submitted on September 19, 2014, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment •
More. Search the internet for Jack Owens.
Credits. This page was last revised on August 30, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 18, 2014, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 277 times since then and 19 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on September 19, 2014, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.