Bryan Owens



My musical journey began in Maryland (USA) when I started violin in the 2nd grade. I was lured in by the prospect of learning the Star Wars theme song and then got hooked on Christmas tunes and Kenny Rodgers. I wasn't raised in a particularly musical household, though my parents had a very modest record collection plus whatever was playing on 70s pop-country radio. I also remember hearing Elvis and Hank Williams whenever I visited my grandparents.

Sadly, I quit the violin after moving to Germany when I was about 9. My teacher was a bit too serious and it simply took the fun out of music. I was encouraged to take piano lessons, but I never really took to it as an instrument. I then tried the cello and quit after another sour and unpleasant teacher in middle school.

I started to become aware of my own music in the late 70s and early 80s, listening to mainly whatever was on the radio at the time. Some of my early favorites were I Love Rock ’n' Roll (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts), Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2 (Pink Floyd), Another One Bites The Dust (Queen), and Heart Of Glass (Blondie). I have a cousin that introduced me to a few rock bands from the 70s including the Who and Kiss, and I was given a copy of For Those About To Rock, We Salute You (AC/DC) when I was around 11. It was one of my first albums along with Kiss Alive II.

I was inspired to take guitar lessons after discovering Rush, especially after watching Exit Stage Left. I was around 13 and my teacher was a jazz guitarist who was also into prog rock. Among other things, he showed me how to play Horizons by Steve Hackett. He also taught me how to slow down the record player to half-speed and learn things by ear. We started with the riff from Life’s Been Good So Far (Joe Walsh), and I was soon working out things on my own including from Rush (a lot from Exit Stage Left and Moving Pictures), Santana (the Abraxas album), Clapton (Cocaine), Yes (Roundabout, Mood For A Day), AC/DC ( the Back In Black album), Ozzy/Randy Rhodes, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath (the first two albums). I also learned a lot from the tablature in Guitar Player magazine, but whatever I couldn’t find there I had to learn by ear. Having the tab did inspire me to check out unfamiliar music and within about two years, I could pick out and reasonably execute almost anything.

I was fortunate to have a musical friend with a brother who was a drummer. Their band practiced in his basement, and my buddy and I would jam down there whenever we got the chance providing the space was free. We assembled a band and won the high school battle of the bands my junior year. I think we may have played White Wedding and You Really Got Me. I formed another cover band the following year and we won again playing YYZ and Sweet Child ‘O Mine.

We also had a great music class in high school called ‘Folk Rock’. It covered the basics of the music business, performance, and recording. We worked up a set and performed at local schools, plus we went into the studio and cut a few tracks each year. It even led to my first studio gig.

My repertoire started to include some jazz and I was hired to play guitar for a show featuring Hoagy Carmichael’s music. I also branched out and played in the pit orchestra for the musical Annie. I ended up going to university in Boone, NC, where they offered a major in Music Industry Studies. It was part music theory/performance, part music business (publishing, recording, merchandise), and part general business (marketing, finance, accounting, economics). I did my internship at RCA records in Nashville, TN, and left feeling completely disillusioned by the commodification of music. I still wanted to be a pro, but I’m a bit stubborn and was only interested in doing things on my own terms.

I formed an original band in college called the Madcap Laughs. We eventually grew apart after graduation and I bought a one-way ticket for what became a 6-year stint traveling and living throughout Europe, Ireland and the South Pacific. I mostly travelled with an acoustic guitar and grew interested in traditional music from around the world. I took up the octave mandolin and then the clarinet in order to play a growing repertoire of Irish, Scandinavian and Eastern European music, some of which was released on the album Bryan’s Bizaar in 2001. I also began performing and recording with the NZ singer-songwriter Nina Lane and together, we moved to Portland, OR, where we eventually became full-time teachers and entrepreneurs.

I was involved in a lot of great projects while living in Portland including Kafana Klub (Balkan folk-dance band), Heathen Collective (original improvisation), Kendálin (original world-folk ensemble), Mistral (Breton folk-dance band), Switchgrass (bluegrass/newgrass), Sprygg (world folk ensemble), and Terracoustic (original new acoustic), all while continuing to work with Nina Lane. Along with the acoustic guitar and octave mandolin, I also picked up the mandolin and fiddle during this time.

After a long hiatus from the electric guitar, I began performing and recording with the rock band King Black Acid from 2016 through 2020, including a stint with the Gabby Holt band. This inspired me to build my own tube amplifiers modeled on mid-60s Fenders, plus I even built a few pedals and a beautiful semi-hollow guitar.

As for the present, I currently live in New Zealand and perform with Nina Lane and other local musicians.