Darrell Owens Interview
By Freddie House

Appeared in the AFG Sound Hole - Issue 8 (Octorber 1999 - editor: Burt Zeldin)

Pastor Darrell Owens, one of the founders of the AFG, grew up around Houston, Texas. Darrell's father was pastor of a church and a guitar player while his mother sang, played the piano and organ. So, Darrell and his three brothers were exposed to music very young, and each learned to play an instrument at a young age. Music was always around and played a big part in his church and in his musical family.

Darrell Owens

So, how did you choose the guitar to be your instrument?

I always liked the sound of the guitar. I can remember when I was very young, maybe around 5 years old, pretending that a baseball bat was a guitar, and holding it and making believe I was strumming on it. My dad wanted me to play the piano, so I was given piano lessons, but never enjoyed it -- so I quit. Dad said that he would buy me a guitar when my hand would go around the neck, but I found out that I could hold and play the mandolin. My mother taught me a few chords. I remember when I was around 5 or 6 years old playing the mandolin in church. I still have one and can play it a little. So, the mandolin was the first stringed instrument I played. I also played the trombone during high school, but the guitar was what I really loved. When I was around 7 or 8, a man came to our church and played fingerstyle guitar and I really liked that sound. I remember my dad and other musicians talking about how he played and trying to play like him. I was able to figure out how he did it, and soon, I was making up little songs to play.

Tell us about the guitar you learned to play on, or your first guitar.

My dad had the first model Les Paul guitar that came out with a trapeze tail piece, and the strings went under the bridge. That was the guitar I learned to play on. It was hard to mute the strings and so I had to learn how to mute them differently than the way we do it with a guitar with a real bridge. My first guitar was a Fender Strat that dad traded for an old Martin he had.

Did you take any guitar lessons?

No, I never did. I learned how to read music during my piano lesson days, but never applied it to the guitar. All that I was interested in was learning to play like Chet Atkins and there weren't any music stores around that taught that. There were a few people around who tried to play like Chet, so I picked up different things from them.

How did you become associated with Taylor Guitars?

Through Doyle Dykes. Doyle was introduced to Wayne Charvel at a trade show and then Wayne introduced him to the people at Taylor. I was with Doyle at the time and, of course, I was introduced to them, too.

The day we went to Taylor Guitars was the day of the famous O.J. Simpson chase on the freeway. I had a white Bronco at the time and the Highway Patrol kept following us and looking at us almost all the way down, and we didn't find out about what was going on until we got there and someone told us.

I just have a friendship with the Taylor people and they have really helped me with guitars and introduced me to a lot of interesting people.

How did you get to know Doyle Dykes?

Mike Michaelson and I have been friends ever since we were kids, and he Pastors a church up north. He had met Doyle and heard him play and so Mike called me and asked if I wanted to have Doyle play for a service. I agreed and Doyle came down and played for us and we became very good friends.

How did you become interested in alternate tunings?

Chet did a few things in alternate tunings, but when I started playing more acoustic guitar I started using more alternate tunings. It sounds so great on an acoustic because it lets the strings ring out and creates such a full sound.

Did you ever go through a rock and roll stage?

Oh, yes. When I was in high school, a couple of the members from the school band and myself had a little group. We played rock and roll, but I had to keep it from my dad because I wasn't supposed to be playing anything but church music. I was afraid he would take my guitar away from me if he knew it. We did play at some talent shows and Police Auxiliary league shows and a few things like that.

Besides, Chet, Merle, and Doyle who else has influenced you on the guitar?

The first person would have to be my dad, and then the fellow I mentioned earlier that came to our Church. Jack Stalsby was his name. I asked around but was never able to locate him, but he was probably one of the key persons that got me interested in fingerstyle guitar. After that, it was Chet all the way. I wanted to play just like him, so I listened to his records and tried to copy every note and lick, trying to duplicate what he did and to sound just like him. I appreciate Merle Travis now more for what he has contributed to guitar music. I have met a lot of talented players through the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, but by far the person who has most influenced my playing in the last few years has been Doyle Dykes. For a long period of time, about 10 years or so, I had gotten away from the guitar and played pedal steel guitar most of the time. In fact, I won 3rd place in the international pedal steel competition in1980. I guess I had become bored with the guitar, and I kind of lost my musical direction and had become interested in the steel guitar. But, when I heard Doyle, it rekindled all the desire to get back to my fingerstyle playing.

What are your practice habits?

I try to play a little every day. Nearly all the free time I have at home is spent playing my guitar, sometimes for just a few minutes and then other times maybe 2 or 3 hours. I have all my songs rated as to how well I play them and how difficult they are to play. Those that I play well, I try to maintain, but I am always working on a new song. That is my disciplined practice. Once in a while, I will pick up my guitar and play for the enjoyment of it. That seems to be my most creative time.

What is the process you go through to learn a new song?

A long time ago, I just listened to the record and tried to copy what I heard. But now, with videos and tablature you can learn a new song more accurately -- and someone else has done all the work. Tab is the only way for me to get it note for note. I work on four measures at a time. When I get those down, I go on to the next four measures until I have the whole song.

You have two tapes and an instructional video out. Do you plan to make another, or a CD?

I think I would like to make a CD, and maybe a more in-depth instructional video. But, to do a project like either of those, you need to block everything else out for a week or ten days, and I just haven't had the time. I'm hoping to do something within a year, maybe a video on alternate tunings.

What are your thoughts about our club, the AFG?

I am glad that we have this club. I think we will continue to grow as long as we keep focused on the fun of playing the guitar and enjoying the music. I meet people all the time who play the guitar, usually in another style like folk, rock and roll, or blues -- but they all like fingerstyle guitar. We are blessed to have so many great players in our club and everybody seems like they will stop whatever they are doing and show you how they played that piece if you ask. You asked earlier about influences, and there are a lot of people, songs, or events that influence our playing and I think our club is one of those influential entities. We have luthiers, song writers, all kinds of different styles of guitar players in our club. We can all learn from each other and become better players for our own enjoyment and for others to enjoy.

Pastor Owens is a recipient of the prestigious AFG Golden Thumbpick award.

2000 - Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists