A Tribute to Isaiah “Ikey” Owens

In today’s RockAtlantic I want to take a chance to remember Isaiah “Ikey” Owens, who sadly passed away last week. Owens is most well known for playing keyboards in The Mars Volta from 2001 to 2011, making him the longest server band member besides the duo of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez who lead the band’s musical direction. Outside of The Mars Volta, Owens was a prolific session musician, providing keyboard work for the likes of Mastodon and Jack White, as well as having his own solo project under the moniker Free Moral Agents.

Since getting into The Mars Volta several years ago, I have become a big fan of Owens and thought I’d pay tribute to him by selecting five of my favourite tracks that showcase Owens’ talent.

The Mars Volta – Day of The Baphomets

During what is perhaps my favourite Mars Volta song, Owens keeps his playing calm and steady, whilst chaos circulates around him. During the intro, which gradually builds into a jazz-fusion free-for-all, he lays down a gorgeous descending piano riff that compliments Terrazas-Gonzalez’s saxophone licks perfectly. As the twelve minute song progresses, Owens introduces a sustained organ that appears in the breakdown and the reappears during one of the many bridges, as well as a dreamy keyboard sound that provides a basis for Rodriguez-Lopez’s frantic guitar solo.

Mother’s Cake – Soul Prison

Mother’s Cake are the Austrian band who were supporting Anathema when I saw them at the end of September. On their debut album, Creation’s Finest, Owens provides a sumptuous organ solo on the two part epic Soul Prison, whilst fellow keyboardist Georg Gabler is also allowed free rein on a Fender Rhodes. The track begins as a funk rock head-banger, but through multiple solo sections it transforms into a progressive jam that The Mars Volta would be proud to call their own.

Mastodon – Pendulous Skin

Pendulous Skin concludes Mastodon’s 2006 effort, Blood Mountain, and features a style that is contradictory to the rest of the record. The track is a slow-paced jam featuring acoustic guitars, a bluesy lead and subdued vocal work from Brent Hinds, which all floats on top of a layer of organ-like keyboards provided by Owens.

Jack White – Just One Drink

Owens’ playing is as flamboyant as ever on Jack White’s Just One Drink – the second single to be released from the eccentric musician’s second solo record, Lazaretto. Once again his performance is spot on; delivering the up-beat, high tempo style that the song demanded, showcasing just how varied Owens’ repertoire was. Sadly he died whilst on the Mexican-leg of Jack White’s Lazaretto tour, making this song and the rest of his performances on the album, particularly poignant.

Free Moral Agents – Everybody’s Favorite Weapon

Free Moral Agents were a collection of musicians lead by Owens as a means to provide depth to his solo work. Everbody’s Favourite Weapon is the title track off their debut record and is a mellow light-jazz piece that meanders through keyboard-led sections, accompanied by xylophones, flutes, trumpets and an array of percussion instruments, which each take turns in coming to fore. His solo work sounds vastly different from the progressive music he normally associates himself with, but his distinctive jazz influences remain prominent. Free Moral Agents feel like an extension of his work with The Mars Volta; allowing fans to understand the complete musical picture behind Owens’ impressive playing, which wasn’t possible when he was filling a supporting role behind Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez.

R.I.P. Isaiah “Ikey” Owens

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