Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chuck Owston: Jesus Won't You Come By Here?

Today is my brother Chuck’s 70th birthday and I thought that a song from his many recordings might be fitting for this auspicious occasion. Reaching back into the archives, I have pulled out the first recording session in which I was involved. The date was November 19, 1973 and I was almost eighteen years old at that time. I had only been playing mandolin since September and was honored by the fact that Chuck, who had been involved in the recording of five albums, one EP, and one single; would ask me to participate.

He had recently heard Lightning Hopkins’ recording of “Needed Time” in the movie “Sounder” and decided to record it, but under the title of “Jesus Won’t You Come By Here?” Chuck played his National Duolian steel bodied resonator guitar, wailed on the harmonica, and sang lead. He was joined on guitar by Kevin Yeager who also sang harmony vocals. I played mandolin. Not only did Kevin and I, both freshmen at Kentucky Christian College, get to play on the recording, we were credited on the single.

Kevin Yeager, Chuck Owston, & Jim Owston from summer 1974.
Kevin and I played on three songs total: “Jesus Won’t You Come By Here?” – the “A” side; “You Better Have Jesus” – a reworking of “Denomination Blues” without the denominational verses – the “B” side; and “Gospel Ship” – a song that turned up on Chuck’s album “Reflections” that was issued a few years later. On the other two songs, Kevin just played rhythm acoustic guitar. On “Gospel Ship,” Chuck played mandolin and I played his National in slide guitar style. All three of these tunes were in the key of "G" and Chuck's National was tuned to an open "G" or "Spanish Tuning."

Although there were numerous photos taken at the session,
I could only find this one of "Gospel Ship."

In addition to these three songs, Chuck recorded some solo tunes – many, if not all of these, appeared on “Reflections.” The entire set of songs was recorded in the studios of WKCC in Grayson, Kentucky. Dave Bennett served as engineer and recently both Dave and I reminisced about this session and the orange-red labeled 45 that resulted. It was pressed at Rite Records in Cincinnati and I believe it was available in late January or early February 1974 and was issued on Chuck's Southern Cross label. The label's entire catalog of works consisted of six albums, one EP, and two singles. Every issue's label had a different color combination.

All of this session's songs were recorded in mono, as WKCC was a 10-watt mono FM station and only had two mono reel-to-reel decks – a half-track Ampex and a full-track Magnecord 1021. The deck of choice was the Magnecord. Despite being mono, it was a quality deck that served the station for many years. I was later WKCC's program director from 1975-1978.

Only two mics were used – both were Electro Voice EV635A dynamic microphones – typical for broadcast usage, but everything was as balanced as we could get it. They are workhorse microphones, and if you are not using them for that purpose, they can substitute as a hammer without much damage to the nail.

The recording session began shortly after sign-off at midnight and probably continued until two in the morning. It was so memorable that I still have the shirt I wore that night – I can’t fit into it, but I have it in storage. By the way, it was green with a cream colored pineapple motif - it was a shirt my mother bought me to take to college that fall. Chuck was wearing some funky red pants and a pretty wild shirt.

Tonight Chuck is performing an acoustic concert in a very low-key setting at the Bryn Mawr Church of Christ in White Oak, PA. Unfortunately, a recent illness has prevented me from participating. I am sure he will do “Jesus Won’t You Come By Here?” It is a staple for both of us as we perform. Good luck Bro and have fun. Wish I was there.

1 comment:

  1. Jim - Thanks for writing about the history of this record. Since I didn't start playing with Chuck until 1979 there's a lot I don't know about those earlier years.

    The birthday concert was a lot of fun - sorry you missed it. Your absence was felt, and I hope you're feeling better by now. FYI "Jesus Won't You Come By Here" was rehearsed but for some reason we didn't play it, which I thought was kind of odd. I think I've played that song with more than any other! Best wishes - Mike