Lost legends

Tary Owens helped rescue the early roots of Texas music. Then those songs saved Owens from himself.

His diabetes and depression were followed by hepatitis C. And early last January he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and what his doctor termed "essential tremors," which have left him basically unable to work for the past year.

He is in a battle with his insurance company over whether he is entitled to disability benefits. There are continuing medical bills, the mortgage, and other mounting debts.

Owens does have a family now to provide moral support. His wife, Maryann Price, was a member of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and Asleep at the Wheel. Her 34-year-old mentally retarded daughter, Cissy, lives in

Tary Owens with the tools of his trade, a reel-to-reel recorder and tapes.
Tary Owens with the tools of his trade, a reel-to-reel recorder and tapes.

a nearby group home but is a frequent visitor to their house. She is, Owens says, an inspiration.

Recently Owens found out the full scope of his extended family, developed during his decades of failures and rebound. As his financial problems threatened to claim his home, friends rallied.

In November they ushered him into Antone's, the home of the Austin blues scene. Awaiting him were performers such as Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely, Jimmie Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, and Ervin Charles, the blues guitarist whose career Owens had rescued.

Freelance music writer Rob Patterson (a Dallas Observer contributor) organized the event hosted by Patoski and nightclub founder Clifford Antone. The music and a silent auction raised more than $20,000 for Owens.

"I think it helped buy Tary some time," says Patterson. "The outpouring of people wanting to give to this. To the musicians on stage, to the people working the auction. I think it did Tary's soul a lot of good."

"I can't say enough good words about him," says Charles, of Beaumont. "There's no better guy than Tary. He's a heck of a dude, man, and I love him."

Owens seemed somewhat embarrassed to have been the focus of what he calls "an incredible outpouring of love." The man who helped preserve Texas music tradition just wishes it hadn't taken him so long to figure out how to free himself from his prison of addiction -- and rediscover the music that gave him new life.

"Sometimes I get angry with myself," he says. "But I'm grateful for every day I have. Every day is grace."

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