Gretchen Owens gave an exclusive preview of her band’s show in Myrtle Creek next week.
“It’s going to be all country, I can tell you that,” she said. “We love to have a good time, and the boys help me sound good doing it.”
It’s not exactly a hot scoop that Gretchen Owens plays official country music, nor that she’s officially a country girl. The hard-working South County singer, 24, has made a serious go at country stardom from her home base of Glendale, without letting her other goals fall to the side of the road.
In 2012, she recorded her 12-song debut album, “Real Good Woman,” in Nashville. The EP, available for download online, sounds slick and gritty, like it was spit-polished with a silk bandana. It features true-blue country numbers, with titles like “Bad Ass Girls,” “Broken Hearts and Beer Cans,” “Son My Daddy Never Had” (she is that son, it turns out) and “Dream Truck.”
Those songs, like the rest on the album, were penned by veteran country songwriters and Cave Junction residents David MacKechnie and Michael Jarrett, with help from Kent Maxson. The team has written for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley, John Denver and Garth Brooks. Owens recorded the initial tracks for “Real Good Woman” at Jay’s Place in Nashville, a venerated country institution. Owens began playing guitar last summer, and is now working on original music for her second album. Because, make no mistake, her act is not an act.
“I’ve always known this is something I’ve wanted to do,” she said.
Owens’ grandfather, “Big Andy” Owens, who’s helped manage her singing career, took a reporter’s call from the seat of his tractor. He was working the final field of hay season. At 76, he still rises at 6 a.m. to work the family’s 800-acre hay and cattle ranch.
“I learned how to do hard work from my dad and my grandpa,” Owens said.
She’ll play Myrtle Creek’s free summer concert series, Music in the Park, at 6 p.m. July 17. She’s also scheduled to play the Douglas, Jackson and Josephine county fairs in August, along with the American Trucking Association conference in San Diego in the fall.
It will be the third year she’s sung at the conference, though the first year was a bit of a fluke.
It’s no secret she’s connected to the world of commercial driving. Big Andy founded A & M Transport in 1982, and Gretchen’s father, Andy, ran the business and oversaw its expansion.
Two years ago, country singer Keith Urban played the ATA conference’s “Freightliner Dinner” at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The singer asked the crowd if anyone knew the words to his song, “Kiss A Girl.”
I wanna kiss a girl
I wanna hold her tight
Maybe make a little magic in the moonlight
Did Gretchen Owens know the song? Her table made tons of affirming noise to that effect, and got Urban’s attention. “He picked me, and I didn’t hold back,” she said.
It was an example of years of preparation meeting good fortune. That night she wowed the crowd, along with Urban, who collapsed to the stage as she sang, in mock astonishment. She was good enough the ATA asked her to open for last year’s conference, and this year she’s been asked to open again.
Keith Urban could have asked Gretchen Owens to sing any of his songs and she says she could have done it. She’s a huge fan of all modern country, and drawn especially to the likes of Miranda Lambert and other female singers who don’t feel obliged to act polite.
“I’m not afraid to speak my mind,” she said. “This is who I am, take it or leave it.”
Her fervor goes all the way back to Johnny Cash and the classic greats, the music of her dad’s and granddad’s generations.
“I love all country music. All of it,” she said. “All of it.”
For Owens, hard work started early. She’s the youngest of Andy and Kathy Owens’ three children. Her brother and sister now work in the family business. Growing up, she’d start her day in muck boots, charging the ranch’s six irrigation lines. She’d push dirt in a John Deere, bale hay and ride the fences.
She graduated from Glendale High School in 2008 and Linfield College in 2012, with a health education degree. A four-year member of Linfield’s basketball team, Owens graduated as the Wildcats’ second all-time leading scorer.
For her zeal as a singer, she has a backup plan now requiring full-time attention. This summer she began a graduate program in special education at Southern Oregon University. Her nephew, Haydon, helped her choose this path, she said.
Her sister’s first child spent half his short life in hospitals connected to machines. He died on Oct. 2, 2010 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, at 2 years, 7 months old.
“It wasn’t fun to see my sister go through that,” she said.
In 2012, her sister had another child, a daughter, Sicily. A singer herself, Sicily joined Gretchen onstage in Grants Pass last month. She was exactly the same age as Haydon when he died.
Owens would never have imagined she’d pursue special education, but her love for Haydon changed everything, she said.
“(Haydon) helped me decide this is what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “It’s not something I take lightly.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.