Discovering Tony Owens
"Do What You Wanna Do" (Isaac Bolden)
Tony Owens, Island, 1976
This single is the only one I have or have heard by Tony Owens. While the A-side, “The Letter That Broke My Heart” is a well-done ballad, it’s the B-side, “Do What You Wanna Do”, that has the funk. Both sides were written, produced and arranged by Isaac Bolden for Sansu Enterprises, the production company based around Sea-Saint Studios, owned by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn. Because it was recorded around 1976, I am going to guess that a number of members of Chocolate Milk were on this session. It’s got their well-polished funky feel and smooth backing vocal style. As our contributor, Dwight Richards (hope you’re somewhere safe, man), the drummer for that band, has told us before, they worked on a lot of sessions at the studio in the mid to late 1970’s.
I like Tony Owens’ voice on this tune. It’s another one without much going on lyrically; but he digs into it anyway, comes up with some King Floyd sounding squeals, and brings the soul to the funk. I’ve read that most of his other recordings were slower, straighter deep soul. I have yet to hear that material, but, maybe they should have gone for a few more like this one during his career – just sayin’. Here’s some background.
According to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul Of New Orleans, the multi-faceted Mr. Bolden discovered Tony Owens at a high school talent contest in New Orleans in the mid-1960’s. Bolden had just started a label, Soul Sound, and worked with the singer to release his first single, “I Got Soul” in 1966; but the record did not get any attention. In 1968, Bolden produced Owens’ next single, “Wishing, Waiting, Hoping”, which was better received, on the renamed Soulin’ label. Although a third single was also done and got local airplay, Owens kept a low profile, working to support his family and not performing in public. All of that changed though with the release of his next Soulin’ single, “Confessin’ A Feelin’” in 1970, which got tons of airplay locally and then was picked up for national distribution by Cotillion. That record just made it into the Top 40 during its month on the charts, pulling Owens into the limelight for a national tour and gigs all around his hometown.
Unfortunately (and we have to use that word too much telling the story of many artists), Cotillion passed on the next single; and it was issued on Soulin’ to little avail. So, Owens began working with his band at a club on Bourbon Street. When Bolden began his association with Sansu, he brought Tony Owens into the fold around 1973, producing two non-starting singles for Listening Post and Buddah before “The Letter That Broke My Heart” b/w “Do What You Wanna Do” was recorded and leased to Island in 1976. That single, too, got no notice and was Owens’ last recording for 14 years, until he re-cut “Confessin’ A Feelin’” in 1990. As of the turn of the century, Tony Owens was working as a carriage driver, giving tours of the French Quarter and contemplating a comeback. Now, in New Orleans, making a comeback is on everybody’s mind.