As the sun set over the Denver skyline, a small group gathered at La Raza Park to pay tribute to Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, who passed away in Mexico yesterday while on tour. Though not a Denverite himself, Owens, who has played with the Mars Volta and was on tour with Jack White's band, spent plenty of time with Denver musicians. It showed in the faces of everyone circled in silence around the makeshift altar containing a photo and candles. At one point a sudden wind knocked over the picture of Owens, breaking the frame. Kayln Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp just laughed and said, "What's up, Ikey?"
Heffernan was just one of the Denver musicians Owens worked with. She and the group she fronts, Wheelchair Sports Camp came to know Owens through Rubedo, a band that has had all its albums produced by Owens. "We were just blown away," says Gregg Ziemba, drummer of Rubedo. "He's so vastly knowledgeable about music. He taught us how to put together a full album. We were writing songs, and he taught us how to make one statement."
Ziemba first met Owens six years ago, at the old Curtis Street Tavern. They hit it off right away. Over the years Ziemba helped set up shows for Owens when he was in town, and they were in constant contact. Just last week Owens sat in with Rubedo when they played his hometown of Long Beach, California. Ziemba says he remembers Owen's unmatched talent.
"I learned a lot from watching him," he says. "The way he attacks the keyboard. he added textures to everything. It didn't matter what key it was in or anything, whatever the song needed. His voice just screamed through the keyboard. It was an extension of him." Owens was more than happy to be a part of Rubedo and Wheelchair Sports Camp and others. "He helped out a ton of little bands around the world," Ziemba says. "In a time when not a lot of people are looking out for the little guys, he always was."
As beer and weed was passed around the silent circle of mourners and Owens' music played from a stereo, it was clear he touched lives in Denver. In fact, Mantic Conceptual, a Denver-based effects pedal producer, just released a pedal called "Isaiah" which was developed closely with Owens. Though he called Long Beach home, Owens presence in Denver will not be forgotten.
Ziemba learned plenty from Owens. But most of all, he remembers Owens telling him that, "the only thing that matters is if an artist is speaking the truth."
Kiernan Maletsky contributed to this story.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.