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Robert Owens (1961 - )


Robert Owens (1961) is a vocalist best known for his work with the Chicago house group Fingers, Inc. in the mid-1980s. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Owens_%28musician%29

Fingers, Inc.

Fingers, Inc., also known as Fingers, was a Chicago house music group consisting of producer/arranger Larry Heard ("Mr. Fingers") and vocalists Robert Owens and Ron Wilson. The group is best known for a handful of pioneering deep house tracks released in the mid-1980s, including the singles "Mystery Of Love", "Can You Feel It", and "Bring Down The Walls", all of which have appeared on numerous house music compilation albums. Some Fingers, Inc. tracks appear on albums credited to Larry Heard or Mr. Fingers. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fingers,_Inc. [Jul 2005]


July 25th 1999: bought a Satoshi mix of Cevin Fisher, with Robert Owens on vocals.

[...] Two other house originals also teamed up in 1989 - Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens, who recorded 'Tears' with Japanese keyboardist Satoshi Tomiie. 'Tears' was a great record but mystifyingly, even in the year of house hits, it failed to make the charts [...]

[...] Larry Heard and Robert Owens, later to be known as Fingers Inc, [...] were all experimenting with basic rhythm tracks long before they made the jump to vinyl. [...]

  • Bring Down The Walls / Robert Owens (sg) Alleviated Records (ML-2203) - 1986, Trax Records (TX-132) - 1986.
  • I'm Strong / Robert Owens (sg) Alleviated Records (ML-2204) - 1987.
  • Tears, with Frankie Knuckles


    I think the essence of what I do lies in the belief that the human heart can change. It's just me expressing different emotions, emotions that go from happy to sad because that's human existence. My work is about being aware of all the different facets and feelings in life. Much of it is driven by pain, but that's just an emotion. I can't stand there and be like a pop star, because I need to be real - and a real person gives from their soul and won't let anyone taint that." - Robert Owens

    Ask any seasoned clubber who their favourite male vocalist is and nine times out of ten Robert Owens name will come back. Sure, there are other great male house vocalists out there, but with almost twenty years as a DJ, producer and vocalist under his belt, Robert has not so much embellished house music as played a large part in defining it. 'Mysteries of love', 'Tear down the walls', 'Tears', 'I'll be your friend' and 'Ordinary people' are just some of the tunes that have borne his black velvet voice and gone on to become truly classic records.

    Robert Owens was born in Ohio but grew up between Chicago and L.A., traveling back and forth between his mother and father. At an early age his mother encouraged Robert to attend church in L.A. - the place where he first learned to express himself. "I tried to stay in the background at first" recalls Robert, "then they tried to force me to come to the front and I broke down, I just couldn't sing. I was so overwhelmed by the thought of goodness and of Jesus at that time and was convinced that I was a 'wrong boy'…I just lost the courage. But that experience made me question why I was there in the first place, and after a while I started to realise that everything I was looking for to carry on was inside. I realised that as long as you're aware of the essence of people, that's enough to continue."

    Entry into the nascent world of house music came not through Robert's singing but via his skills as a DJ. While New York's early hip hop jocks were discovering how to mix and loop breaks from funk, soul and disco records, Robert was doing the same in Chicago, adding occasional European sounds like Talking Heads and the B-52s (not to mention spinning a few well chosen ballads), spinnin at Steppin parties (where all the men would do the trendy Steppin dance), block parties, recreational centres and even bashes held by street gangs like the Cripps and the Black Panthers - Robert became something of a personality.

    "Some of my brothers were in those gangs but as I was the youngest one there, I was protected by the older guys. They never tried to pull me into their lifestyle because they could see something different in me. I actually brought a lot of the gang members together through the music I was playing. I used to watch people who would usually do a lot of derogatory things come over to the booth and see their expressions change from real aggressive to…man, sometimes they would look like puppies! I realised then that music was the key to change people."

    Hungry for more, Robert trawled the clubs of Chicago looking for spots at pubs, college universities and legendary Chicago venues like the Warehouse and the Music Box. DJs such as Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles were by that time designing house music's blueprint right there on the dance floors by mixing up disco with European music but adding their own drum machine sounds and special effects. A long run of rejections - including getting asked if he had any degree certificates! - made Robert more determined to succeed.

    A chance meeting with producer Harri Dennis landed him in a studio with Harri and Chip E, who wanted his advice on a record they had made. Robert ended up putting a vocal hook on the record for them and before he knew it, 'Donny' was getting remixed by Ron Hardy and played to death all over town! Incredibly, in the same week Robert ended up in another studio - this time with Larry Heard (AKA Mr Fingers), another producer friend of his also wanting Robert's opinion. The pair bonded and Robert laid down the vocals for his second hit, 'Mysteries of Love'.

    "Larry and I just completely gelled" remarks Robert. "The whole vibe of the music was drawing me in more and more and when we got in the studio and worked, it was like it was meant to be, just a natural thing. The crazy thing was Larry just kept writing and writing. Sometimes he would change stuff up so fast that I remember getting my tape recorder from my house to record some of it before it was lost forever. I still have music now that he probably forgot he ever made! He was a true genius and I was very privileged to work with him."

    The pair named themselves Fingers Inc., signed to Trax UK (the English version of Larry Sherman's Chicago Trax) and became one of the first ever bands to tour the UK alongside Adonis, Marshall Jefferson and Kevin Irving. Tracks like 'Bring down the walls', 'Can you feel it', 'I'm strong', 'Never no more lonely' and 'All over' exemplify the magic that flowed between this pair of positive spiritual forces. It also led to one of house music's first LPs in 1988 - Fingers Inc's superlative 'Another Side'.

    A couple of years of constant touring and hard work in the studio left Robert exhausted and he eventually left Fingers Inc to concentrate on other projects. Meanwhile, over in Japan, classically trained keyboard maestro Satoshi Tomiie had bugged out over 'Another Side' and was hassling his Def Mix partners Frankie Knuckles (now back in New York) and David Morales about working with Robert. "I kept hearing that Frankie was looking for me" remembers Robert. "One day he came to Chicago to play and I got the word that he wanted me to go see him. I got to the club and he played me a track that he and Satoshi had worked on. I went home, wrote some lyrics and presented them to him. Two days later I was flying into New York."

    That tune, so casually constructed, was to become one of clubland's most emotive and defining moments - the sublime 'Tears'. The record landed the Def Mix team a deal with Fourth & Broadway and the second major stage of Robert's career began. During this time he recorded many underground classics. After 'Tears' came 'Changes', 'Visions' and in 1991, a track that in many ways seems the perfect counterpart to 'Tears' and which, by getting to number one all over the world, gave Robert the overground success he so obviously deserved - the dark and brooding 'I'll be your friend'. These tracks featured on Robert's second LP, 1990's 'Rhythm In Me' (4th & Broadway).

    "Being involved in the whole New York thing at that time did the world of good for all of us" says Robert. "There was a whole team of people developing music all of a sudden, whereas in Chicago there had been only a few scattered individuals. The experience of working with proper musicians like Eric Kupper and amazing vocalists like Jocelyn Brown and Connie Harvey was really inspirational".

    Robert left Def Mix in 1991, staying on in New York for a while to run his Visions club (located opposite the Sound Factory and a hang out for the likes of Barbara Tucker and Spike Lee among others). In 1993 he relocated to England and joined the Freetown label's A & R department with a mission to develop artists and set up an eleven piece live band. The experience didn't work out. Robert quit and started his own imprint Musical Directions, through which he put out solo productions like 'After the rain', 'All night long', 'My heart is your home' and monster club hits 'Ordinary people' and 'Was I here before' (A collaboration with old friends Chip E and Farley Jackmaster Funk). In 1997 he delivered 'The Journey', an LP which - true to Robert's constantly fresh and 'nomadic' approach - highlighted new musical routes.

    "'The Journey' was my attempt to go towards a more live feel" explains Robert. "To fuse house music with real instrumentation, which had been my dream since the Freetown days. I also wanted to reach my musical routes with a gospel feel, though to my mind we never got that element quite right. Hopefully though, even though it's not perfect, people can see what I was trying to get at."

    "In a strange way, I feel more ready to give myself than ever before" asserts Robert. "At various times in the past I've felt restricted in some way, as if I've just been trying to please other people sometimes. But now I'm ready to just give myself up completely, to communicate directly with all the people who have supported me over the years and kept me going…my new material is about spreading out, communicating…it's more universal."

    So there you have it. From the gritty but sublime Trax of yesteryear to the forward looking experiments of tomorrow, this man is one of dance music's true legends, a man who has his roots in the future and his feet planted firmly on the earth - and a man who has never been afraid of sharing himself with others.

    Welcome to Robert Owens…the voice of house music.

    (Paul Sullivan)


    1. Love Will Find Its Way: The Best of Robert Owens (2002) - Robert Owens [1 CD, Amazon US]
      Disc: 1 1. River 2. Tell Me [Live Mix] 3. Teardrops 4. Tears 5. Changes 6. Visions 7. Love Will Find Its Way 8. Thing Called Love 9. In Love Forever 10. Can You Feel It 11. Bring Down the Walls 12. Never No More Lonely 13. Mine to Give [David Morales Happy Mix] Disc: 2 1. All Over 2. I'm Strong 3. Picking Up the Pieces 4. Darkman 5. You'll Never Know 6. After the Rain 7. All Night Long 8. Ordinary People [Roach in the Bassbin Mix] 9. I'll Be Your Friend [Original Def Mix] 10. Was I Here Before [The Farley Sound Mix] 11. My Heart Is Your Home [Live] 12. Best Friend
      'love Will Find Its Way' is the Essential Collection of Robert Owens. Spanning Two Decades, it Defines the Different Periods and Styles from 86's Seminal 'bring Down the Walls' Right Up to his 2001 Collaboration with Photek on the David Morales Mix of 'mine to Give'. This Album is the Quintessential Robert, Raw and Uncut!

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