With more than twenty years as a gifted singer, songwriter, producer and DJ under his belt, Robert has not so much embellished house music as he has defined it.
Tears, I’ll Be Your Friend and Ordinary People are just some of the tunes that have borne Robert Owens’ black velvet voice and gone on to become truly classic dance records. Like many other great vocalists, Robert Owens began his career singing in church gospel choirs. Growing up in the less affluent areas of Chicago and L.A., he used music as an escape from his destitute surroundings. Entry into the nascent world of 80s house music came not through Robert’s singing, but rather through his skills as a DJ. By the time people like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles were designing house music’s blueprint on the dance floors of legendary venues like the Warehouse and the Music Box, Robert was DJ-ing at block parties and smaller clubs in Chicago.
In 1985 Robert met pioneering Chicago producer Larry Heard, who invited him into his studio. Together they formed Fingers Inc with Ron Wilson and released a series of excellent singles such as Mysteries Of Love or the instantly recognizable house standard Can You Feel It. This cooperation culminated in one of house music’s first full-length albums, 1988s Another Side, after which the group amicably disbanded to follow their individual solo careers.
Following the call of Frankie Knuckles, Robert went to New York in 1989 to record a track with the Def Mix posse – consisting of David Morales, Satoshi Tomiie and Frankie himself. This tune, so casually constructed, was to become one of club lands most emotive and defining moments: the sublime Tears. This ode to the hardships and struggles he endured to get to the top was the ignition of Roberts’ successful solo career. Signing with 4th & Broadway in 1990 he showcased his beautiful church-honed vocals and heartfelt lyrical style on the album Rhythms In Me, completely produced by the Def Mix crew. His 1991 single I’ll Be Your Friend finally gave Robert the commercial success he so obviously deserved, climbing the charts to #1 all over the world!
Leaving New York behind, Robert relocated to London in 1993 where he founded his own label imprint, Musical Directions, and started assembling his own studio. He continued composing and singing on a series of dance classics such as Love Will Find Its Way and Ordinary People and collaborated with a remarkable list of influential artists like Sandy Rivera and Photek (on his smash hit Mine to Give), and more recently with Ron Trent and Coldcut on the stunning Walk A Mile In My Shoes single.
Robert also stayed true to his records spinning club roots. As an innovative and globally in-demand DJ, he is still dazzling crowds across the UK, Europe, Japan and America with his special blend of the deepest house and electronica. He also established two successful London club residencies – Journeys at The Egg and 2 Feet Deep at The Key.
The next chapter in the Robert Owens tale is his brilliant 2008 album Night-Time Stories. Robert’s latest musical offering is an incredibly cohesive collection of collaborations with some of contemporary house music’s biggest and most respected names. Producers like Jimpster, Atjazz, Marc Romboy, Kid Massive, Kirk Degiorgio and Ian Pooley all demonstrated their talents, which combined with Robert’s famous voice, made this one of the most exciting and anticipated dance records of 2008! The first single Merging (produced by Dutch duo TJ Kong and Nuno Dos Santos) received massive support from key players like Osunlade, Frank Roger, Fred Everything, Marcus Worgul, King Britt … This overwhelming response is heralded a shift in the state of the art. People are getting weary of minimalistic tracks – they want some vocals back in – and they want some soul back in!
His most recent releases include the Art Remixes EP 1 on Compost Records and the incredible single Celebration featuring TJ Kong and Russ Gabriel, released on Large Records.
You are sure to get the full load of soul when Robert is performing with his Live Band. To fuse house music with real instrumentation has been a dream of Roberts for a long time. His album Journeys which was released in Japan only in 1997 already highlighted this new musical route. Together with his band – which features Dan Berkson (Poker Flat) on keys and a guitarist and percussionist – he performs what is essentially live house with a jazz flavour. The track list is a mix of Robert’s classics and new album material. To many people the amazing show was the highlight of Big Chill Festival.
So there you have it. From the gritty but sublime Trax of yesteryear to the forward-looking projects of today, Robert Owens 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. In the wise words of ID Magazine, “If God could sing, he would sound like Robert Owens.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!