Ask any seasoned clubber who their favorite 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., travelling back and forth between his mother and father.

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.

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.”

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 4th & 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, 1990s Rhythm In Me, released on 4th & Broadway.

Robert left Def Mix in 1991 and in 1993 he relocated to England and joined the Freetown label’s A&R department. 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."


Uploaded by ROBERT OWENS
Robert Owens by Westbury Music



Title: Robert Owens - Rhythms In Me
Label: 4th & Broadway (US)
Release date: 1990


Title: Robert Owens - Bring Down The Walls
Label: Trax Records

Title: Robert Owens - I`ll Be Your Friend
Label: House Party

Title: Robert Owens - So Into You
Label: Versaille Records

Title: Robert Owens - Love Will Find Its Way (The Best Of)
Label: Unisex
Release date: 2002

Title: Robert Owens - Never Too Late (Mr G Mixes)
Label: Essence Records
Release date: 2002

Title: Robert Owens - Things That Make You Feel Good
Label: Amato International
Release date: 2002

Title: Robert Owens - Never Too Late
Label: Stellar Records
Release date: 2001

Title: Robert Owens - I Will Be Your Friend
Label: Perfecto
Release date: 1997

Title: Robert Owens - Love Will Find Its Way
Label: Musical Directions
Release date: 1997

Title: Robert Owens - Ordinary People
Label: Musical Directions
Release date: 1996


Title: Robert Owens - The Statement
Label: Musical Directions
Release date: 1994