(This article originally appeared in the November, 2005 issue of the
San Diego Troubadourwww.sandiegotroubadour.com)
Bowen Eases On Down The Road
By Simeon Flick
Aaron Bowen is a lot more
relaxed these days…his right thumb still gives him an occasional
fit, but he can still pluck a mean acoustic guitar. He’s always
thought of his instrumental prowess as his ace in the hole, the one thing
about him that couldn’t be subjectively disputed. But now it no
longer seems so pressing to be an aspiring king of the guitar-shredding
heap. He wants to learn other instruments, like cello and tenor banjo
because he’s bored with guitar and needs more options in the studio.
He wants to continue recording and begin producing other artists at Ouidja,
his home studio. He wants to meet and play with artists like Paul Simon
and James Taylor that will raise the bar and inspire him to improve, although
he freely contradicts this impulse by self-deprecatingly stating he’ll
never be as good as either of them. He wants to keep writing music he
can live with (he cringes progressively less when he hears it on the stereo
now), music rich with melody, like the stuff that galvanized him as a
child. He just wants to write a good song (although he says he never will),
and he is learning to ease up and enjoy the journey on down the road.
One would hardly guess, after hearing his debut solo album“A Night
At Sea” that this decidedly old-school dude hails from the Chula
Vista area of San Diego. Bowen and his CD recall erstwhile ways and means,
and he possesses the kind of aura that those of the south would call “character,”
but might be labeled “eccentricity” by the sun-baked So-Cal
pundits. For better or worse, he’ll tell you what he really thinks
about whatever it is you do, especially if he likes it (he’ll only
tell you the rest if asked, and then with no sugarcoating, so be careful!).
And he has a penchant for wearing old-fashioned hats and button-down shirts.
Two important things happened during Bowen’s formative years: his
mom played favorites with his older brother, which inspired him to take
up music (guitar was his first love at age five, with the violin following
later), and he discovered The Wizard of Oz, which catalyzed his lifelong
infatuation with the sophisticatedly simple, melodic music of the 30’s
Bowen was dually impoverished growing up, since his family was financially
bereft and said older brother got the lion’s share of the praise
and attention. This lit a motivational fire under young Aaron to become
the undeniable, quintessential best at something, ANYTHING that would
get him the parental accolades and validation that his brother received
so naturally. The guitar fit his reclusive bent to a tee; he would sometimes
spend eight or more hours at a stretch sequestered in antisocial seclusion
with his inner eye firmly fixed on the goal of becoming the hottest guitar
player there ever was. He began to see the guitar as a way out of the
myriad destitutions that plagued him, and he would later pursue this aim
Something about the strong melodies in The Wizard of Oz captivated him
instantly. He remembers watching the fantastical musical adaptation starring
Judy Garland on TV while still in single digits, and he began recording
other similar bits straight off the television so he could play them back
and revel in the way the warm, memorable melodies lifted his spirits.
Perhaps the very idea behind the story–quitting the mundane world
for a vividly wild, enthralling, singsong realm–provided a vicarious
escape from his own quandaries…it undoubtedly helped strengthen
his emotional connection to the music.
By adolescence, the flame of Bowen’s ambition had all but engulfed
his affinity for the old-time music he had grown to love as a child. He
had long since forgotten Harold Arlen and Yiap Harberg, the brilliant
composers behind the music of The Wizard of Oz, and had turned his attention
towards the frenetic, seemingly lucrative world of scales and arpeggios
of guitar heroes like Steve Vai, and Frank Gambale, with whom he actually
studied. The Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) beckoned him north to
LA, where, at age seventeen, he was essentially on his own.
The ambitious tack seemed to be working for a while…Bowen was able
to get a fair amount of studio work, and toured extensively as a sub.
He even had an endorsement with a popular guitar company, Ibanez, which
is a dream come true for any aspiring guitarist.
But once again, two important things happened.
Bowen began to feel disenchanted with the highly technical, practically
aimless music he had been playing. He began to long for a more meaningful
application of virtuosity. So it was that in his early twenties he discovered
the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. It was virtuosic to be sure, but it
seemed to have more of a point in that it was actually melodic. He began
to rediscover other acts from the same time period, like the Mills brothers,
who delighted him to no end with their vocal simulation of harmonized
It was right around this time that Bowen injured his right hand.
As we all know, it’s hard to get music to pay. Bowen had managed
to serendipitously transform a sideline interest in cars into a full-blown,
booming business. His specialty was custom technical modifications on
high-end cars, and it involved a lot of detailed work with heavy industrial
machinery. The job kept him a little too busy, and he literally became
suicidal from the drudgery of the concomitant manual labor. He also lamented
his separation from music and longed for the ceaseless grind to end.
Seen in that light, the accident was a mixed blessing. The drill press
bored a hole through the webbing between the thumb and forefinger on his
right hand, severing the tendons. Those tendons aren’t necessarily
crucial to a mechanic, so the doctor intended to leave them unattached
until Aaron spoke up (“I NEED to be able to play guitar,”
he said). It took a long time to rehabilitate his hand, and it proved
to be further motivation to change the direction in which his life and
music were headed.
Bowen bowed out and sold the business soon after the accident in 1999,
and then returned to San Diego. The nest egg generated from the sale of
the company afforded him some time off to recuperate and regroup, wherein
he began the exploratory process that helped shape his current musical
About three years ago the first song came, which was initially scoffed
at by a few old friends who could only accept Aaron for the guitar hero
he was trying to distance himself from. There was no shredding in these
songs he was now writing on–gasp–ACOUSTIC GUITAR, just front-porch
fingerpicking (which went easier on his right hand) and melodic vocalizations.
There was no going back musically or vocationally; he realized he was
no longer cut out for anything other than a life of music, and that his
music must make him happy first and foremost, not necessarily famous (although
he’s open to whatever happens from here). Bowen had begun to move
on into his current musical personae.
These days, Aaron Bowen is a paradoxical mixture of contentment and ambition.
He’s happier with his life and his art, but he’s still anxious
to improve and evolve and innovate. He’s already in pre-production
for his next record, which is going to be slightly more esoteric musically
than the first, and will boast an expanded array of instrumentation (including
the aforementioned cello, banjo, and even glockenspiel). The ambition
and competitive spirit are still there, but now they serve to fulfill
his own happiness on the yellow brick road to creation.