Aaron Fletcher Owens, a beloved Long Beach-bred guitarist and brother of late keyboardist and producer Ikey Owens has died. Over the weekend, The Weekly learned that Owens succumbed to congestive heart failure early Sunday morning after being admitted to a local hospital last Thursday. He was 38. The news was a devastating blow to the Long Beach music community, still morning the loss of Owens' brother Ikey, who died suddenly while on tour with Jack White in Mexico last October.
Aaron, the second of three brothers in the Owens family (including bassist/composer Brandon Eugene Owens), was a founding member of Pocket Lent alongside Ikey in the early '90s. He later joined Southern California ska/reggae outfit Hepcat as a credited player on their 1998 album Right On Time and full-blood member on 2000s Push n' Shove. Though he was often known as the quiet, more reserved of the three Owens brothers, Aaron's soulful style on the guitar gave him a loud voice in the Southern California ska and reggae scene, whenever he chose to use it.
Despite starting his musical education on the clarinet in fourth grade, by high school, Aaron was following his older brother Ikey through the music program at Long Beach Poly, picking up guitar. The two brothers formed Pocket Lent around the time of the '90s ska boom, infusing the flavors of funk, reggae and jazz into a mix that earned the band a cult like status in their hometown before splintering off into their own sonic ventures. For Aaron, that meant joining up with Hepcat right after high school, in addition to a stint in the post-Sublime outfit Long Beach Dub All Stars, which Ikey also played in.
But unlike his brothers who chose the lives of career musicians, Aaron found life on the road to be less-than-satisfying. After years of playing in bands, he broke away from music for a while to work with for father who owned an insurance business. When his father died, Aaron took it over and ran it successfully while playing on stage with his former bands periodically. And though Ikey often gets most of the credit for his acumen behind the ivories, he would often proudly admit that Aaron was equally if not more talented as a musician–stylish, furious and focused. About a month before his death, he'd recorded tracks with R&B singer Jud Nestor and ska/reggae big band Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra, who noted Owens' passing on Facebook.
With very heavy hearts we tell you that Fletcher Aaron Owens passed away earlier today. The traditional ska scene globally is hurting from this sad news. We would like to send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the Owens and Hepcat family. Rest In Peace brother Aaron.
Owens was admitted to a local hospital on Thursday after having an allergic reaction to his blood pressure medication, causing his body to swell up. Though he was given a diuretic to remedy the swelling, it was discovered that he had no potassium in his body and was immediately taken to the emergency room. Though he appeared to be in stable condition up until Friday night, the lack of potassium caused him to go into sudden cardiac arrest. Though doctors were able to revive him briefly, he died of congestive heart failure about 2 a.m. on Sunday morning.
As his younger brother, Eugene Owens says he got plenty of tough love from Aaron, but that he was fiercely loyal to his family and friends and taught him a lot about responsibility growing up. Whether he was jamming on stage with him or watching Aaron step up to give financial support the children of his deceased Hepcat bandmate, bassist Dave Fuentes, there was no question that under his reserved, tough exterior, Aaron had a huge heart.
"He was the person who always took care of everything," Brandon says. "He was selfless but would hold you accountable…I got my work ethic from both Ikey and Aaron, they touched so many people because of who they were and what they did with their lives."
Though he was quiet presence in the music scene toward the end of his short life, Brandon says his brother's fire for performing was always lit when he was on stage. "Any time I had a chance to see Aaron play it was always amazing, it was like he as in the zone and he was so happy and the shows he was able to play always meant a lot to him."
Last year, Aaron shared the stage with Ikey and the Long Beach Dub All-Stars in honor of Skunk Records' 25th anniversary celebration at the Observatory. He will be sorely missed.