Unfortunately, the music world suffered a great loss with the unexpected death of keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens earlier this week. Like many fans, I first heard of Ikey when the formation of The Mars Volta was announced. Back then, once we consoled ourselves after the disintegration of At the Drive-In, we eagerly looked forward to the next project of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Once it was revealed that they were adding a keyboard player in to that mix, as well as bringing in ringers like Flea and John Frusciante, we were intrigued as to what the final product would be.
Ikey often brought a subtle presence to the songs, with his contributions often difficult to distinguish at first due to the bombastic nature of many of the guitar arrangements. But careful listens that many of the melodies and textures were Ikey’s, and his keyboard playing was an integral part of the overall Mars Volta sound. And even from behind his rows of keyboards and organs, Ikey was an engaging stage presence who would always grab your attention; for instance, when I think of the “Inertiatic ESP” video, it’s his headbobs and glissandos that I remember first.
After working with The Mars Volta for years, he eventually joined up with Jack White in his “Buzzards” all-star backing band, and anyone who has had the fortune of seeing Jack’s solo shows these past few years knows just how special that lineup is. It was while on tour in Mexico with Jack White that Ikey’s unfortunate death occurred, and out of respect for him that the rest of White’s tour dates in the country have been cancelled.
Of course, considering the great talent of Ikey, other groups were eager to hire him as a guest musician. A quick glance at his guest appearances on Wikipedia indicate that artists from a wide variety of genres respected his skills, including El-P, Saul Williams, and Mastodon. Truly, the world lost a great musician.