Chuck Owston began his life in music when he learned to play the Crickets' "Oh Boy" on the guitar in 1959. But he did not really take the musical path seriously until an incident that happened in August of that year. After hearing a local group called the Galaxies play at a record hop, he decided that he wanted to be a musician. Chuck went home and promptly learned the two standout songs from that show, "Bo Diddley" and "Rumble." Getting together with a drummer in early 1960, he formed his first group, the El Caminos, which later evolved into the Tempests. That band, passing through the various incarnations, lasted till the fall of 1963. Even though they played during the heyday of the twist, they were influenced by early Rock & Roll and Rockabilly, as well as the various instrumental groups of the day. Another big influence was the work of Buddy Holly. Both Chuck and lead guitarist Bob Ladd were Holly fanatics.

Chuck also got an education in down home blues by listening to WLAC in Nashville at night, hearing many of the Chess and Excello artists featured on that station. While Chuck was in Kentucky during the school year, attending Kentucky Christian College (where he graduated in 1965 and received a graduate degree in 1967), he was exposed to traditional folk music and raw Appalachian Rockabilly. This latter music was still very much in Vogue at the time. The local radio station, WGOH, had an extensive library of such recordings, and it was a constant source of discovery. It was also at WGOH that Chuck recorded his first Rockabilly demos, recorded under the pseudonym of Raven Malone. Though some of these tracks have been lost, a few still exist.

In 1965 Chuck was ordained to the Christian ministry, and he has served in churches both in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. He is currently pastor of the Bryn Mawr Church of Christ in McKeesport, PA. Jokingly he is often referred to as the "Rockabilly Reverend." Music was still a large part of chuck's life, performing Gospel, Blues, and Folk music at concerts, festivals and various functions, from the early 60's to the present. In 1979, after years of solo performing, Chuck returned again to his Rockabilly roots and put together a band called Memphis Leather, with guitarist/harmonica player Dennis Harris and drummer Mike Kolesar. This band lasted about 6 months. Partway through, Mike dropped out because of other commitments, and was replaced by Greg Eide on drums. Don Waller on bass was added not long after.

It was this band that brought Chuck to the attention of Ray Bishop of Bishop Records. As Chuck Owston & The Rockin' Orchids, Chuck and Mike Kolesar recorded the first two sides, interpretations of Gene Vincent's "Be Bop A Lula" and Elvis' "Baby Let's Play House." Several months later, Chuck, now with Greg Eide on drums, recorded two originals, "Rattlesnake Woman" and "Rockin' At The Midnight Grill." Three of these four sides later surfaced on a swedish compilation LP called "All American Rock: 50's style." This came out on the Jan Label (33-8017) in the mid-80's.

Chuck has released several rockabilly cassettes - "Rockabilly, Boogie and Blues" (by Raven Malone) Nite Owl 302, and "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Memphis Leather, Nite Owl 301. The latter was a collection of Lo-Fi live recordings from 1979. After numerous blues cassettes (solo acoustic performances) and tapes in the Medieval/Celtic style (as Owl-Stone the Minstrel), Chuck has returned once again to his Rockabilly roots with several new cassettes of material. "Sunglasses After Dark" features recordings from 1990 with Mike Kolesar on drums and Jim Bird on stand-up and dobro bass. Two new songs were recorded this year, "Rockabilly Hell" and "Wailin". A live tape is also slated for release in the summer, "Rockin' The Rustbelt," as is a collection featuring both live and studio rarities (including one song from 1962) called "Old Tracks."

Chuck Owston has recently been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. You can view his page at: Chuck is also slated for inclusion in the 1998 edition of "Who's Who: Professionals and Executives", which makes mention of his Rockabilly Hall induction. Plans are in the works for Chuck's new group, Raven & The Sleepwalkers, to appear on Rusted Records compilation CD, called "Pittsburgh Rockabilly." The Sleepwalkers are Mike Kolesar, drums, Jim Bird, stand-up bass, and Garron Sarvas, harmonica. The cover photo for the compilation CD will feature a picture of Chuck and the Tempests photographed in 1962. Chuck is also at work on a video project called "Way Out", which traces his Rockabilly roots back to the 50's. It will contain vintage photos and live performances. Raven & The Sleepwalkers will perform at Rosebud, Smallman St. in Pittsburgh on April 15, 1998. There Chuck's induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame will be recognized.

Charles E. Owston has been playing and singing American roots music in a variety of forms for over thirty years. In the early 60's he did field research in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, studying our folk heritage from those who were keeping the folk tradition alive. His graduate thesis was a result of these studies.

In his program, accompanied by guitar, harmonica, slide steel guitar and mandolin, he takes the audience on an educational journey to the very origins of today's popular sounds. The music runs the gamut of styles, including ballads, work songs, tall tales, blues, spirituals, rag-time, railroad tunes and mountain music.

Not only do we learn the history behind such songs as "John Henry", "Muleskinner Blues", "The Wreck of the old 97", "The Midnight Special", and "This Land Is Your Land". Charles Owston also introduces us to the great singers of years gone by; Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Jimmie Rodgers. There is audience participation with humorous tunes like the "Bullfrog Blues, and the (fill in the blank with the name of your school, group, or town) Boogie, a song adaptable to the local area.

Charles Owston has performed for schools (elementary through high school), colleges, universities, women's clubs, coffeehouses, arts and folk festivals, church groups, civic organizations and correctional facilities. He has played his music in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Charles Owston is available for a variety of programs of American Roots Music. Contact him at 412/754-1158.


CHUCK OWSTON with the Rockin' Orchids
  • #1003 - "Be Bop A Lula" b/w "Baby Let's Play House"
  • #1010 - "Rattlesnake Woman" b/w "Rockin' at the Midnight Grill"

    ALSO VISIT: -Chuck's UK website.

    E-mail Chuck

  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame TM