Jack Bowers has had an impressive career so far. The local musician first entered the scene in the 1970s with electric folk-rock band Oganookie. “We used to play at the old Catalyst, where Bookshop Santa Cruz is now, every Saturday night,” Bowers recalls. Back then, there were far fewer bands in the area, so steady gigs and a loyal following weren’t hard to find. “Our band lived up on a commune up in Brookdale in the San Lorenzo Valley,” he says. “We used to gig with Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody—we knew how to have fun.”
A versatile artist, Bowers went on to play with country singer Lacy J. Dalton. But his passion for music led him on an unlikely career path in 1980, when he visited Soledad Prison to teach a songwriting workshop. That life-changing experience motivated Bowers to work with prisoners in the state’s Arts in Corrections program for the next 25 years. “There were like 20 bands in our program,” he says of the early days. “Guys playing guitar, murals being painted, guitars being built—it was a really fertile art program.” Bowers relates the experience working in the prison to the old days living in the commune. “Commonality and being able to support each other was important,” he says. “And ultimately, that was the lesson learned from living communally.” His concert at Kuumbwa Jazz on Thursday will serve as a walk down memory lane for both Bowers and fans. “The show will have some songs from the ’70s, there will be a presentation about the work I did in the prison, and then a collection of all the songs I’ve written since I got back into the scene—featuring some jazz instrumentals and also some vocals,” he says.
INFO: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 20. Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. $15/adv, $20/door. 427-2227.