“Summer Nights” from the movie Grease is a catchy, carefree pop hit about summer lovin’.
Not in Judith Owen’s reimagining of the song, however.
On her album redisCOVERed, Owen turns “Summer Nights” into a jazz-infused, torch-song heartbreaker.
“It’s an extreme turn-around on the song,” said singer-songwriter-pianist Owen, who is scheduled to perform tunes from the album on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Bogie’s in Westlake Village.
“Summer Nights,” Owen said, reminded her of locked-away pain from the past.
“Someone I loved had an affair and asked me to forgive him,” she said. “But even if you forgive, you can’t forget. The ‘Tell me more’ line hit me — that feeling you’ve been let down and can’t stop thinking about it.”
She approached every tune on redisCOVERed, her twelfth album, in a similar way. “I don’t want to play these songs exactly as written,” Owen said. “I do the version I hear in my head, adding new meaning to the lyrics.”
Owen said she also aimed to avoid a trip down musical nostalgia lane. “I wanted Justin Timberlake and Ed Sheeran as well, not just old songs,” she said.
So the album — her first featuring all covers — includes Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” along with tunes by Deep Purple, Donna Summer, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and more. In many ways, the selections reflect Owen’s musical interests, influenced in part by the eclectic sounds she heard growing up: a mix of pop, rock, jazz, R&B, classical and gospel.
The Welsh singer, born in London, has been playing piano since age 4. Her father was Welsh opera singer Handel Owen. She taught herself to play piano by ear.
“My family thought I would be a concert pianist, but I have musical dyslexia and can’t see symbols well,” she said. “I heard music in my head, and wanted to be a singer-songwriter.”
She began her musical career in London, playing endless piano sets in bars. That’s where she met her husband, actor-comedian-satirist Harry Shearer — whose credits include This Is Spinal Tap and numerous voices on The Simpsons — in the 1990s.
Shearer came into the bar and applauded her performance.
“I felt like I’d known him a long time,” she said. “I think it was because we prized the same things in life: music and laughter. Because a lot of what I do is about making the audience laugh. It can’t be that emotionally intense or we’ll all just die.”
One of Owen’s career highlights was playing herself on The Simpsons, portraying a lounge singer in 2001.
“It’s amazing to see yourself as a giant, yellow-faced, large-nosed person,” Owen said.
Owen and Shearer have a home in Santa Monica, and she has played often at Los Angeles venues, but the Nov. 20 show will be her first show at Bogie’s. The setlist will mainly consist of songs from redisCOVERed, but Owen will include some of the originals she’s known for as well.
“Honestly, my own songs fit in so easily,” she said. “It’s very confessional.”
She shared why she chose to cover “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, whose lead singer, Chris Cornell, killed himself in 2017.
The song, she said, “encapsulates in music what depression feels like.”
Owen, who has suffered from depression herself, said she wanted to cover it as a jaunty, jazzy “off-kilter” version to portray “smiling depression” — the distracting face people put on to hide “the hell they’re going through inside. That’s my life experience of the illness: trying to make people think I was happy.”
Owen cannot emphasize enough how much music helped her overcome depression.
“Music has saved my life over and over and over again, forever,” she said. “Whenever you create something, and put your voice out there, it’s a very healing thing.
Playing for an audience, she said, is a two-way healing experience: “My job as a musician is to give the audience permission to feel.”
In light of the shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, and the fires that have ravaged Ventura and Los Angeles counties, a little musical healing is exactly what this community needs right now.
Judith Owen performs on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Bogie’s at the Westlake Village Inn, 32001 Agoura Road, Westlake Village. For tickets and more information, call 818-889-2394 or visit www.bogies-bar.com.