Why do singers learn how to play the guitar?
"Because girls like guys who play the guitar," says Jake Owen, who learned early on because "I never thought I could sing."
Throughout much of his career, he admits, the guitar has been his wing man.
And now? Owen is guitar-less, "standing out there like a karaoke singer" because he flipped a go-kart over the Fourth of July weekend while racing NASCAR's Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Landing on his head, he required surgery on his right hand. It's in a sling now and will probably be out of commission for eight to 12 weeks.
"It's my dominant hand, so it's really awkward," Owen says. "Playing guitar is a big part of my show. It's how I started: On a bar stool by myself."
The accident, though, taught him a big lesson ("stick to what you know") and reminded him he's responsible for more than just his own well-being.
"My wife was a little scared and, now that we have a child, I'm lucky I didn't break my neck."
More cautious, Owen says he's glad success hasn't changed him -- that he still has that laid-back, "I'll try anything" attitude that made him a quick fan favorite.
After the baby was born, "a buddy told me I hadn't changed at all -- 'You're the same person you've always been' -- and I appreciated him saying that. I don't think there's an on or off switch now that I'm married."
Family responsibilities, though, have made the 31-year-old more inclusive.
"When I was 22 or 23, chasing a dream, I was pretty selfish and focused on my career," he says. "But now that I'm married and have a child, I worry about maintaining my career for them."
Wife Lacey and daughter Pearl often join him on the road and don't mind when Jake invites fans onto the bus to share a drink.
"They come out everywhere," he says proudly. "We built a bus to accommodate them."
And, yes, dad does change diapers. "She's my girl, too. I don't want this time to pass me by."
But don't expect Owen to hole up in a cabin and write the ultimate daddy/daughter song.
"That's not like me at all," he says. "I enjoy being around people. I don't like to hide behind sunglasses and tell my inner stories. I'm more of an open book."
That's fine for Eric Church -- who produced "Chief" through just such a process -- "but I like surrounding myself with people. I get inspiration from them. I like smiling. 'Digging deep inside' is what most artists' thought pattern is...and that's fine. But I'm making a record for my fans, not for me."
The next CD is expected by the end of the year, Owen says. Its first single, "Days of Gold," should be out in a month.
"It's probably going to be December before it's up on the charts and then we can get the album out."
In the same mode as his "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," it has a fun vibe, he says and, in places, it's "more experimental, more aggressive.
"It's tough out there," Owen says of the business. "There are a lot of guys on the radio, a lot of single male artists trying to get their place on the chart. But for that to happen, someone has to lose a spot."
To stay in the hunt, he says, "you've got to have great songs. I learned that from Kenny Chesney."
Guitar ability? That's now a bonus, particularly with his arm in a sling.
Jason Aldean, Owen's current touring partner, doesn't mind reviewers mentioning the opening act's dynamic stage presence. "He wants it to be the most entertaining, fun show possible. And that's what I want, too."
Even if it is with one arm out of commission.