When Carla Olson was a young girl growing up in Austin, Texas her musical role models were Mary Travers and Jackie DeShannon. It's not hard to imagine why. With her rich vocal talent, long blond-hair and the music of the golden era of folk, rock, and country breezing through the Texas airwaves there would be little else to captivate her. But, her own musical vision would not be complete until she heard the folk-rock of The Byrds and the blues-rock of The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. It was then she went electric. Her life would never be the same. It would lead to legendary associations with Byrds, Gene Clark and John York, The Rolling Stones' lead guitarist, Mick Taylor, some of the greatest R&B legends alive and even brushes with Bob Dylan.
As a founding member of her own band L.A. based The Textones in the early 80's, Olson has made her own innovative mark on the American music scene of the past. With critically acclaimed solo projects and a classic album with Gene Clark So Rebellious a Lover, and a pair of ragged and rocking collaborations with Mick Taylor, she created a legacy that is unparalleled for any woman in rock and roll. While her Austin friend Kathy Valentine went the pop route with The Go-Gos, Olson stayed true to the roots of rock and roll and today has the staying power found with timeless music and legendary collaborations. Not as well known is the fact that Olson has also made a considerable mark in the studio in recent years as a producer. With the April release of her new album of duets simply titled, Have Harmony, Will Travel, she returns to a solo career with her band of gypsies, artists and famous friends ready for another Gypsy Ride.
Carla Olson's career began after a childhood of absorbing the music of the mid to late 60's. Austin, Texas, at the time, was not the music mecca we know it to be today. In a recent interview she laughed and said, "These were the pre-Outlaw days! Poor Willie was constantly at the airport. My aunt worked at Trans-Texas and she'd seem him going back and forth between Texas and Nashville. He had real short-hair with side-walls and a suit and tie." She laughed. From her description, Austin and Texas in general was not a safe place for those of the hippie persuasion. "There was a redneck against the hippie mentality. In 1968, with my second band, somebody threw a knife on stage. You had to carry around a coke bottle to protect yourself!" She said.
But, as history would have it, Olson's time in Austin would change her fortunes and musical destiny as the Outlaw Movement slowly picked up steam in the early 70's with the help of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. "When Willie came out withRedheaded Stranger," the hippies and the cowboys found a common bond. Then, it was cool to be country. Hippies were okay as long as Willie like them. That was about the time when Armadillo World Headquarters happened." With the founding of the famous venue came a watershed period in Texas for the integration of psychedelic rock, country, folk and blues. As Carla Olson's talent continued to grow as a songwriter, singer and an electric lead guitarist, she also held fast to her earliest love for the pure country music her parents once danced to during her childhood. It all would come together over the course of a music career that would be the embodiment of what today is called, "Americana."
As Olson said, once she heard The Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, she put away her acoustic and picked up an electricguitar. In the 60's, as is the case still now, electric guitar playing was generally thought to be a male specific instrument. Nobody told Olson. Her electric lead playing became something that would follow her and move her toward blues-rock with influence from Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. From the Yardbirds she followed along naturally to John Mayall and the Blues Breakers. The Blues Breakers' album with Eric Clapton proved to be a life-changing influence on her. Like many other musicians of the time, it would be the gold standard for the kind of guitar sound and earthy blues she loved and would replicate throughout her career.
So, in 1977, after a run in Austin with their band, The Violators, her friend, future Go Go, Kathy Valentine, sent a coin in the air to decide to travel to Los Angeles or New York City, the pair headed west to seek their musical fortune and to work on a mix of music that would create a stir on the west coast music scene. The rest is L.A. and alt-country history as Olson formed The Textones recording two albums that would make a lasting mark as pioneer in bringing a punk sensibility to folk, country and rock. A songwriter's coup led to a rare original 1984 recording of Dylan's song, "Clean Cut Kid," from his yet-to-be releasedEmpire Burlesque.
The debut Textones album along with live performances in L.A. raised Olson's profile in the music industry. She was poised to move toward a legacy that would shaped by her diverse musical past from early honky-tonk country and American folk music to a full embrace of blues-rock.
Following the brief two-album run of The Textones, Olson met and recorded the now-classic,So Rebellious a Loverwith former-Byrd, Gene Clark.
The album is a key release in Americana music movement that early on signaled a shift for many artists toward lyric-driven, melodic acoustic music with clear, untarnished stripped down instrumentation and vocals. It is a stirring album of originals and covers that haunts,engages and leaves the listener returning to hear its elegant beauty. As the duo was preparing to follow-up with a second album, Gene Clark, unfortunately and tragically, passed away.
As it often happens when a gypsy rider chases her passion, roads and avenues open up that never would have been dreamed of let alone planned. This happened when Olson was cast to pantomime playing former-Rolling Stone, Mick Taylor's lead guitar part on Bob Dylan's first music video, "Sweetheart Like You."
The prestige and notability of appearing in the video was minor compared to the relationship she would form with The Rolling Stone's other Mick over the years. The quiet Stone slowly began to trust his friendship with Olson enough to record a live album at L.A.'s Roxy, Too Hot For Snakes, in 1991 and Ring of Truth, a fine blues-soaked studio album. Both demonstrated a remarkable musical chemistry with ragged and raw jams, Textones classics like "Midnight Mission" and Taylor's own Stones contributions, "Silver Train," and "Sway." These two albums are overlooked classics that beg for the light of day and recognition. They are both enough to make any Americana or Stones fan sit up and take notice. Olson's vocals rock with unusual soul and she sings blues with rare distinction while Taylor's vocal and guitar work remind the listener of the 'world's greatest rock and roll band's' golden era and who contributed so much to the epic nature of their sound. The music they made two decades ago, like Carla Olson's entire career, is the stuff that the term, "Americana music" is made of and stand on their own in the scheme of rock & roll history.
After several years producing albums for artists like Manfred Mann's Paul Jones,Phil Upchurch, Joe Louis Walker and Ana Gazzola Olson returns to the spotlight with Have Harmony, Will Travel.The album is produced by Olson with a strong orientation of tribute toward her singer-songwriter past including friends and peers like Peter Case, Juice Newton, John York,Scott Kempner of The Del Lords, Barry Goldberg, Richie Furay and Rob Waller of I See Hawks in L.A. From the opening track featuring Juice Newton Radney
Foster's "You Can Come Cryin' To Me, " everyone's in it for the fun and good time of it. It's a kind of cosmic Americana party. The album is immediately accessible and contemporary with nods and production tributes to The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Buddy, Holly, Springsteen and Gene Clark. Olson shows a rare generosity for her duet partners allowing them to take the spotlight on songs like the tinged Del Shannon song, "Keep Searchin'," with Plimsoul's Peter Case Richie Furay and Olson demonstrate their mutual love for Gene Clark on the gorgeous, "She Don't Care About Time". With John York's 12-String Byrds influenced solo and RichardPodolor's beautiful mandolin part, it's hard not to imagine Clark smiling somewhere higher than the eights miles high he once sang about. James Intveld and Olson's vocal and arrangement on the rarely heard Buddy Holly tune, "Love's Made A Fool of You," reimagines the vocal through the tight harmony influence of The Everly Brothers. Her country leanings are highlighted on the Don Williams classic "Till the Rivers All Run Dry," with Rob Waller lending his natural country voice. The Del Lords' Scott Kempler pulls out all the stops on the big Springsteen style production of Stevie Van Zandt's "All I Needed Was You." Two highlights for fans of 60's folk-rock is Peter Case and Olson's performance on the Moby Grape classic, "8:05," and John York's heartfelt and passionate performance of P.F. Sloan's "Upon A Painted Ocean." Both songs are overlooked classics and the versions on this album are poignant reminders of gems of the past.
As much a tribute album to many of her friends and heroes of the past,Have Harmony, Will Travel is a celebration of joy and energy. The album and her career is the embodiment of how an artist can bring her gifts and talents to enlarge the American soundscape we walk along today. Carla Olson's return to this spotlight shows her willing to share and even shine the light on others deserving of recognition as well. Have Harmony, Will Travelis easily among the best Americana releases of 2013. Carla Olson as a producer, solo artist and collaborator is among the finest talents on the American music scene over the last four decades.
Carla Olson will be appearing Sunday, April 28th at McCabe's in Santa Monica, California at 8:00 PM. Also appearing will be John York, Scott Kempner, Rob Waller, Gary Myrick and James Intveld and Peter Lewis