Our First Musician, David Olney
It’s about time that we expand the horizons on what “Radio Friendly” means and get to know some of the artists who make that music that we hear on the radio. David Olney is a songwriter who defies categorization, which makes him the perfect Americana act!
Bill Frater: What got you started in the music business?
David Olney: I got into music when I was 14 or so. I learned a few chords on the guitar and some folk songs. Pre-electric Bob Dylan was happening at the time. Then the Beatles. I went to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for college but dropped out pretty quickly. There was a nice music scene there and I began playing in clubs, particularly, The Cat’s Cradle, which was started by Marcia Wilson. From then on, trying to find the next gig became the focus of my life. I moved to Atlanta for a bit and then on to Nashville. I had a couple of friends, Tommy Goldsmith and Steve Runkle, musicians who were already there so I had a place to crash. I’ve been in Nashville ever since. As to why I got into music, it was the way I could make sense out of the Universe. My life was chaos and writing songs was the one way I had to put things in some kind of order. Since then. I’ve had a number of bands, played solo, toured the states and Europe and Australia. I’ve had songs cut by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Del McCoury, and others.
What do you do now and how do you describe your business?
I’m doing now what I’ve always done. Writing songs and touring. I play music. That’s what I do.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
My older brother took me to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. I heard Bob Dylan, Jack Elliott, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs, and others. It was off to the races after that. I stumbled on to a Carter Family album which intrigued me. Then The Beatles and The Stones. The whole English invasion. It was an incredibly creative time musically.
How do you define what Americana music is?
Americana music is not definable. Folks I like include Tom House, Buddy Holly, The Worry Dolls, Brock Zeman, Annie Mosher, Annie McCue, Sergio Webb, Eric Taylor, blah, blah, blah ad infinitude. Townes Van Zandt had a huge impact on me. All street singers and all lounge singers. Bands that play slightly out of tune. The Blues. The Reds. Kate Smith.
Where do you see the music business going in the future?
I have no idea where the music business is going. I used to try to get into the business. Now I can’t even find it. I just try to write and sing good songs and let the chips fall where they may.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Peter Cooper did a cool album of Eric Taylor songs called Depot Light. I found a recording of Brother Bones. He’s the guy who did the version of Sweet Georgia Brown that the Harlem Globetrotters use. Incredible performer. Malcolm Holcombe is the best. Annie McCue is a brilliant writer and performer. There’s a lot of good people out there.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
I’ve been doing a little acting with The Nashville Shakespeare Company. I have a radio show on WXNA-FM, 101.5 in Nashville. It’s called Free Fall, 11-noon on Tuesdays. I’ve written a book of sonnets. I’ve been thinking about getting into petty crime.
What keeps you going?
I still get a thrill out of writing a song. I love playing for people who have not heard me before. Most of our encounters with art are telegraphed punches. We read reviews and blurbs beforehand. There’s no element of surprise. I want art that’s like stepping on a rake. The bit of beauty that you didn’t see coming.
What are your most memorable experiences or memories from working in the music industry?
I was taking a train through Germany on the way to a gig. It had been raining but now the sun was coming out. Suddenly there was a rainbow. One end was coming out of the river Rhine.