By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Thursday, July 26, 2012
LITTLE ROCK — David Olney is no newcomer on the Nashville, Tenn., music scene, having been around Music City since the early 1970s. But he isn’t likely to be mistaken for a country musician – what with his lack of a cowboy hat. He instead prefers a fedora.
“I love a good hat, it’s true,” Olney says. “But no one’s going to take me for a Texan or a country singer, for sure.”
Since he started down the solo path to becoming a contender, with Contender, in 1981, Olney has released 23 albums, the latest of which – The Stone, a reflection on Easter – came out earlier this year. It’s the second part of a planned trilogy that began with Film Noir in 2011.The third part, Robbery & Murder, is set for release later this year. That album, he says, draws the robbery part of its inspiration from a Chuck Willis song, “Betty and Dupree,” and the murder part comes out in three songs about a love triangle.
Sergio Webb, a Texas-born guitarist, accompanies Olney on live dates. He has played with Gail Davies and Pinto Bennett and The Famous Motel Cowboys. Of Webb’s instrumental prowess, Olney has written: “His range is phenomenal. He goes from beautiful classical passages to hair-raising rock licks in the blink of an eye.
“We both play electric, and sometimes he’s on acoustic guitar. When I started searching for someone who could play electric and also a gutstring guitar, he came highly recommended.”
Olney’s songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tim O’Brien, Del McCoury, Slaid Cleaves and others.
Olney and Webb played atMaxine’s last fall, but it was a last-minute booking, and he figures except for that, he’s a stranger to performing in Arkansas. He hopes to check out the Hot Springs area, as he has heard about the city’s Gangster Museum and the Spa City’s past ties to Al Capone and assorted other gangsters and criminals, who populate his Film Noir CD.
Known as a literate teller of stories – real and imagined – Olney has several songs about gambling, but he denies any personal predilections in that direction.
“I’m a terrible gambler,” he confesses. “Whatever I have in my hand registers immediately on my face, although my son is an excellent poker player. But I figure the gambling topic is just a metaphor for the fact that we’re all gambling on one level or another.”
Olney has cited the late Townes Van Zandt as one of his influences, and Van Zandt returned the favor by including Olney on his list of favorite composers, along with Mozart, Bob Dylan and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Olney has written songs about John Dillinger, Jesse James, John Barrymore and the wreck of the Titanic – but as seen from the perspective of the iceberg.
“That’s one of the songsthat people know me for,” he says, “but it’s also about disastrous relationships.”
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Olney, 64, took to music when he entered his teen years and began playing guitar. By the time he went to college at the University of North Carolina at age 19, it was clear to him what he would do with his life.
“I was not on a basketball scholarship, no,” he admits. “It was more like a beer scholarship. I lasted about a year there, but when I dropped out of school, I ended up thinking that I needed to know what it was I had missed, so I started trying to educate myself, doing a lot of reading and even seeing a Shakespeare play, which I loved.”
After he moved to Nashville, he led a rock group, David Olney and the X-Rays, for a time before he struck out on his own.
Picking up a love of showmanship along the way, Olney says he wants to give an audience a sense of seeing someone who does more than sing songs, but also inhabits the characters he creates.
“My model was James Brown, who I only saw on TV,” Olney recalls. “The show was what struck me. I’ve always wanted to keep the shows moving. I’ve noticed that with a lot of singer-songwriters, they sing as if they’re not comfortable with the show business aspect of things.
“I love dressing up and I’ve always been of the opinion that if I were in the audience, I wouldn’t want to pay a cover charge to see a guy on stage who looked like them. I wanted to show some respectfor the customers in that regard, and I’ve played to a lot of crowds, and I love it when we get the momentum going and get what we’re doing across to the audience.”David Olney with Sergio Webb
Opener: Nick Flora
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday,
Where: Maxine’s, 700 Cen
tral Ave., Hot Springs
Admission: $5 advance, $7
day of show
Information: (501) 321-
Weekend, Pages 35 on 07/26/2012