The sad death of David Olney has been widely reported, often in some pretty unlikely places (including the S*n, Daily Mail and Daily Express) by a media always looking for a novelty story – ‘folk singer dies live on stage’ fits the bill. It is sad, but true, that most of those reporting Olney’s passing, would not have done so had he died peacefully at home in his bed. So rather than dwell on the circumstances of his death, we at AUK would prefer to celebrate the life of a great songwriter.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1948. Olney’s early years saw him move around regularly. He attended university in North Carolina without graduating. He went on to reside in New York and Atlanta before finally moving to Nashville in 1973. There he tried to earn a living as a songwriter before forming the X-Rays and releasing a debut album ‘Contender’ in 1981. A second album ‘Customised’ followed in 1984. The band broke up the following year and Olney embarked on a solo career, releasing his debut album ‘Eye of the Storm’ in 1986. He went on to record over 20 solo albums without ever achieving real commercial success. Despite this, the legacy he leaves, though the quality of his music, has stood the test of time and will continue to do so long after frivolous reports of his death have faded from the memory.
David Olney was widely recognised as a clever and intuitive songwriter. His songs were covered by many artists including big names such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Steve Earle. Olney also co-wrote songs with a wide range of artists including co-writing ‘Deeper Well’ with Emmylou Harris for her classic 1995 ‘Wrecking Ball’ album. Olney’s clever wordplay and his ability to see the world from unusual angles gave his songs a unique style and insight. Olney was as equally at home writing with humour as he was about the darker side of life. He was always prepared to question and challenge through his writing and could write hard-hitting satire and poignant love songs with equal authority. Anyone who has witnessed his live shows will also know that he was something of a raconteur; explaining songs and telling stories with his sharp wit, dry humour and incisive analysis.
An all round artist, David Olney had a love of poetry and literature. He also made and produced several short films. However, it is as an inspirational songwriter that he will be best remembered. In the sleeve notes to ‘Roses‘, Olney’s third album, his friend Townes Van Zandt wrote “He has written some of the most powerful, most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. A songwriter myself, I have considered David a benchmark” Compliments don’t come much higher than that.
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