Today (Thursday, Jan 23) at 6 pm, when The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour takes the stage at Off Square Books to start a new season, we’ll have Nashville singer-songwriter David Olney (above, right) in our hearts. Olney, as reported this week, died onstage last Saturday in mid-performance at a songwriter’s festival in Seaside, Florida.
For a traveling troubadour, it’s the equivalent of dying with your boots on. Press reports stated Olney was seated onstage and was about to begin the third song of his set when he said simply, “I’m sorry” and put his head down. He never left his chair, never dropped his guitar. Efforts to revive him failed after what was determined to have been a heart attack. He was 71.
Over the course of Thacker’s almost quarter century, we’ve dealt with the life passage of loyal, loving audience members, guests and performers and even among our own band and crew.
David Olney was on our show twice, once on September 13, 2001, two days after 9-11, and most recently, March 8, 2018 (photo above). On that show (Hear it here. David begins at 8:25) I was impressed by his affability and unassuming, yet assured, professionalism.
He never had a “hit;” never became a household name. And yet, his songs were covered by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, among others. The late Townes Van Zandt proclaimed Olney his favorite songwriter (though he also included Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Mozart).
When it came time to sing his smart, literate songs, one was taken aback to watch David step to a microphone and assert his un-showy power with mere words, guitar chords and his voice. The songs played out like mini novels, some funny, almost all haunting. Our audience, like many David faced, including, I’m sure, that last one in Florida, sat rapt, not wanting to miss a word.
He was a fierce student of the history of songcraft (see his YouTube series,You Never Know) and even wrote dozens of sonnets. He was also an actor who performed at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. He once wrote a song about the Titanic from the point of view of the iceberg – who was welcoming the doomed ship into its frozen arms like a waiting lover. Chilling, indeed.
Here at Thacker, we’ll dedicate ourselves to David’s spirit – that mix of wild imagination, deep intelligence, empathy and soulful chops. If we apply those attributes to every show, to every performance, perhaps we can achieve something of the same artistry and humble tenacity as David Olney. He never lost the fire.
As our mentor, the late Jim Dickinson said, “Play every note like it’s your last, ’cause one of ’em will be.”
Play on, good David.
The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour kicks off its spring 2020 season Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6 pm at Off Square Books (129 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS 38655). FREE admission.
Guests: Author Ashley Wurzbacher – short story collection, Happy Like This, named one of “5 Under 35” authors to watch
Music: Pop-rockers Short in the Sleeve (Traces) and Memphis soul-funk duo, The PRLVG (What You’re Missing).
Hosts: Jim Dees and our house band, the Yalobushwhackers
Radio: WUMS 92.1 FM (Oxford) Online: http://myrebelradio.com
Don’t miss Thacker Jr., a children’s version of our show with an all-student cast, on Saturday, Jan 25 at 6 pm at Nutt Auditorium! Admission is free and the public is invited. https://www.facebook.com/events/796517567477696/