A Conversation with Carla Olson
Mike Ragogna: Hi Carla, how are you?
Carla Olson: I'm great. LA is not too hot today, and it's going to be a great day.
MR: Every day is a great day in LA.
CO: Well, that could be debated, but I think I'll probably just agree with you there.
MR: [laughs] You have a new album, Have Harmony, Will Travel. How did you come up with the material for this one?
CO: Several years ago, I was in between production projects, which is what I mainly do. I haven't done a studio album in a long time, mainly because I've been working at producing. One day I just thought, "Well, I'm in between projects. Maybe I should try to start something." I did have about half an album's worth of material written, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do at the time. I approached a could of people about doing a duet album, one of them being Peter Case, who I've known since the '70s, and he said, "Yeah, I'd love to." He loved the two suggestions of songs that I ran past him. Then, Scott Kempner, from The Del-Lords and The Dictators, flew into LA and I asked him as well, and he said, "Yes, I'd love to." So, that's how it started. Then about a year later, I finally got the funds together and the opportunity to start recording.
MR: As you mentioned, you been producing a lot of artists over the years. When you're in the studio with any of these artists, do you notice that you experience a mutual growth through the process?
CO: I would say so. I know that with this duets album, most of the singers and players that I've been working with I've known previously. When you're producing something that you're performing on it's much different than when you're producing something for somebody else. It's a little different when you're performing on something because you have to tip that producer hat to the side, and kind of be the person that is guiding the track and making sure that everyone is happy with what they're doing, especially the singers. A lot of these singers maybe wouldn't have chosen the song that I chose for them to sing, and that's where the growth is, I think. Nobody went, "No, I don't want to do that one." Everybody was really cool and went, "Oh, I never thought about that." One person actually suggested a song to do that I hadn't thought of. I had wanted to do an Everly Brothers song, and the person that I was going to sing with said, "What about this one?" And I said, "Yeah, that's a great choice." So there is a lot of growth, I think. Hopefully, on my side, there is a lot of growth. The enjoyment of singing and playing with people in the same room... There was one long distance session, but other than that, everything was done together, all at the same time. I would make sure that everybody was happy with their parts, especially if they were a featured singer and they were going on the road; Peter is always going out. Yeah, I think the growth is mutual.
MR: You kick off the album with "You Can Come Crying To Me," written by my old buddy, Radney Foster.
CO: I love Foster and Lloyd. They were so cool. Bill Lloyd was a twelve-string monster, and Radney was such a great singer and writer--well, they were both great writers and singers. I always loved that song, and when that album came out it was one of my favorites, and I loved every song on that album. I think it was back in '85.
MR: Nice song choice, glad you covered that.
CO: My husband and manager, Saul Davis, and I have tried to pitch that song for several projects because we've always loved it. For one reason or another, the projects just never happened, so it's always been on a list of songs to pitch to other people. Then I just decided that I'm going to do this song. I originally had wanted to do it with Juice Newton singing lead and me singing harmony, but she was late for the session because she lives down near San Diego and got stuck in a traffic jam and couldn't get there in time. So we were all there, everybody was ready, the studio was on the clock, and so we tried it in a key that we thought would work for her, but when she got there, we found out it was too low, so I said, "I'll tell you what, I'll throw a scratch vocal on it and you sing the harmony. Then I'll go back in and re-do the vocal to match your harmony." It worked out fine. I would have much rather heard her beautiful voice on it instead of mine.
MR: Next up at bat, "Keep Searchin'..." featuring Peter Case.
CO: I had always wanted to cut "Keep Searchin'..." with The Textones. We worked it up and we played it in rehearsal all the time, but we never recorded it. Del Shannon was a close friend and a wonderful guy, and that was one of our favorite songs of his. Peter, unbeknownst to me, had worked it up as well, but had never played it. So when I said I'd like to do "Keep Searchin'," he said, "Oh, that's my favorite Del Shannon song."
MR: There's also Moby Grape's "8:05," your other Peter case duet.
CO: I was originally going to cut it with Gene Clark on our second duets album, and it was a song that he had always loved, but then he passed away, so we didn't get to cut it. But I always kept it in my back pocket as a possible song to do with Pete. When I was growing up, in Austin in the '60s, all the bands would play that song as a ballad. It's one of my absolute favorite songs.
MR: And you covered Don Williams material. He's one of my favorite artists ever. You did a version of his "Til The Rivers All Run Dry" and "Look What You've Done," his hit with The Pezo-Seco Singers.
CO: That was another song that was a huge hit in Austin because they were from Corpus Christi. They had all kinds of radio play in Texas, and when I was growing up that was one of my favorite songs to sing along with the radio because it had the "answer" part--the lady was singing an answer to him. She wasn't competing with him, but was just acknowledging this beautiful love testimonial. I never knew that was Don Williams because on the album, it said "Donald Williams," and I never knew it was the same person until I was going to actually do this song. Saul said, "This is Don Williams," and I said, "Yeah, Donald Williams." Then he said, "No, DON Williams." I couldn't believe that I never recognized that it was his voice. Most of those songs are perfectly suited to Rob Waller's voice--he has that deep voice, and then he also has what I call the "Springsteen" voice that he uses. It was a perfect fit, I think.
MR: And one of my favorites was your track with Richie Furay, "She Don't Care About Time." Have you worked with him in the past?
CO: No, I haven't, actually. I met Richie when Buffalo Springfield opened for The Beach Boys in Austin, and I have an 8x10 glossy signed by everybody but Stephen Stills. They had a meet and greet at the hotel they were staying at, with all the guys there to sign everything, and Richie was the first one to sign my 8x10. Then I got re-acquainted with him through Chris Hillman, when I went to see a show they played together in Malibu. I brought him a copy of one of the CDs I had done with Gene Clark, and the tears just started welling up in his eyes, and he said, "I love Gene Clark. I miss him so much." I chose "She Don't Care About Time" because Gene and I used to do that when I played with him. Richie was just so gracious to say that he would sing on it. I didn't even want to put my voice on it after I heard his. I just started crying because it was so beautiful. I'm glad you like it.
MR: How did your tight connection with Gene happen?
CO: Well, The Firebirds were doing a show here in LA, and it wasn't very crowded to be honest with you. We were just sitting in a booth as the show was ending, and then there was this voice saying, "Hi, you're Carla Olson from The Textones, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah." He continued, "Gene wants you to come up and do an encore." I had never met him. We worked with the same publisher, but I had never met him. We sang the song together without even knowing each other. There's actually a picture on my website that somebody took of me and Gene shaking hands on stage that night. Afterwards, we chatted and introduced ourselves. We had some mutual friends, and we were friends after that. Saul decided that he was going to approach Gene about management because he didn't have a manager, and that's really how our relationship together began. As far as the recording goes, it was a total accident. I used to go with Saul to Gene's house when he went for business, and I would just sort of be the third wheel sitting around. One day, I suddenly found myself singing with Gene, and he said, "Hey, we ought to do an acoustic album." Next thing you know, Saul had us in the studio and we released a vinyl record. It didn't come out on CD right away, but a number of years later it did on another label.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
CO: Well, it's a double-edged sword being a new artist. You have all the freshness and you can bring something completely unseen to the forefront if you mange to get your stuff out. My suggestion is just to follow your heart and not try to be anybody else. You can obviously draw from other people, but that happens naturally because musicians are like sponges. Don't struggle over the recording of it so much -- don't try to make it so perfect--because the best thing about music, and the things we remember the most, are the little flaws that are in the music. There are certain things like on The Beatles record where John would sing a different word than Paul. Don't fix all the little things. Just make it your own and make it human.
MR: What was the best advice ever given to you?
CO: Follow your heart, definitely. That and to not try to be somebody you're not. One time, somebody wanted me to do a record with them, and he was very sweet about it, but he said, "I really picture you as more of a Pat Benatar type singer. Ditch the guitar." I said, "I've been playing the guitar since I took the thumb out of my mouth. I would feel uncomfortable getting on stage without my guitar." He might have been trying to throw me a compliment by saying I could sing like Pat Benatar, but no, I can't because it's just not me and it doesn't fit with my persona. I've always been one of the boys in a way. I had some real heroes when I was growing up--Joan Baez and Mary Travers were two of my biggest influences, but you couldn't take The Stones away from me, or The Kinks, or The Beatles, or the Yardbirds. Those were my guys. When I wanted to play the electric guitar I sold the acoustic guitar my dad had gotten me, and he was a classical musician, so he kind of wanted to see me go a little more in that direction, but I didn't have those chops at all. I could play Bach and Beethoven, but after the second year of classical piano I had to beg off. I wasn't one of those people who was going to practice for eight hours a day, and my dad was.
MR: You know, there's still time to get Stephen Stills' signature on that photo.
CO: [laughs] There is a photo of me and Stephen Stills from a benefit we did at The Roxy. My first producer, Barry Goldberg, has an album coming out with Stephen Stills--it's like a super session kind of thing. One of these days, I'm hoping to get him to play or sing on something. I've got a new album coming out with Paul Jones that should be finished in the middle of the summer, and hopefully, that will be out before the fall.
MR: Nice. Are you going to be touring for this album?
CO: I'm doing a benefit for The Midnight Mission on May 6th at The Beverly Wilshire. Tom Arnold is the MC and it's kind of a gala thing, but I'm doing about six songs at that. If anybody wants to buy a ticket to that, it's a great charity. They are an organization in Downtown LA that takes care of the homeless.
MR: So when volume two hits is ready, you'll have to come talk to me again.
CO: That would be wonderful, Mike.
1. You Can Come Cryin' To Me - with Juice Newton
2. Look What You've Done - with Rob Waller
3. Love's Made a Fool Of You - with James Intveld
4. Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun) - with Peter Case
5. Still Waters - with Gary Myrick
6. She Don't Care About Time - with Richie Furay
7. All I Needed Was You - with Scott Kempner
8. The First In Line - with John York
9. Stringin' Me On - with Juice Newton
10. Upon a Painted Ocean - with John York
11. 8:05 - with Peter Case
12. Til The Rivers All Run Dry - with Rob Waller
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
Let the maestro explain...
"My start in music was rooted in community action. With the release of my first full length, Crooked In My Mind, it felt very important to include a social justice component. Run For Cover and I decided to donate a dollar from every pre-order to one of three non-profits who highlight different social justice causes that range from child soldiering in central Africa, to fracking in Pennsylvania, and hunger which is both a local and international issue."