Life was especially good in 1982 for David Olney. He and his rock band, The X-Rays, recorded an album for Rounder Records; they appeared on “Austin City Limits” and opened for Elvis Costello.
By 1985, they disbanded and “then I was back to playing solo,” Olney said recently. “At that point, I stopped caring whether people liked my music. Of course, I wanted people to like it; it’s just that my main responsibility was to the songs.”
His storytelling songs – in the tradition of mentor Townes Van Zandt – piqued the interest of Emmylou Harris, who recorded Olney’s “Deeper Well” and “Jerusalem Tomorrow.” That led to Linda Ronstadt, who included his “Women ‘Cross the River” on her “Feels Like Home” album.
It has been a long time coming for Olney, whose “Real Lies” album was released a few months ago on Philo. At age 49 (“older than dirt,” Olney said), it feels good to still be part of the game.
“To survive is to win,” he said. “There were so many years when nothing was going on. Living in Nashville and it being so geared toward country, it was hard to get booking agents and management, so my main problem over the years has been trying to get people to hear it. The past couple of years, especially since the Emmylou Harris cuts, it’s been easier to go out there and present my stuff.”
Cliche or not, it’s how you think of yourself and not what other people think, Olney said.
“I’m sure, particularly in Nashville, there was people who didn’t see me as anything other than an unsuccessful something or another,” he said. “But to me, I was a musician.”
One of the best tracks on “Real Lies” is “Baseball,” which Olney admits “people either love it or hate it.” The song, featuring a mock broadcast, views the game from the perspectives of a pitcher, batter and announcer. Those fed up with today’s money-driven players should adopt minor league teams, Olney said.
“Just go to a minor league game, it’s a much nicer baseball experience,” he said. “There’s really high quality playing and you don’t have to worry about the high salaries. You’re looking at guys who just want to get into the big leagues.
“There’s always the story of some guy who’s 30 years old, playing the minor leagues, presented as a tragic figure. To me, if you’re 30 and still playing, you’ve successfully avoided work your whole adult life. Musically, to me, that’s always the way I’ve felt about it. I’m still out there and still taking my cuts.”