Remembering  songsmith David Olney

David Olney

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

Students of the Bible know that passage from James 4:14.

I was reminded of those words this past weekend when singer/songwriter David Olney, 71, crossed over.

My first knowledge of this came from my daughter, Amy (Clark) Stone, who was attending the 30A Songwriters festival at Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. She had been texting me throughout the day.

Amy, with family and friends, had primarily gone to see Lee County’s own Paul Thorn.

She sent me a photo of her and Paul.

I texted Paul “That’s my baby girl.”

Later she texted about David. He had died of an apparent heart attack mid-song. He was sitting, performing at the same time a good friend of mine, Scott Miller, was on stage with him.

“He was an absolute force of a writer; a slave to the word that made anyone who knew him or even just played with him realize they had more work to do,” Scott sent me in a email early Monday morning. “And its weird to write about him in the past tense because I was with him, doing a show when he stopped in the middle of a song, said ‘I’m sorry’ and put his chin to his chest, and was gone. He didn’t collapse or drop his guitar. He just stopped. It was a graceful and peaceful death, just like he lived.”

David performed as a solo singer-songwriter, and released more than 20 albums over four decades, including six live recordings. He collaborated with artists such as John Hadley and Sergio Webb.

His songs were covered by and co-written with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Young, Del McCoury, and Laurie Lewis, among others.

David originally started out on Rounder Records, that regularly send me CDs to review and that’s how I first became familiar with his music.

I met Scott over a decade ago at Hal & Mal’s in Jackson, and we hit it off, not just because of music but our mutual love for history.

Scott was one of the leads for the V-Roys, the first act signed on Steve Earle's label, E-Squared Records.

After the V-Roys split up in 1999, my West Virginia friend formed a new band, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, who were the house band on Blue Collar TV (as in Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy).

As of 2011, Scott has been based in Staunton, Virginia, having moved back home to help manage the family cattle farm. He’s asked me many times to come visit for a spell, but I’ll have to wait until I retire.

Scott was one of the first who unsuccessfully attempted to revive David, while waiting on paramedics.

The late songwriter Townes Van Zandt wrote the liner notes for Olney’s third album, Roses, released in 1991. “Any time anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney,” he wrote. ‘Dave Olney is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard – and that’s true. I mean that from my heart.’”

As I mentioned earlier Paul Thorn was also at Santa Rosa Beach.

“We were playing at the same time in different venues. Right before I started my set I was told that he (David) had a heart attack on stage. During my performance I asked the crowd to say a prayer for his recovery but it was too late,” Paul said. “God bless him and all his loved ones. Every day is a gift. Rest in Peace my friend.”

As somebody smart once said, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

But other than dying in our sleep, I guess the best we can hope for is going while doing something we love.

“We should all be so lucky,” Scott added. “Anyone familiar with his work knows it will speak well for him for a long time.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with David’s wife Regine. They had a son, Redding, and a daughter, Lillian. The family lives in Nashville.

On a side note, that speaks volumes about musicians — Townes Van Zandt, years ago, bought David a sport coat from a Goodwill store in Little Rock — it’s a gift David cherished and wore often.

God’s speed my friend.

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