Carla Olson
by Johanna J. Bodde

August 2003 (by E-mail)

Music lovers, don't we all relate to this? You buy an album and you like it so much, that it immediately lands in your personal Top-3. And it stays there, for five years, for ten years, forever probably... For me that favorite album is "Silhouetted In Light", Gene Clark & Carla Olson live in concert. Closely followed by their studio efforts "So Rebellious A Lover". Everything is just right: two magnificent voices, the best songs you could wish for, two beautiful people with a rare sense of humor and some stellar musicians around them. They just had so much fun playing!
I never met Gene Clark, the Worldchampion Singing as Mart Smeets (Dutch sportscaster, writer & music lover) always calls him, I never had the chance to attend one of his concerts, he passed away a few years before I went to California. Carla Olson moved on to other interesting projects, with Mick Taylor for instance, I never met her either. But... there's also Duane Jarvis, who played guitar and mandolin during that legendary night at McCabe's in Santa Monica. He was so kind to bring me in E-mail contact with Carla and, while trying to keep my excitement under control, I sent her some questions. We worked around attacks of the infamous Internet-worm, she answered me in some long messages: "I will send this in three parts as my computer sometimes shuts down in the middle of an E-mail and all is lost." Don't we also recognize that? I do!
Let's meet Carla Olson, the lady who played with a Byrd and a Rolling Stone, let's get to know her better!

Johanna: Carla, what have you been working on recently? Do you have an album out, are you still playing regularly? Any interesting side projects?

Carla: Most recently I have played on an album for Percy Sledge which was produced by Saul Davis and Barry Goldberg. I played guitar on two songs and have co-written three songs which will be on the album coming out next year. I am also working on an acoustic album of my own that will hopefully come out in Europe next year. Mostly writing and trying to keep fit this year.

J: Please, tell us a little about your background, where are you from and when did you start singing, playing and writing songs?

C: I live in Studio City California, but am originally from Austin Texas. I started playing piano at the age of five, as my father was a classical pianist. I studied music theory in my youth and started playing folk music at the age of thirteen. Joan Baez; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Bob Dylan; The Beatles; The Everly Brothers; Rolling Stones being my early influences. In 1967 I sold my folk guitar and bought a 1956 Les Paul Junior and pretty much never looked back. I wanted to be Jeff Beck or Peter Green.
I played in several bands in highschool, and was very good friends with Don Henley's band "Felicity" in the late 1960's, along with guitar wunderkind Eric Johnson. After highschool graduation I moved to Rome, Italy to spend time with my older brother Bobby who was studying acting there. After living there for several months I decided to return to Austin and start a band playing blues. However, most of my friends had left for Los Angeles, or New York so I started working towards my eventual move to L.A. It is during this time that I met Eddie Munoz (Plimsouls), and George Callins (later to join me in The Textones) and put together a band playing our favorite songs. Mostly Stones, Beatles, Faces, Kinks, Chuck Berry became our repetoire.

J: You were the singer of The Textones, for many people it's just a name, could you tell something about that period in your career?

C: In 1977 I met Kathy Valentine through Eddie Munoz and started a band called The Violators. We were the first punk band in Austin and pretty bad as I recall. In 1978 we decided we would move to either L.A. or New York. We actually flipped a coin to see which it would be and L.A. was where we ended up. That was the beginning of The Textones. After playing the club scene (The Whisky, Starwood, Madame Wongs) for about a year, we released a three song EP on an English record label called Chiswick. One of the three songs was "Vacation" which later became a hit for Kathy's band The Go-Go's. We also recorded a single for I.R.S./Faulty Products before Kathy left to join The Go-Go's. I carried on The Textones as a three piece, then later added my old pal from San Antonio, George Callins on guitar, and Tom Junior Morgan on sax and keyboards. We shifted our rhythm section a bit with the departure of Dave Provost (who joined the Dream Syndicate), and Mark Cuff (who left the drums and became our photographer later), and adding Phil Seymour (the other half of the Dwight Twilley Band and background singer for Tom Petty), and Joe Read on bass (who moved from England after being stranded by Bram Tchaikobsky in Columbus Ohio mid-tour). That incarnation of The Textones recorded "Midnight Mission" for A & M Records in 1984 and toured England, Scandinavia, and Holland in 1985. We played the Melkweg and had a great time there.
Gene Clark and Don Henley sang background vocals on "Midnight Mission", Ry Cooder played slide guitar, and the album was produced by Barry Goldberg (who played with Dylan, Electric Flag, and wrote hits for Gladys Knight and Rod Stewart). At that time, I was asked to play guitar in Bob Dylan's first ever video of "A Sweetheart Like You". Ironically, the pantomime was of Mick Taylor's guitar parts in the song. Mick had always been a favorite of mine, both with John Mayall, and The Rolling Stones. It was through this video that we actually met.

J: How did you meet up with Gene Clark and decide to work together? Your husband was Gene's manager, is that correct?

C: I met Gene Clark at one of his gigs in L.A. In 1983 I believe or early 1984. If you look at my website under Gene Clark Gallery you will see the exact moment we met, and we are shaking hands on stage. His friend Tom Slocum (pictured on stage with us) was sitting at our table and talked me into singing on the encore of "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better". I introduced myself to him during the guitar solo. Later that night he asked Saul if he would manage him, as he had no one working with him at the time.
That year my band was recording "Midnight Mission" for A & M Records and I asked Gene to sing on the title track. The Textones also recorded some demos for Gene later that year, some of which have been released on collections of the band's material.

J: What I like is, that you played on an equal basis, you were not just a lady-singer for harmonies but you had your own songs, also doing lead-vocals. How was that, working with Gene? Do you have a special nice memory that you want to share with us?

C: He was magicial to work with. Always very professional, Gene was a delight to sing with.
My favorite moment with Gene onstage was at the Hollywood Palace. We were playing "Don't It Make You Want To Go Home" and I had to play a guitar solo, which I totally blew. When the song ended someone down front said "That was terrible!", to which I replied "I know!". Gene started laughing so hard that he could barely stand. We all were just cracking up!

J: What is your favorite song on the albums you did with Gene (and why)? Was there a song that Gene himself particularly liked?

C: My favorite was always "Del Gato". I think it was his too, as he wrote that with his brother Rick.

J: O.K., I'm not going to ask about all the tracks but on "So Rebellious A Lover" there's a breathtakingly beautiful version of Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Planewreck At Los Gatos)", still can't listen to that one without tears in my eyes. Was there a special reason why you recorded it?

C: Regarding the version of "Deportee", my sister and I used to sing that together when we were younger. When we were choosing songs for the "So Rebellious A Lover" album I asked Gene if he would object to doing it, as Roger had once recorded it with the post Gene Clark Byrds, and he said "Heck no, I love that song!" I am glad that you like it so much.

J: On the live-album "Silhouetted In Light" there's a great, warm atmosphere, you're just having fun playing together. Was that a line-up you worked more often with, Duane Jarvis on guitar and mandolin, David Provost on bass? Duane is a big favorite of mine, David Provost played on a few wonderful albums by Russ Tolman, are you still in contact with him too?

C: There are some moments like that (Carla refers here to the earlier mentioned show at the Hollywood Palace) on "Silhouetted In Light" where we get lost a few times and Gene forgets the words, we are all laughing. It was a pretty loose show.
It was great working with Duane and Dave too. Duane I had played with a few times, and Dave of course was the original bass player for The Textones from 1979 until 1983. I talk to Dave quite a bit, and he is still playing a lot in Austin Texas.

J: You were talking about a second album during that concert, some demos for it turned up later and were even released. Do you think it's o.k. to bring out everything available, unfinished and all, after an artist passes away?

C: With regards to the proposed second studio album with Gene Clark, no demos were actually cut. We had thought of doing some of the songs which came out last year on "Gypsy Angel", and Gene gave me "Rock Of Ages" to finish writing with my friend Michael Nold. But we never got the record off the ground, in part due to funding, and in part due to Gene's stomach surgery and my being diagnosed with diabetes in late 1987. Any other recordings that have surfaced were just Gene's home recordings. I make it a practice never to make "demos" but only master recordings as I feel it is a waste of spontaneity.
I also think that for the fans, it is great to hear diamonds in the rough, alternate takes, live recordings. It's the human side of the artist that the fans want to know.
All of Gene's posthumous recordings that Saul and I have been involved in are cleared through his two sons Kai and Kelly Clark and have had their approval.

J: Is there a (live-) recording by Gene that you would like to see as an official album? Anything you can recommend, between all the releases with bonus-tracks, etc.?

C: There is a live album release in the works of Gene at Mountainstage from the 1980's. Hopefully the red tape will be cleared up sometime this year to allow for this to come to light. The re-release of "So Rebellious A Lover" has six bonus tracks, some of which you might have heard and one totally unreleased one. I hope the fans will enjoy it.

J: Please, tell us about your work with other artists, Mick Taylor for instance?

C: As far as my work with Mick Taylor goes, that all started with my playing his parts in the Bob Dylan video "Sweetheart Like You". I met him in 1983 with John Mayall here in Los Angeles after the release of "Infidels". He was actually going to play on the second album with Gene, but it never happened. He came to see The Textones a few times in L.A. with Greg Sutton (both of them were playing with Dylan at the time), and said how he would like to do some recording with us if the chance arose. So in 1990, we planned a gig and live recording at The Roxy Theatre here in town and released the album in 1991. It was called "Too Hot For Snakes - Live At The Roxy". The album is currently out of print, but will be reissued next year.
In 1991 we toured the West Coast together and developed a working relationship. My next studio album "Within An Ace" came out in 1992 and features Mick on most of the album. He also plays on my 1994 studio album "Honest As Daylight" as well as the Percy Sledge album that Saul and Barry Goldberg produced that same year. I have continued to work with Mick through the years on several projects. I would really like to produce a Mick Taylor album some day. That would be fantastic!! In 2001 we released "Ring Of Truth" which features Mick on nine songs, but with 9/11 we were unable to tour for that release. It finally came out in The States last Summer. The twelve minute version of "Winter" where there is an eight minute outro solo is great for the MT fans.

J: What are your plans for the near future?

C: Most of the work I have done in the past four years has been producing other artists. There have been eight albums released (one yet to be released) that I have produced for various labels. Phil Upchurch, Jake Andrews, Joe Louis Walker, Barry Goldberg's tribute to The Stones, and a Bo Diddley tribute album are some of them. I am about to produce a second album for Mare Winningham as well.

J: Good luck!!!

C: I would love to hear your program sometime. Thanks for the chance to talk!!

Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously publiced on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.