David Olney 1948-2020

We at Austin City Limits are saddened to learn of the death of David Olney, a Nashville-based singer/songwriter revered by his peers. He died while performing onstage in Florida on Saturday, Jan. 18, of an apparent heart attack, at the age of 71. 

Born in Rhode Island, Olney moved to Nashville in 1973 and fell in with Guy Clark’s expatriate songwriters community including Rodney Crowell, Richard Dobson and Townes Van Zandt (whose songs he often covered). In 1980 he formed the rock band the X-Rays, with whom he recorded two LPs, opened for Elvis Costello, and appeared on ACL. He became known as a solo troubadour after that, issuing over two dozen albums over thirty-plus years, and garnering acclaim for his powerful live performances. His songs – which covered everything from John Barrymore (“Barrymore Remembers”) to the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem (“Brays”) – have been covered by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Del McCoury, Steve Earle and Paul K & the Weathermen, among others. His friend Townes said, “Anytime anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney.”

Here is Olney with the X-Rays on ACL in 1982 with the title track of his debut album The Contender.

Austin City Limits 713: David Olney and the X-Rays – “The Contender” from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.