B-Sides in the Bins #21 – Mark Olson Interview

Mark Olson

Mark Olson as one of the founding members of the Jayhawks provided an early prototype of the revival of country-folk that would shape today what gets generally labelled “Americana” although he doesn’t necessarily believe in limiting his music by giving it that name. With his touring accomplices multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold and violinist Michele Gazich, Mark is back on the road supporting his brilliant 2007 release The Salvation Blues following a short break after last year’s run through the US and Europe. It was during his break in the middle of catching up on errands that Mark graciously accepted the invitation to talk to me from his current home in Joshua Tree, CA about collecting records.

Me: Thanks for talking to me today, Mark. Can you share with us some details about your record collection?

Mark: I’m a bit of a record collector from way back. I don’t do it so much now but. There is this Italian in the group who is, like, totally insane about going to bookstores and record stores and he buys way too much stuff for us to be on the road with it!

But, I did it at a certain point in my life and I guess it influenced my music all the way along and that’s collect records and stuff. I have a bunch of ’em. And books and things like that. I love to go into those kinds of stores. I’m one of those guys that wishes there were still more record stores around– and book stores. I get tired of the Borders and that kind of stuff.

There used to be a really, really cool record store– I forget the name, I’m sorry– it could have been part of Cheapo’s but I don’t think so– it was on Lake Street in Minneapolis down by the river and it was just in a grungy storefront. But, what they had that was SO different– they had all these BRAND NEW gospel records from like the Sixties and the early Seventies still in– and this is in the Nineties– still in the wrappers! They were on the Nashville Label and the Nashboro label and Folkways. I got a bunch of them for like a buck-fifty of people I’ve NEVER EVER heard of– you know? All this really neat stuff. So I bought a bunch of those back then. There used to be a lot of like little hole in the wall used record stores around there. I got a lot of neat records, there. I think that people made off with them, too. I think Karen [Grotberg– keyboardist of the Jayhawks– Ed.] and the Jayhawks they made off with one of my favorite ones.

Me: Of these gospel records?

Mark: Yeah. It had this piano and organ going at the same time and it blew her away. So, I dunno. I haven’t seen that one in a long time. (chuckles).

I’ve just got a lot of really wierd, rare records. Like the Glaser Brothers (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers- Ed.) they were really GOOD when they first started out. They had these three-part harmonies and they were singing kinda folk-country stuff. [Tompall Glaser] actually wrote “Streets of Baltimore” that ended up on the Gram [Parsons] record (his 1972 release G.P.– Ed.). So, I’ve just got a lot of wierd Sixties, country, folk gospel records. That’s the first place I would go to look– in those sections.

Me: Is this the segment you collect in, then?

Mark: Well, I do anything now, but back then I was totally obsessed with Sixties Country, Folk, and these wierd gospel labels. They were on small labels that weren’t in regular record stores and no one is going to see these records again! But, this one store had bought out this collection of records on really THICK VINYL.

My favorite albums– as far as albums go, the ones that had the biggest influence on me were the Doug Sahm Mendocino album and, then of course The Flying Burrito Brothers Sin City album. I like Jesse Winchester he’s kind of a folk guy. And, I like Fairport Convention. That’s the stuff I put on to just enjoy so to speak.

Me: You know, I never really got into Doug Sahm…

Mark: Oh MAN!

Me: But… I’m familiar with him through Calexico and their participation in that Border Radio tribute “Los Super 7.” (note: while songs from Doug Sahm are on both records, he only sang on the first one that was hosted by Los Lobos).

Mark: What’s cool about him is he could sing like nobody else– he had one of the most soulful voices. He came out of Texas doing all the different styles of Texas music– he could do R&B, blues, country… But then what he did was move to San Francisco for a while and that totally opened up his music into all kinds of different directions and he made this album called Mendocino that isn’t the most- ah– he made another one that’s even crazier– but this one is just the beginning of that. It’s not like albums that are made today– that are VERY LOOSE in the performance level, okay? There’s mistakes being made, there’s tempo changes, there’s all that stuff going on. But, his voice is so COMMANDING that it doesn’t really– and the recording quality is not that good, really, compared to modern records where everything’s CLEAN at the perfect levels and all that stuff.

Me: So, what label was he on?

Mark: He was on Smash and they put out a bunch of good albums! They put out all of the Jerry Lee Lewis records that were country– that are INCREDIBLE! But, no one played and sang like Doug– very loose– just incredible stuff.

Me: When you say “loose” like that, it makes me think of Howe Gelb from Giant Sand.

Mark: Yeah, sure! I really liked that “Sno” album (Howe Gelb’s 2006 release ‘Sno Angel Like You)! That is SHOCKINGLY GOOD! I can’t believe that that isn’t like a HUGE album! It’s just so fricking GOOD. Lyrically, musically, there is so much going on there, it’s just intense.

Me: Do you collect mostly vinyl, then?

Mark: Today, I’m about 50-50 vinyl and CD’s. But, leaving Minnesota– moving a lot is really rough on a record collection. We had a flood at one point. It’s unbelievable but there was a flood in the desert– if it rains too much it can flood. And, I lost about a quarter of my record collection. It was impossible to save them because there was too much silt.

Me: So you just wrapped up a tour of Europe?

Mark: Yep, three months– well we did two months in America and we did three months in Europe pretty much back-to-back. I’m home for a couple of weeks and then it’s back out.

Me: Yeah, you’re coming to Cedar Rapids, IA! I’m planning to be at that show. I had intended to go to the show at the Mill last Fall…

Mark: That was a CRAZY night. There was lightning everywhere It was seriously dangerous to be outside.

Me: I talked to a guy who went to the show and he said there was only like 20 people there.

Mark: I think that people decided to keep their life in good order and not step out into the lightning. Meanwhile we’re out in the middle of it playing!

Me: What are you doing in this little break?

Mark: Well, you go out on tour, come home and pretty much things have fallen apart– your vehicle, your house. I’m trying to put everything back together, clean up. I have a list of musical equipment I need to get. Then go back out again. I’m more used to touring, now, than being at home.

Me: It seems like you’ve been on tour a long time!

Mark: The album came out in June and the tour started in August. I feel like we just got through the first phase of it now and now we’ll go back out and see how it’s going. It used to be that you would go out for a promo thing and the record company would support that and then you’d go out on tour. Now, the tour is kind of like “promo.” That’s a business thing that has changed. I feel like we’ve done the touring, the promoing and now we’ll go out and see what’s going on– if people have heard this album and if they’re into it– in America at least.

Me: Thanks for talking to me, today, Mark. I’ll see you at the show!

Mark: No problem! See you.

Mark will be playing Wednesday night, February 13 at 8PM at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, IA. Tickets are $13 in advance, $16 the day of the show. Click Here for Details

Visit Mark’s MySpace page for other tour dates.

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