Singer-Songwriter David Olney Dies Onstage

The American artist was 71

Photo: Scott Housley

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jan 20, 2020

David Olney — an American singer-songwriter who had his works covered or co-written by the likes of Steve Earle, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris — has died. Olney passed away Saturday (January 18) following an apparent heart attack while performing at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. He was 71.

Olney's publicist confirmed his passing [via Rolling Stone], while fellow singer-songwriter Amy Rigby recalled that doctors in the audience attempted to revive Olney during the performance. 

"Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized and shut his eyes," Rigby wrote in a Facebook post. "He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on, wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket we laughed about because it was raining like hell outside the boathouse where we were playing — I just want the picture to be as graceful and dignified as it was, because it at first looked like he was just taking a moment."

Born in Rhode Island in 1948, Olney moved to Nashville in 1973 to pursue a career as a songwriter and composer. After releasing a pair of albums in the early '80s as frontman of new wave outfit the X-Rays, he began his solo career in 1986 with the release of Eye of the Storm. He would go on to release over 20 solo albums, his most recent being 2018's This Side or the Other.

A quote from revered songwriter Townes Van Zandt appears in the liner notes of Olney's 1991 album Roses.

"Anytime anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are," he wrote, "I say Mozart, Lightnin' Hopkins, Bob Dylan, and Dave Olney. Dave Olney is one of the best songwriters I've ever heard — and that's true. I mean that from my heart."

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