After thirty years, The Textones are back, with the same lineup as then, for their new exciting third album, Old Stone Gang. We talk with Carla Olson about the new album on Blue Elan, Phil Seymour, Kathy Valentine and more.
By Warren Kurtz
Carla Olson and Kathy Valentine met in the ‘70s in Austin, Texas and formed the punk band The Violators. In late 1978, Carla and Kathy moved to Los Angeles and co-founded The Textones. Kathy left for The Go-Go’s and Carla remained with The Textones with a lineup ultimately for their 1984 album Midnight Mission including George Callins on guitar, Tom Jr. Morgan on keyboards, sax and flute, Joe Read on bass, and Phil Seymour, formerly of Dwight Twilley, on drums. Phil Seymour left the group in the mid-‘80s due to health reasons, and was replaced by Rick Hemmert for their second album, Cedar Creek.
GOLDMINE: The first time I saw your name was in Texas in 1980 on the back of Phil Seymour’s debut solo album, with you credited for lead guitar on “We Don’t Get Along,” written by Kathy Valentine, and I wondered who you both were. I also saw in the credits, next to Phil, in one of his striped shirts, “Carla Olson appears courtesy of The Textones.” My wife Donna and I were newlyweds in Dallas, hearing “Precious to Me” from that album on the radio, and going to the Dallas Agora music club, perfect for a striped top she wore, which I called her “Phil Seymour shirt.”
CARLA OLSON: I think it was a French designer who suggested the striped shirt look. Kathy and I were from Texas with a different look. We were a couple of chicks in cowboy boots with attitudes. The owner of the Bla-Bla Café in L.A. didn’t want to book us. We had recorded a demo that included “We Don’t Get Along” and “Vacation.” We met Saul Davis, who was managing Phil, and he took the demo to Phil. Saul told us, “I would also like to manage you.”
GM: Kathy told me, “I wrote ‘We Don’t Get Along’ when we first moved to L.A. and I was very lonely. For the first time, I found that songwriting could be an outlet for my feelings and thoughts in a helpful and therapeutic way.” Phil Seymour’s version also became a flip side for his cover of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance.” I also found a 1980 Textones “Vacation” single.
CO: Phil was signed to Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk label, which unfortunately ended in ’82 when Neil died of cancer, so there were just two Phil Seymour albums before he joined us. Kathy took “Vacation” and “We Don’t Get Along” with her and both appeared on The Go-Go’s second album, Vacation.
Kathy Valentine, 3rd from right, with members of The Del-Lords, The Cruzados and The Textones, including Carla Olson far right, at Club Lingerie. Photo by Lester Cohen, courtesy of Carla Olson, thetextones.com
GM: When our daughter Brianna was born in 1983 we stayed in a lot, and in addition to radio, our musical entertainment included MTV, where you played a bluesy guitar solo on Bob Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You” video.
CO: It was great working with Bob. After getting paid for the work in the video, I cashed the check at a bank in downtown L.A., in a rough part of town, near a place where they serve about 1100 people three meals a day, called the Midnight Mission.
GM: That really explains the “thank God for humanity” line in your “Midnight Mission” single, with Don Henley on harmony vocal in the summer of ’85, when he was also on the radio with “Sunset Grill.”
CO: Don is an old friend. I met him back in ’67, watching him in a local band in Austin. When I moved to L.A. he was the first person who offered to help me. For “Midnight Mission,” I took my lyrics to Barry Goldberg, known for the band The Electric Flag, and he wrote the melody on piano.
GM: The flip side, “Upset Me,” has a steady beat from Phil and the harmonies remind me of his days with Dwight Twilley.
CO: In addition to Phil’s rolling beat, the composition is 100% George, which we did as a vocal duet.
Flip side: Upset Me
A side: Midnight Mission
Debut: June 29, 1985
Peak Position: 109
Gold Mountain/A&M 82016
GM: We hear a sample of Phil on the new album at the beginning of “One Half Rock,” with a Rolling Stones-like sound.
CO: For part one of the song I use a recording of Phil in 1985. He came up with the opening and key line “she’s one half rock and the other half roll.” I recorded it on cassette, using a Sony Walkman, sitting on the piano. When we were on tour, Phil noticed lumps on his neck, went to a doctor and was diagnosed with lymphoma. He left the group to focus on his health, back home in Tulsa, only playing local shows until he passed away in 1993. I have cassettes galore and was happy to find that one and include this memorial to Phil.
GM: You also have a new “midnight” song, bluesy with great sax and flute, and your vocals show off a nice controlled vibrato.
CO: On “Midnight Roundabout,” which is Joe’s song, I really wanted to showcase Tom on how he has grown as a musician on sax and flute. We had never done a slow blues song and I heard Joe’s composition years ago and always liked it.
GM: There is a song so fitting in the Blue Elan catalog, sounding a bit like your labelmate Rita Coolidge and including Rusty Young, “20 Miles South of Wrong.” It also features another musical hero of mine, Allan Clarke.
CO: In The Hollies, in addition to singing lead, Allan would play harmonica, which is what he brought to this song. He has a whole album in the can, ready to go, including a song called “Hearts Made of Stone,” which I co-wrote with him. I have known him for years through Saul Davis, who also has managed The Hollies and The Bee Gees. I ran into Rusty at a Blue Elan Christmas party, which led to his inclusion with pedal steel guitar, mandolin and banjo. George wrote the lyrics and I had Dwight Yoakam in mind for this song, back when it was just a demo.
GM: I enjoy George’s lyrics on “Bared My Soul” with the chorus, “I gotta shake it. I can’t take it. I was naked. Bared my soul.”
CO: This one came to me so many years ago. His opening line, “He caught me with his eye and fooled me with his fingers” just grabbed me. We did this one mid-tempo, as Tom Petty would have thought to do it, just steady as you go.
GM: Another steady number is “Come Stay the Night,” with acoustic guitar and piano.
CO: George is a huge Beatles fan and the melody of the song has a Beatles VI “Every Little Thing” vibe. We used a baritone piano to help capture that sound too.
GM: There is a catchy shuffling beat, with lively guitars, on what sounds like an alternative country song, “Carly Jo.”
CO: The guitar sounds are influenced by The Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down.” Like Phil, Rick is also a drummer from Tulsa and translates those Americana pictures in his mind, making him a great storyteller. The song is about spousal abuse. There is a woman, “I am doing all I can to survive” and a child, “I gotta save the baby, save little Carly Jo.” The last line of the song is, “I gotta protect little Carly Jo.” I felt a childhood memory of helping out those in need. We had poor cousins at the edge of our property. When I would get new clothes, I knew that my old clothes would go there. We were more fortunate than some of our relatives. We were middle class.
GM: You also hear that working class theme in the exciting opener, “Downhearted Town,” one of a pair of saxophone driven songs that Bruce Springsteen fans would enjoy, along with the powerful “All That Wasted Time.”
CO: “All That Wasted Time” is a bittersweet song. It is a look at stagnation and a realization that each day is precious and not to waste it. I sing, “Another precious day that we lose,” which I hope it not the case. Everything is consequential. At my age I know that there is less time left versus what has built up to this point. The final verse opens with, “It’s almost time for our last bow. No use regretting lost time now.” There is a feeling that life is getting away from you, so seize life. I get up early each day and take in the sun’s orange glow.
GM: Out west that is possible, even in winter, and speaking of that, “Winter” is a masterpiece of a long song that you and Mick Taylor did together, which I think could fit on an expanded version of my favorite Rolling Stones album, Sticky Fingers. The Rolling Stones albums that I bought growing up were from the Mick Taylor era.
CO: Mick came and saw The Textones play which led to us doing a lot of recording together in the ‘90s. I also produced a lot of projects for him. I’m one of the few women record producers in any genre of music, for producing someone other than yourself. Frightening, but in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers from 1999 there are five women listed out of some five hundred entries. And it hasn’t changed much since then.
GM: Another guitarist you have produced is Vince Melouney. We mentioned The Bee Gees earlier. Growing up in the ‘60s, in addition to the three Gibb brothers, there was Colin Peterson on drums and on guitar, Vince Melouney.
CO: Before the Bee Gees, Vince was in Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs. He was on The Bee Gees’ ‘60s albums from The Bee Gees’ 1st through Odessa and then left as Barry wanted more and more orchestration. Vince felt his guitar wasn’t needed. Vince and I did a John Stewart tribute show at the Hollywood Bowl and recorded some stuff including “Shackles and Chains” from John’s California Bloodlines album. Vince is now in Europe in a big production called The Italian Bee Gees.
GM: Finally, there is a guitarist that may have inspired you growing up, who passed away earlier this year, Nokie Edwards of The Ventures.
CO: We opened for them twice. I talked with Nokie backstage about both of us playing a Gibson Les Paul Special. Their music is huge in Japan and I spent three years learning Japanese to play there, which I did for a tour. I had Ventures records growing up and had a turntable with RPM speeds of 16, 33 and 45, so I could play Ventures albums at 16 slowly and learn guitar parts. I am a huge Ventures fan. Also, I am a fan of Goldmine. We have stacks, and always use them for research. They don’t collect dust.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.