"Bards Stories" with their 'Legendary Producer" ~ Keith Olsen
I don't know if Keith ever realized it, but I believe that ultimately we relied on Keith to make everything work. It wasn't just that he was a brilliant engineer and got great sounds -- did amazing things with the limited technology of the time -- Keith was a sensitive musician. He was also playful and set a wonderful mood in the studio. Solid as a rock, businesslike -- yet easy and affable.
He had a quiet way of coaxing a performance. Almost like he believed more in my ability to do it than I did. Especially when Curt would begin to rant and rave. Keith could always save the moment. I always looked to Keith to see if he was buying into what was happening in the studio. If not, he would express it -- but he knew instinctively when to just let something exhaust itself and become obvious to everyone. I knew that if Keith liked it, it was ok. And sometimes that was critical to moving forward. Curt was a perfectionist, and sometimes that would rob life and emotion from the music. Keith balanced that beautifully.
Keith was also the one who always knew when to call Curt off of an idea that wasn't working. Sometimes Curt would get manic about an idea and wouldn't let go. I would breathe a sigh of relief when Keith would either stop it, or more often, deflect it. He would point Curt in a new direction -- and then we'd take off that way. Curt would imply later that it was his idea -- and I think he actually believed it. That isn't to deny Curt's genius, which was abundant, but he wasn't terribly generous about giving credit to others.
over thirty years I've replayed something that Keith used on me one time
to lighten the mood. It doesn't translate into words, but essentially imagine
a raucous two note guitar riff -- then sing it as "root beer."
I know, it just isn't the same in words, but when you listen to some of
my guitar work on the album, you'll hear "root beer" come singing
Among the many things I remember about Keith was his generosity. After the band broke up, Mike and I moved our families to L.A. I was completely broke. My wife was working as the receptionist at Sound City, but it didn't pay for even our meager lifestyle. Keith had an electronics company called Creatronics. He taught me how to solder and carefully showed me what to do on the electronic boards. He paid me to go to his house every day and do that menial work. It kept us alive - and I'm quite sure that someone else would have been a lot quicker and more proficient.
I remember an interview with Stevie Nicks where she talks about cleaning Keith's house to survive and I thought, "yep, that's Keith." Where it became fantasy however was her 'disclosure' of how much he paid her. I mean, Keith was generous -- but no one ever accused him of being a fool!
Most importantly, after his break up with Curt, Keith had a brilliant career as a producer -- and still does. Because of Curt's visibility, Keith was overshadowed during their partnership and few people outside of the business realized how important he was to Curt's success. That becomes fairly evident when we take note that after their break-up, Curt never did anything of significance again.
Although Keith isn't producing as prodigiously as he used to, he's still in the business. And I'm most amused because he lives near Seattle. For years he would tease me about living in the distant and out-of-the-way Northwest, and now he's here doing his electronic genius thing for Mackie Design.
I spent an afternoon with him recently and we traded stories and laughed a lot. Even after 100 million records sold, Keith is still the same person. -- Well, almost the same. I doubt that he'd let me do any soldering at Mackie. Fortunately for both of us, I don't need the gig.
Mardig Sheridan Back