“Brian Ray was on hiatus from Paul McCartney’s band and suggested Procol Harum’s “Whiskey Train” and asked if I’d sing it with him,” says Carla Olson, who co-produced the upcoming album Americana Railroad, a collection of songs celebrating the history of trains set to arrive Friday, June 17 via BMG.
Ray might not have chosen the most traditional train song (or a train song at all, beyond the title), but that didn’t stop these two from laying down one of the most potent tracks on the record. Take a look at the new video down below, and get to know Olson better in this 5 Questions feature.
5 Questions with Carla Olson by Sam Shansky
1) Along with Saul Davis, you produced the upcoming album Americana Railroad, a collection of songs celebrating the history of trains. Where did the idea for this album come from, and what was the production process like for you?
The songs “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and “I Remember The Railroad” written by Gene Clark got us thinking of recording a whole album of train songs. Stephen McCarthy’s “Here Comes That Train Again” was the next to come to mind so we asked Stephen what he thought of the idea. When he responded positively we began.
Dom Flemons’ “Steel Pony Blues” and Dave Alvin’s “Southwest Chief” are songs written by the artists. The others are covers. I produced nine of the songs with the remainder of the new tracks selected by BMG Records except for my duet with Brian Ray which he chose. What was the recording process like? Back to basics ~ agree on a tune and an artist and play!
2) The goal in making this record was simple – railroad songs performed by great expressive artists. Could you please share about a few of the artists involved in making this record and how you invited them onto the project? How was that experience, assembling this roster?
I know all the artists that I produced and all were happy to get on board once the concept was explained. My husband, Saul Davis, has always loved Steve Young’s “Midnight Rail” and he suggested that Robert Rex Waller Jr. would be a perfect singer for it. Thankfully he agreed. Likewise, Rob’s other contribution, Rank & File’s “The Conductor Wore Black.”
Another example, we hadn’t intended on two versions of “Mystery Train,” but when recording the uptempo version for Rocky Burnette, a slow sensual approach also seemed appropriate, so we included a James Intveld sung version as well.
3) You grew up five blocks from the railway in Austin, TX. What can you share about that time in your life from a musical perspective – were trains something of interest to you even then?
Kids love trains! I was brought up a tomboy by my mother who was born on a cattle ranch and my father who was a classical pianist. We had to pass over the tracks every school day and dream about taking off into the sunset someday. My brother and I shared a Lionel train set and spent a good amount of time assembling and reassembling its parts!
4) DittyTV has the honor of premiering a new music video from the album, which features the work of yourself and Brian Ray. Talk to us about the song “Whiskey Train” and how you chose it for the album; also, could you please describe the video production process?
Brian Ray was on hiatus from Paul McCartney’s band and suggested Procol Harum’s “Whiskey Train” and asked if I’d sing it with him. I’d always loved the song even though it’s not really lyrically about trains or railroads. In fact, it’s a metaphor and rocks just like the trains themselves so we thought it would work. The video idea was Brian’s with us playing guitars on the various trains rolling along. It was filmed and edited with green screen technology.
5) In making this record, did any of the contributing artists express stories of their experiences with trains that stuck with you?
If I could describe what Dave Alvin saw out the window of the Southwest Chief I’d say one word: America. Dave has spent several years traveling this country’s railroads with his band of excellent musicians on whistle stop tours. Rocky Burnette, son of Johnny Burnette of Rock And Roll Trio fame played “Mystery Train” many times in his career. It might be the classic rock train song. Dom Flemons penned “Steel Pony Blues” about Nat Love, a former slave who worked on the railroad lines.
Bonus: On other train-related content – documentaries, books, albums, etc. – do you have any recommendations for what our readers should check out?
A very cool book is Hollywood’s Trains & Trolleys by Josef Lesser and Marc Wannamaker.
Bonus: Are you working on any other projects at the moment that you’re able to share with us?
I have a duo album with Stephen McCarthy due out later this year as well as two records I produced ~ an instrumental album of guitar-based jams by Jake Andrews and a solo album by Rob Waller.
Bonus: Do you see yourself producing another project like this one, and if so, what would the theme be?