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Tucson Weekly Soundbites

By Stephen Seigel

JANUARY 11, 1999:  HANS DOWN FAVORITE: If Tucson's favorite Olson is Lute, then Phoenix's would have to be Hans. At it for more than a quarter decade now, Hans Olson is a shining beacon in that cultural wasteland to our north, a singular talent carrying on the traditions of folk blues perhaps like no other (living) Arizonan.

In 1987, when Hans won one of his many Best Bluesman awards in the Phoenix New Times' "Best of Phoenix" issues, they had this to say: "Every big city has one: a venerable bluesman who's been around forever and is invariably taken for granted on his home turf. Anyone who's spent a monsoon season or two in the desert can tell you the old man of the mountain in these parts is Olson." As the late Rainer Ptácek was to Tucson, so is Hans to the Valley of the Sun.

Though their styles overlap only in the "solo acoustic bluesman" department, the two men shared, for a time anyway, more recognition outside of their respective hometowns than they enjoyed amongst locals. It took years before Rainer drew the crowds he deserved, even though he was simultaneously being written up in multiple-page spreads in European music rags which declared him the "greatest living dobro player in the world."

Olson has quite a European following of his own, and has toured with the likes of Michelle Shocked, Dave Mason, and blues legend Brownie McGhee (an experience documented in the track "Me and Brownie McGhee," from the 1995 release Kachina Blues). In addition, he has recorded with top-notch session musicians such as Al Kooper and Albert Lee, and legendary manager/producer William McEuen.

As if this isn't enough to round out his impressive list of accomplishments, the guy even sang the opening theme song for the lean-years-era Burt Reynolds TV show Evening Shade.

Stylistically, there's nothing earth-shatteringly original in his stuff--how inventive can a one-man, traditional folk-blues act really get?--but sheer, authentic talent sets Olson apart from the flock. He's a hell of a fingerpicker, one of the best damn harp-in-a-rack blowers you'll likely hear in a lifetime, and his voice flows easily from smooth and lulling to backwoods grittiness, often in the space of a couple measures.

In a sea of musicians who often sound like they're trying too hard to make us believe they've done enough living to deserve the bluesman mantle, it's refreshing to watch someone like Olson, for whom it all seems to flow naturally. He comes by his craft honestly, plain and simple.


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