Since he left the Jayhawks four years ago, singer-songwriter Mark Olson has been known as Mr. Victoria Williams, living quietly with his better-known wife and occasional musical collaborator in California's Joshua Tree desert. But during that time, Olson has been extremely productive. He formed a group, the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, with Williams and Mike "Razz" Russell, and the collective has recorded four albums — the most accomplished of which is the recently released My Own Jo Ellen.
"I hired an engineer this time," says Olson, 39, "and I brought in two different drummers. It was a little more organized at that level. The three records we made before were folk records that the three of us basically made — although this one we actually recorded faster than the other ones, in under a week."
What accounts for that? "It's all I could afford," Olson adds with a laugh. The first audiences to hear some of My Own Jo Ellen's songs were students in the local school district who Olson was working with during the day. As an assistant special-education teacher, he worked with 17 junior high-aged children. The assignment wasn't strictly teaching music, but there was always "music hour, so to speak," during which Olson played developing compositions such as "Ben Johnson's Creek" and "Walking Through Nevada."
"Some of the songs I actually worked out on the job; I made up those chords with the kids," says Olson, who had to leave the post in order to tour (he opens each show and then plays bass in Williams' band). The day job, he says, "was totally rewarding. I thought I wouldn't like it; like a lot of things in life, I asked that I didn't get that particular position, which is what they gave me. But afterwards, I would come home at night thinking about it. It was kind of neat, in a way. I didn't think I'd take to it, but I did."