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Former Fixture

Troy Olsen returns to Tucson and City Limits for a holiday charity gig

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A Nashville resident for the past four years, honky tonk troubadour Troy Olsen returns to his adopted home of Tucson a few times a year, usually to play a gig in the town where, for much of the late '90s, he was a fixture on the country scene.

Always with him and his band is Roadie, a Yorkshire terrier mix and the band's unofficial concert-tour mascot. But when Olsen arrived in Tucson this past Saturday night, he almost lost Roadie.

"We got into town; we had some dinner; we came home and found he had snuck through a crack in the fence and ran away. We were up past midnight, and he never came back," Olsen said, during an interview late Sunday night. "We thought maybe he was gone. It turns out the neighbor lady had taken him in and was planning to find out where he lived in the morning. But she let him out in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and we heard him barking outside. She was really sweet for taking care of him for us."

A happy reunion followed, which is also what Olsen's fans are likely to get when he plays a special "Honky Tonk Holiday Party" Friday night, Dec. 17, at City Limits.

On the program for the evening will be new and old Olsen material and several Christmas songs, including his new single, a cover of the Chuck Berry yuletide classic, "Run, Run, Rudolph," which was recently released to country radio.

That tune is in rotation on Tucson country station KIIM-FM, which is sponsoring the concert as part of the station's Annual Penny Pitch event to benefit the Arizona Children's Association. Olsen said he hopes the concert will generate between $8,000 and $10,000 for the cause, adding that he jumped at the chance to give something of substance back to Tucson and the radio station that has been most supportive of his burgeoning career.

This week's gig and new single are products of mutual attraction shared by the singer and KIIM-FM, he said.

"The folks over at Citadel Broadcasting, which owns KIIM-FM--we've a got a great relationship with them. They thought it would be a good idea to record something for the holidays."

KIIM-FM has been nothing but encouraging to Olsen's career, he said. "That station used to be family-owned, and they would never do anything for me. But the second it became a corporate station, they're wondering how in the world they can help. They've given me complete support literally to the highest levels of the company. It's unbelievable and sort of backwards to the way you think things are."

This year, the station also has been spinning Olsen's tune "You're the One." That song, written with critically acclaimed Tucson singer-songwriter John Coinman, is on Olsen's recent CD, Troy Olsen, which was released independently earlier this year.

In Music City, Olsen's been shopping the album to labels and writing new songs. Nowadays in Olsen's backcourt are manager Bradley Nozicka, a local promoter who also runs Cal Productions, and Nashville producer Scott Hendricks.

Of Hendricks, Olsen is understandably awed. "He's one of the top five producers in (Nashville). He's worked with people like Trace Atkins, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson. He's got me back in the studio writing songs, and he's stone country, like me, so it's a good match."

Indeed, Olsen is a hard-core honky tonker, not one of those lite-pop country singers. He grew up listening to artists such as Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and a little Bruce Springsteen.

Olsen's hero is the neo-traditionalist Dwight Yoakam, who first inspired Olsen to play the guitar. "I was the first one in my family to ever play an instrument or sing," said the 31-year-old Morenci native, who grew up on a ranch in Duncan.

As much as he appreciates traditional country, Olsen's not mired in the music's past. He also gives props to the proud-to-be-a-redneck country-rock rapper Kid Rock, who appears on Olsen's recent album.

"He has a lot of respect for the history of country music, and he's somebody who is very real. He knows country does need to move into the future, but that we are trying to preserve some of the traditions of it, as well; he's totally behind that concept."

Serendipity brought Olsen and Rock together in a Nashville studio. "He was working down the hall in the same studio producing some recordings by another band," Olsen said of Kid. "We got to talking and hanging out and went out a few times and got drunk together."

One thing led to another, and what do you know, soon Kid Rock was hinting that he'd like to sing on "Rock This Honky Tonk," unsurprisingly one of the most rockin' tracks on Troy Olsen.

The Kid Rock connection yielded one of Olsen's favorite career moments so far. "There was one time when D.M.C., from Run-D.M.C., Hank Jr., Kid Rock and I were hanging out together in a suite at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, singing songs on an acoustic guitar until like four o'clock in the morning. I mean, things like that happening to me? It's just surreal."

When Olsen plays Friday night at City Limits, he'll be accompanied by his regular band, which features Tucsonans Teddy Morgan on guitar and Richard Medek on drums. Rounding out the group are Park Chisolm on bass, Paul Bergen on guitar, Slyde Ory on steel guitar and a new addition on the fiddle, popular Nashville session man Rob Hajacos.

Now that Olsen has recorded a Christmas tune, we wondered what his favorite holiday-themed records are. At the top of his list are country classics such as Yoakam's Come on Christmas and Alan Jackson's Let It Be Christmas and Honky Tonk Christmas. And the delicious new album, Christmas, by Chris Isaak, is a keeper, too.

"Actually, I really dig Christmas music," Olsen said. "We were with the band the other day going through some songs for this Friday and, you know, everybody knows all the words, because they have been pounded into your head forever. But once you start singing and playing them--we were just faking our way through--you realize how great they are, as songs."

Who knows? Maybe Olsen will do a full-length Christmas CD some day.

"We've had thoughts about that, and one idea is that every year, we should cut a Christmas tune, and then one day, we'll have enough for an album."

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