By STEVE SEYMOUR
Houghton native P. J. Olsson, who began playing music at age 6, has landed a pretty decent rock 'n' roll gig.
He's the lead singer for Alan Parsons Live Project, a configuration of musicians performing the progressive rock of the group's namesake Britisher, who first gained fame for engineering records by the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
Parsons, internationally recognized for the number three hit "Eye In The Sky," has featured various musicians and vocalists on his recordings through the years. But since mid-2003, it's Olsson who has energized crowds as frontman for the Live Project. The tour will hit a high point this October when it lands in Houghton.
Olsson, who's quite proficient in the studio, met Parsons when he was hired to engineer for a day on the veteran rocker's compact disc, "A Valid Path," released in 2004. "I ended up there for six months, engineering, writing, singing and mixing for Alan's last record," Olsson told me.
In fact, Olsson got a songwriting credit with Parsons for a tune on the disc called "More Lost Without You," on which he also sang lead vocals. The album, which features Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on one cut, maintained Parsons stellar production standards and bears repeated listenings.
"Somewhere along the line he asked me to see his band. I was horrified with what the lead singer at the time was doing to the songs. Alan asked if I could do better. I sang him 'Time,' and was hired for the next world tour," Olsson said.
Since then the singer-songwriter has performed for several Live Project music treks. This year's dates will include a residency in Houghton Oct. 9-12, during which the band will play with the 65-member Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra, directed by Milt Olsson, chair of the Michigan Technological University fine arts department, and P. J.'s dad.
It seemed obvious, but I asked the young singer if he was excited by the upcoming event. "Well, let's see, Alan Parsons' music, full orchestra conducted by my dad, singing in my hometown, I'd say... YES," Olsson emphasized, feigning an expletive.
When he appears before his hometown crowd, Olsson will be fronting a world-class band which includes Parsons on guitar, vocals, keyboards and percussion; plus keyboardist Manny Focarazzo; guitarist Godfrey Townsend; drummer Steve Murphy and bassist John Montagna.
The Keweenaw Symphony will play orchestrations written by noted movie soundtrack composer Andrew Powell, keyboardist Focarazzo and the elder Olsson
The Upper Peninsula audience will hear Olsson sing "Games People Play," "Eye in the Sky," "Time," as well as other material from the extensive Parsons songbook, in a program which also includes an awe-inspiring light show.
Now a resident of Los Angeles, Olsson said he finds his "return to the simplicity of small town America inspirational and centering."
Olsson said there were few musicians his age when he was growing up in Houghton. "Since I didn't have a band, I ended up resorting to analog tape decks sped up and slowed down, synths, sequencers, and custom recorded tracks as a backdrop for my songs. Before I knew it, I was 17 with a record deal as a solo artist."
While Olsson has worked with the veteran Parsons now for years, he is still able to maintain an increasingly visible solo career. His own albums include "Dust," "P. J. Olsson," "Words for Living," "Beautifully Insane," and the soon to be issued "The Ironwood Sessions."
Tracks from Olsson's latest album, to be released on the CBS Records label, will be included on various episodes of television shows like Jericho, CSI and Nip and Tuck. Olsson's song "She Says to Fly," will be featured in the program Ghost Whisperer which will air on April 6.
Olsson has also received nationwide exposure from an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman and was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine. In addition, his song "Ready for a Fall," was included on the soundtrack album for the hit TV show Dawson's Creek, while "Visine," the opener from his fourth solo album attracted considerable media attention when it appeared in 2005. "The Whistle Song," another catchy tune from "Beautifully Insane," has been used in a Starburst advertising campaign.
The former U. P. resident's resume also includes performances alongside such musical acts as Train, Ben Harper, Michelle Branch, Bob Geldoff, Rufus Wainright, The The, Beth Orton and Placebo.
So, take a bow P. J., we Yoopers couldn't be more proud.