In Memoriam: Jamie O’Hara (1950-2021)

Country singer and songwriter Jamie O’Hara has passed away at the age of 70.

Country Standard Times reports:

Jamie O’Hara, who enjoyed success both as a member of The O’Kanes and a songwriter, passed away this morning at 70 of cancer.

O’Hara was born in Toledo, Ohio on Aug. 8, 1950. He moved to Nashville to pursue a singing and songwriting career. By 1975, he had a publishing deal.

He hooked up with Kane, who wrote for the same publisher, to form The O’Kanes. They first collaborated on “Bluegrass Blues,” which was cut by The Judds. By 1986, they decided to form a duo known as The O’Kanes. The same year, O’Hara penned “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol’ Days),” a big hit The Judds. O’Hara earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Song.

The O’Kanes signed to Columbia Nashville in 1986, recording three studio albums for the label and charting seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts. Their third album did not have any hit singles. By 1990, the duo split with both going for solo careers, “Rise Above It,” for RCA Nashville in 1994. He put out “Beautiful Obsession” in 2001, while continuing to write. Tim McGraw, Tammy Wynette, Josh Turner, Tanya Tucker, Sara Evans, George Jones, Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Shelby Lynne, Wynonna, Emmylou Harris, and The Trio (Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt), Randy Travis (“Gonna Walk That Line”) and Lee Ann Womack (“You’ve Got to Talk to Me”) were among the artists who cut his songs.

On a personal note, O’Hara was not only one of my favorite songwriters.  He also produced an underrated solo album that is among my favorites from the nineties: Rise Above It.  It features his versions of “The Cold Hard Truth,” beautifully recorded by George Jones, and “For Reasons I’ve Forgotten,” a highlight of Trisha Yearwood’s classic album, Hearts in Armor.   It also features the powerful Vietnam War reflection, “50,000 Names”:

There’s teddy bears and high school rings
And old photographs that mamas bring
Of daddies with their young boys playin’ ball
There’s combat boots he used to wear
When he was sent over there
And there’s 50,000 names carved in the wall

There’s cigarettes and cans of beer
And notes that say: “I miss you dear.”
And children who don’t say anything at all
There’s purple hearts and packs of gum
Fatherless daughters and fatherless sons
And there’s 50,000 names carved in the wall

They come from all across this land
In pick-up trucks and mini vans
Searchin’ for a boy from long ago
They scan the wall and find his name
The teardrops fall like pourin’ rain
Then silently they leave a gift and go

There’s stars of David and rosary beads
And crucifixion figurines
And flowers of all colors large and small
There’s a boy scout badge and a merit pin
Little American flags wavin’ in the wind
And there’s 50,000 names carved in the wall

Jamie O’Hara was a singular talent with an enviable catalog of classic songs.  May he rest in peace.  Our prayers are with O’Hara’s family, friends, and fans.

5 Comments

  1. Jamie was a fine songwriter and his recordings with Kieran Kane were among the best music to emerge during the late 1980s. His solo album RISE ABOVE IT was, as Kevin noted, a really fine album

    His death was a real surprise, but his musical legacy should be long remembered

  2. “Beautiful Obsession” is a rarely mentioned concept album that is wonderfully moody and atmospheric. Not terribly country in its production, but lyrically it guts you the way only the best of country music can. A song cycle of an album that is best listened to straight through. Gary Allan and Trisha Yearwood recorded several songs from it on their own albums.

    Losing the legends is impossibly hard but the loss of these lesser known stars somehow feels more personal and private.

  3. Listening to The O’Kanes 1986 eponymous debut and I am reminded of how the spooky harmonies, spare acoustic picking, and almost staccato lyrics served as my gateway into bluegrass music. Miracles happen in the strangest of places, no?

    “Shed a tear for the man with the bluegrass blues.”

  4. RIP Jamie O’Hara
    Love Trisha Yearwood’s “For Reasons I’ve Forgotten”. As a combat veteran of Vietnam, I appreciate O’Hara’s efforts on “50,000 Names”. Agree it’s a powerful reflection. I never saw it before but i did visit the Wall about 30 years ago, a very moving experience. (per virtualwall.org, there are 58,300 names on the Wall)

  5. And there’s “When We’re Gone (Long Gone)”, which Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou recorded for their Trio II album in 1999.

    It hurts when the good ones leave us, for whatever reason.

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