Born in a small town in South Dakota, then moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota at the age of 12, Keith received a very midwestern cultural education founded in reality and defined with realism. As he became more and more interested in music both classical and pop music of the time, he was lucky enough to earn some valuable experience in a couple of the only recording studios in the Minneapolis area. Playing upright bass with light jazz bands around the University of Minnesota Campus brought him into communication with many other musicians in the Twin Cities jazz, classical, and folk music scenes.
After an audition with recording artist Jimmy Rodgers for a job playing bass, Keith was hired and spent the next 8 weeks on the road with Jimmy and meeting artists such as Gale Garnet, Cass Elliot, James Hendricks, Tim Rose, Felix Pappalardi, and Sean Bonniwell. Once this short 8 week tour was over Gale Garnet asked Keith to join her folk trio and back her for a few week stint at the Ice House in Pasadena CA. During that engagement Gale was signed to a record contract with RCA and a few months later “We’ll sing in the Sunshine” was a number one hit / Grammy winner and the three toured the United States with artists like the Four Seasons, Bill Cosby, Hoyt Axton, Chad Mitchell Trio, among so many others for the next two years.
A wealth of soon to be discovered super talents were touring and co-mingling in the folk circuit like David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, and Chris Hillman, just to name a few, where Keith could feel the energy of the oncoming change in Pop Music and Rock.
While finishing up a tour with Gale Garnett, Keith and Sean Bonniwell put their heads together and formed what turned out to be the Music Machine, a hard rock, very tight, well rehearsed band who had a few hits in the late 60’s. During the Music Machine era Keith met up with a U of M college friend Curt Boettcher and started producing pop records and had success with the Association, Tommy Roe and several others. This collaboration and partnership caught the ear of Clive Davis who at the time was president of CBS records, and “hired” the two to produce and assist on some of the new “ambitiously electronic” sounds associated with LA bands and studios for CBS. The Collaboration netted several products such as “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds, “At the Zoo” on the Bookends album by Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Millennium Album, the first 16 track album produced in America linking up two 8 track Ampex machines mechanically.
After working within the confines of CBS and the IBEW union oriented studios, Keith and Curt proceeded to be named partners in a new record company venture called Together Records, a subsidiary of MGM under Mike Curb. This gave the two of them the opportunity to use outside studios, experiment with sound and more multitrack recording. While very exciting at the time, Keith and Curt ended their production partnership shortly there afterwards. Keith decided to move on to make sure that the individual artists talents were always held in the highest regard. “A producer should be just a vehicle to get the artists creativity on “tape” in an accessible manner to the marketplace you’re going after” states Keith.
In 1973 Keith wanted to fulfill his understanding of the palette available to producers by honing his engineering skills. Olsen started the production company Pogologo Productions which is still in existence and active today. The first artists he signed to Pogologo Productions were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Waddy Wachtel, and Jorge Calderon. The Buckingham Nicks Album was done first and released on Polydor Records, the next release was Waddy’s Single “Go to Beirut” on Anthem Records. Jorge’s talent was signed to Warner Bros. records in Burbank.
From this point on the road is very well documented on Keith’s career by numerous websites, books, episodes of VH1’s “Behind The Music”, and lately Dave Grohl’s wonderful documentary “Sound City”.
Keith sensed a change in the direction of Pop and Rock music, and spent the next 25 years helping to define it. With over 120 albums produced netting a 1 in 4 Gold or better ratio, of which more than 24 are Platinum or better, and more than 14 are multi-Platinum, sales from Keith Olsen’s work exceeds 125 million units at retail, equaling more than a Billion dollars in business. To date, his work appears on more than 500 albums and is in many feature films. Olsen has always stated “It’s about the music and how it affects the listener at home, in the car, listening on their iPod, or where ever music is heard. It three elements that make up commercial hit music its the Song, the Performance of that song, and lastly the Sound, are all extremely important. He says “Remember, we play music, we’re not supposed to work at it”.
So that’s the story behind the glass or glasses of Keith Olsen. So what’s in store for him? What will he give us in the future? These questions will be answered each year with new projects of as many varied artists as Keith can fit in. To be true to himself, he tells us, “I’ll never hang it up, making music, regardless of the form or genre, is what I do, it’s what I do best. Life is a game of skill, not a game of chance, and doing records that contain world class artists, great vocalists, wonderful musicians, great songs, great feels, and a uniqueness that makes it special is what production is all about.”