Deep Blues

Local music bedrock Hans Olson looks back on a lifetime of ups and downs and 30 years of making music in the Valley

Soon after, the relationship collapsed, and Olson was on the hook because he had signed all the papers to buy the club. "I said, 'Well, I have no choice here but to make this thing roll and then sell it,'" Olson says. "It took a year and a half for me to get it worth what we paid for it, and then I sold it." However, the sale failed to retire the $48,000 debt he'd run up trying to improve the club. He could not afford the payments and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1989.

The Sun Club fiasco prompted Olson to opt for a new start in San Francisco, a city where he'd always done well during previous visits. Just before he left, though, a number of Valley clubs began booking him. Olson ended up commuting regularly from San Francisco to Phoenix, and many people never realized he'd moved. Olson says he hadn't planned to come back permanently. "I was determined to make it up there, and I was doing really well. And to do really well in a town like that is better than doing really well in a town like this."

Olson did return in 1990, because fellow Valley music veteran Andy Gonzales had lined up a deal to have Olson record a new album. By the time he moved back, the project had fallen through.

Roomful of blues: A 1995 photo capturing Hans Olson among his memories in his garage/recording studio.
Timothy Archibald
Roomful of blues: A 1995 photo capturing Hans Olson among his memories in his garage/recording studio.

Even with the success he enjoyed throughout the '70s and '80s, Olson's periodic moves away from the Valley were motivated in part by career and financial considerations. Olson's one consistent gripe with Phoenix is that most of the city's club owners haven't kept up with the times. "They're paying the same money they were paying 20 years ago. It really is weird," says Olson. "Every other city I've been to, it's sort of kept up with inflation. They pay less here than any town I know.

"I go up to Flagstaff and make three times the money I can make here. That's how I've made my living all this time. Going out of town on the weekends and making real money."

Another reason for Olson's big-city sojourns was his desire to gain a major record deal. Although his dreams of success have not completely faded, Olson says he's more content with his role as a local hero. "I gave up on the paper chase," he says. "Getting a record deal doesn't have the same appeal anymore."

Since marrying his wife, Gina, in 1991 and settling into a modest Scottsdale home, Olson is more inclined to simply enjoy the fact that he makes a good living doing what he loves. And whenever he really starts to feel the blues, Olson can usually comfort himself with the knowledge that, as he says, "In a few hours, I'll be playing music."

Hans Olson's 30th Anniversary party, featuring a host of performers and local personalities, is scheduled for Sunday, September 5, at the Arizona Roadhouse and Brewery in Tempe. Showtime is 7 p.m.

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