Country Songwriter & O’Kanes Member Jamie O’Hara Has Died
From the Grammy-winning song “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” that became the signature song from The Judds, to Gary Allan’s first #1 hit “Man To Man,” to Ronnie McDowell’s #1 “Older Woman,” songwriter Jamie O’Hara made major contributions to the songbook of country music, often as the sole writer on a composition, while also finding success as one half of the performing duo, The O’Kanes.
Now, like so many other country greats lately, Jamie O’Hara has passed away. Earlier this week, O’Hara’s wife, Lola White, had announced that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of Cancer and could only have weeks to live. On Thursday morning, January 7th, it was confirmed that Jamie O’Hara had succumb to the disease. He was 70-years-old.
Born August 8, 1950 and from Toledo, Ohio, before he ever discovered he had a penchant for writing and performing music, Jamie O’Hara was a four-sport star athlete at Ottowa Hills High School. They nicknamed him “Gold” from the way he excelled at every sport, and he even received a contract offer from the Detroit Tigers at age 17. But in 1969 during a football scrimmage, O’Hara tore his ACL, which was a career-ending injury in that era.
It was then that Jamie O’Hara poured his heart into his passion for music that simply started as being a fan of performers such as Kris Kristofferson and Roy Orbison. With the same dedication he pursued sports, O’Hara started writing songs, moving to Nashville with 10 songs he had written in his hand. After being turned away at Monument Records, he walked across the street to Tree Publishing (later Sony Tree), where he would spend much of his career.
Between 1975 and 1980, O’Hara worked odd jobs to pay the bills, all the while slaving to write a hit song. He found a mentor in legendary country songwriter Harlan Howard, as well as other legends such as Curly Putnam, and then in 1980, took the plunge to be a full-time songwriter, writing songs for Conway Twitty, Ronnie McDowell, Don Williams, and Tammy Wynette. But the lack of major success cost him his first wife, and he continued to struggle to find success. Then one day in 1985, he sat down at a picnic table he used as a dinner table in his three-room house and wrote “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days),” and everything changed.
“The bosses at Tree International didn’t like much about it, including the long-ish title,” Jamie O’Hara recalled years later. “I said, ‘No, you’re not changing a thing.’” Offering a respite from familial dysfunction, “Grandpa” resonated deeply with country fans and critics alike, not only going #1, but being awarded both Best Country Song and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group by the Grammy Awards in early 1987.
By that time, Jamie O’Hara had formed a duo of his own called the O’Kanes with Kieran Kane, and signed with Columbia Records. The duo released three records between 1986 and 1990, landing six Top 10 hits, including the #1 “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You.” Now Jamie O’Hara wasn’t just writing big songs. He was singing and performing them.
But the duo disbanded in 1990 so the two could pursue solo careers, and O’Hara signed with RCA Records and released a solo record in 1994 called Rise Above It. He failed to find the same commercial success he did with the O’Kanes, but kept writing songs, and successfully so, while also working as a mentor to many of the new class of songwriters making their way to Nashville. The O’Kanes rebanded in 2000 to some success, and later Jamie became a big writer behind Gary Allan.
“What Kind of Fool,” “Nickjack Cave,” and “No Damn Good” co-written with Gary Allan and Odie Blackmon all sprang from the pen of Jamie O’Hara. As his career went on, he also became quite reclusive, despite his time in the spotlight previously. Instead of hanging around the Tree Publishing offices during the day, he would sneak in at night, leaving new contributions in a bin. They would check security camera footage to confirm O’Hara had stopped by to leave some more songs the night before. Unlike many in Nashville, O’Hara wasn’t about soaking up the credit. It was all about the song for him.
Jamie O’Hara was also part of a moving moment when he performed his song “50,000 Names” at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial with Emmylou Harris (see above). Along with being a bridge between Nashville’s original songwriters such as Harlan Howard, O’Hara was also a huge fan of Jesse Winchester.
“My husband, friend and love of my life took his last breath this morning at 11:11 at Alive hospice, as my son Brian sang him a plethora of Jesse Winchester songs, all stunningly appropriate, though we’d never thought of them in this context before,” O’Hara’s wife shared on Thursday (1-7). “…and Jamie’s own songs, including the earliest ones, which were shockingly sophisticated for a man as young as he was when he began his career; and those of other friends. Jamie suffered tremendously in recent months. He’s no longer suffering, and for that we can all be grateful. He will live in our hearts and in his songs.”
January 7, 2021 @ 7:17 pm
Loving You Against My Will is one of the finest songs I have ever had the pleasure to listen to.
January 7, 2021 @ 8:02 pm
Sad to learn of Jamie O’Hara’s passing. Another wonderful tunesmith gone but his songs will live on. Loved his songs and performances with the O’Kanes duo. Godspeed on angel’s wings!
January 7, 2021 @ 8:08 pm
“Families really bow their heads to pray
Daddies really never go away”
is one of the greatest couplets in country music history.
January 7, 2021 @ 8:16 pm
Really sad. He was a tremendous talent . His 1st solo album Rise Above It is a masterpiece. I actually have 2 copies . 50,000 Names is an incredible song . Loved the O’ Kane’s also.
January 7, 2021 @ 8:30 pm
Another great Gary Allan song – Jamie O’Hara Cut was “See if I Care”…Great song and great performance by Gary
January 7, 2021 @ 8:39 pm
I’m guessing you meant Kieran Kane, another great writer/artist in his own right.
RIP Jamie, and thanks for all the great songs.
January 8, 2021 @ 12:35 am
I still listen to my CDs by the Okanes. A unique and talented duo. A sad loss. My condolences to his family. RIP.
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
January 8, 2021 @ 1:20 am
The first O’Kanes album remains one of my all-time favorites. RIP.
January 8, 2021 @ 1:48 am
I didn’t know Jamie O’Hara wrote those songs.
It’s sometimes surprising to learn that some seemingly unrelated songs from different genres share the same writer.
Did you know that Keith Whitley’s “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was written by the guy who wrote “I Fought the Law” and also “Love Is All Around” (the theme from the Mary Tyler Moore Show)? That’d be Sonny Curtis
January 8, 2021 @ 10:59 am
I find that really interesting too. Paul Anka wrote “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore “ . ( Buddy Holly, Linda Ronsdat etc. ) I love discovering this stuff.
January 8, 2021 @ 11:25 am
Those are all good. Here’s another one – the same guy who co-wrote George Strait’s I Just Want to Dance With You” (with John Prine) also co-wrote Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress and I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.
Those aren’t songs I’d group together, but they have a common thread.
January 8, 2021 @ 6:20 pm
Good one Michael. Roger Cook- Englishman So prolific. Prine co- wrote with Steve Goodman etc. but that song threw me for a loop. So glad he ( Prine) got some royalty money.
A good writer is a good writer. Love this . I’m a songwriting nerd! Loved reading credits on albums.
January 8, 2021 @ 3:13 pm
Paul Anka wrote the theme for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, played by the Doc Severinson band. The writers are listed as Anka and Johnny Carson. Per Wikipedia, it was “based on a previous composition by Anka.” Sounds like Carson said “If I’m going to have this played on my network TV show five nights a week, then l want to add a bar and get a credit.”
Anka also wrote the English language lyrics for “My Way,” which was originally a French song called “Comme d’habitude.”
Anka needed an oversize mailbox to receive all his royalty checks.
January 8, 2021 @ 5:19 am
So, 2021 starting up with where 2020 left off- out with the old, in with the same old, same old
January 8, 2021 @ 8:59 am
This is real gut punch. Jamie O’hara was a criminally underrated songwriter. Rise Above It is one of my favorite albums of all time. In the late-93 I saw the video for “What’s a Good Ole Boy to Do” on CMT and wanted to hear more. I couldn’t find it in any record store I went to in Philly and then one lucky day I found it in the discount bin at Houston Hall on the Penn campus. It was a promotional copy and wasn’t supposed to be sold, but I didn’t care.
The entire album is gold. 10 songs and not a mediocre song in the bunch. It includes 4 songs which had videos (a rarity in that day when even Alan Jackson who used videos a lot would only have a couple of videos for each album). You can find them on youtube. Includes 50,000 Names which George Jones covered (I prefer Jamie’s version).
It was my introduction to how narrow country radio playlists were. At the time I could not understand why I never heard his songs on the radio which compelled me to search for other stuff being ignored by country radio (e.g. Shaver who had an album around that time too). Thankfully CMT, at that time, was an excellent source for under-the-radar music.
My prayers to his family. Thank you, Jamie, for some of the best music I ever heard.
January 8, 2021 @ 11:02 am
Couldn’t agree more. I keep trying to turn people onto this incredible album. He just didn’t wanna play the game. The songs were cut to the bone in plain language.
January 8, 2021 @ 1:02 pm
An incredible talent. Wish he had released a lot more on his own. The Okanes stuff is awesome. Them along with Dwight and Jim Lauderdale turned me around back in the 80s and re-introduced country music to me. I always had Buck and Waylon and Merle around me when I was a kid but that was my dad’s music. I went off into the rock world until I heard this stuff. It was real and grabbed me. His first solo album is definitely a classic in my collection. My band covers “Cold Hard Truth”. The Beautiful Obsession disc is a slight turn from country but it is still a masterpiece. That album is really an awesome concept album in my mind. Every song relates to each other.
Buddy crabtree jr
January 8, 2021 @ 2:14 pm
The O’Kanes album was a big influence on me as a future Nashville recording artist,r.i.p. jamie,godbless
January 8, 2021 @ 4:52 pm
My prayers are with this family on his passing may he rest in peace
January 9, 2021 @ 1:00 pm
”50,000 Names” will take you to the heart of grief and loss.
January 10, 2021 @ 8:01 am
My Grandpa passed away in 1995 and I still can’t listen to “Tell me bout the good ole days” with out crying. The song still brings up the most wonderful memories of him. RIP Mr. O’Hara.
January 11, 2021 @ 8:07 am
O’Hara also wrote “When We’re Gone (Long Gone)”, which Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou recorded on TRIO II in 1999 (the final track on that album).
January 1, 2022 @ 7:00 pm
I started working when I was 12 years old when I got my first paycheck I went to the record store and bought my first 45 and I used about a lot of $45 when I was young and then I moved over into albums because it just they were usually more than one song on an album that you could fall in love with I miss the old days old music newmusic
February 25, 2021 @ 5:51 pm
Wow, this was a shock. Jamie O’Hara was a terrific singer, The O’Kanes were one of the best-ever male duets in country music, up there with the Wilburn Brothers and Louvin Brothers and given they weren’t related, that made their harmony all the more impressive.