Jamie O’Hara, an award-winning songwriter and former member of country duo The O’Kanes, passed away Thursday, January 7th, at the age of 70. He had recently been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and lost his battle with the disease.
O’Hara was born August 8th, 1950, in Toledo, Ohio, and moved to Nashville in the mid-1970s to pursue singing and songwriting. He signed a publishing contract and found early success with a couple of singles for Ronnie McDowell, “Wandering Eyes” and “Older Women,” which hit No. 1 in 1981. O’Hara began collaborating with another writer from the same publishing company, Kieran Kane, and the two formed a duo which they called The O’Kanes, an amalgam of their respective last names, in 1986.
That same year proved a fertile time for O’Hara. He penned a song for The Judds, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days),” which became the mother-daughter duo’s sixth consecutive No. 1 single. The song lamented the decline of traditional family values as well as the modern-day non-stop lifestyle in a tender, nostalgic way. “Grandpa” took the Grammy for Best Country Song, which was awarded to O’Hara, the sole writer on the tune.
The O’Kanes also released their first single in 1986, “Oh Darlin’,” which peaked at No. 10. Their follow-up, “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You,” went to No. 1 in 1987, signaling a bright future for the duo. The O’Kanes mixed traditional sounds rooted in country and bluegrass with superb harmonies, drawing comparisons to The Louvin Brothers and especially The Everly Brothers. The duo became an integral part of a wonderfully creative period in country music, with fellow artists like Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and others whose music was more progressive and less commercially oriented.
The O’Kanes recorded three highly praised albums for the Columbia Nashville, with their self-titled debut album in 1986 reaching the Top 10. Their singles success continued throughout the latter part of the 1980s with such hits as “Daddies Need to Grow Up Too,” “Just Lovin’ You,” and “One True Love,” which reached No. 4 in 1988. In 1990, O’Hara and Kane dissolved the duo to pursue solo careers.
“I love those O’Kane records,” remarked Emmylou Harris on O’Hara’s passing. “Jamie and Kieran’s voices were so different, but they blended so marvelously that sometimes, somehow, it was hard to tell who was singing lead and who was singing harmony.”
O’Hara and Kane remained friends after going their separate ways. They continued to write and record music, mainly in the Americana genre. O’Hara recorded a solo album called Rise Above It for RCA in 1994 and released two more album projects during his career, Beautiful Obsession in 2001 and 2012’s Dream Hymns. O’Hara became part of a national movement when he performed his song, “50,000 Names,” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with Emmylou Harris in 1997. He also wrote songs that were cut by Gary Allan, Trisha Yearwood, and other artists.