"That boy good!” a crowd member exclaimed at a Michael O’Neal concert at Time Flies in Paris.
The boisterous concert-goer’s sentiment soon became the general consensus that night, as the local pub filled with many other attendees belting out their own lively cheers for O’Neal’s Southern rock.
Folks patronize small town pubs like Time Flies to simply relax with some comfort food and a cocktail or play pool and socialize after a long work week, usually paying little attention to the musical act on stage. The ambiance of Time Flies on Saturday night was quite different from that. It was abundantly clear at the end of the band’s first song that patrons were taking notice.
O’Neal alternated in vocal stylings between gently confessional to loudly unapologetic. A huge asset to O’Neal’s songwriting was Coby Reese on lead guitar. The solo work Reese did was impressive enough to pull the audience in while O’Neal took breaks between verses to focus solely on playing rhythm. Bass and drums were handled by brothers Rodney and Jefferey Key, who played like brothers to say the least, never losing perfect time to O’Neal’s unvarnished lead.
O’Neal is a Paris native who now lives in Blossom with his wife and children, but who still works in Paris as a mailman. Even though O’Neal has been professionally playing his original brand of Americana for over 20 years and has five studio albums to show for it — “Dark Side of a Small Town,” “Soulshine” and “Family Business,” among them — he has never “quit his day job” despite having an undeniably marketable talent.
“Well, the first night I ever played was probably the best I ever did,” O’Neal said when asked about his past with paying gigs. “I made $450, and I went home and told my dad: ‘I’m quitting my day job.’ But then I never did because I didn’t make that kind of money again for 10 years.”
O’Neal has been writing songs since his early 20s when he realized he didn’t like how he sounded while singing covers. O’Neal said he was driven by a ‘well if I’m gonna do it my way, I might as well do it right’ philosophy, and he began writing lyrics. Deeply personal and brazenly unabashed lyrics speak clearly and directly to certain kinds of heartache, like the bone-deep weariness of child custody cases and familial longing, issues often overlooked in mainstream music.
O’Neal can be painfully shy off stage in stark contrast to his on-stage persona.
“I guess I change up there because I’m passionate about music, especially since these songs mean so much to me. I mean every song is about someone I know,” O’Neal said.
When asked about which songs in particular come to mind, O’Neal said “Going West” or “Nova ’71.” “Going West” is about going to work with his dad in his truck every day and those times they spent together just talking.
“We used to always joke about just going west ’cause we were always headed west on the way to work,” O’Neal said.
“Nova ’71” is about the painful day his sister was made to leave their childhood home. O’Neal had trouble talking about it, ultimately saying “just listen to it.”
O’Neal’s discography can be found online at www.michaelonealmusic.com.