When his career in journalism ended, Thomas Oliver set his heart and sights on what he really enjoyed doing - making music.
Oliver worked at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution for 28 years.
"There is life after journalism," he says.
In 2008, many newspapers ceased business because of the recession. Even major metro dailies had to cut costs, and offered buyouts to employees.
"I hadn't planned on the newspaper industry imploding the way it did," Oliver says. "On the third buyout, I decided to go. I talked the Sunday editor into coming with me and we got married and moved to Tybee."
Although Oliver had always loved Tybee Island and intended to retire there, it all happened about five years ahead of schedule. Since he'd been making music on a part-time basis before and had recorded two CDs in Atlanta, he decided to pursue music full-time.
Oliver has played many local music venues, including Bernie's Oyster House, Doc's Bar, Huc-a-Poos and North Beach Grill on Tybee Island, as well as Wild Wings in Savannah, Uncle Bubba's on Wilmington Island and Driftaway CafÃ© in Sandfly. A CD release party is planned for his latest recording on Aug. 16 at the Flying Fish Bar and Grill.
IF YOU GO
What: CD release party featuring Thomas Oliver
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 16
Where: Flying Fish Bar and Grill, 7906 E. U.S. 80, Wilmington Island
Also: Oliver also will perform from 6-10 p.m. Aug. 17 and Aug. 23-24 at Bernie's Oyster House, 13 16th St., Tybee Island; and at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at First Friday for Folk Music, First Presbyterian Church, 520 Washington Ave.
During his newspaper career, Oliver worked as both a reporter and editor.
"I was privileged to have a pretty good run," he says. "I started in the business section and got a great assignment covering the Coca-Cola Co.
"I was there when they introduced the new Coke. The next thing I knew, Random House wanted me to write a book about it."
The result was the bestselling book, "The Real Coke, the Real Story."
"I was the business editor for a while," he says. "When they got the Olympics in Atlanta, the business editor was named the Olympics editor."
For six years, Oliver got to travel all over the world.
"I was going to Barcelona, Lillehammer, and even after the Olympics, I went to Australia to consult with the papers there," he says.
While at the AJC, Oliver helped set up the first investigative special projects unit and also helped cover Gwinnett County.
"It was Boom City there for a long time," he says. "We had a seven-day-a-week supplement and I was running the newsroom out there.
"I came back and spent the last few years downtown being a senior editor," Oliver says. "I ended up writing a column. I had no complaints, it just sort of blew up."
Tybee Island was a good place to retire.
"I'd been coming down 15 years before I moved here," Oliver says. "We consider the move was a good one and haven't regretted it."
Music was a good field to pursue.
"I always have loved it," Oliver says. "I played off and on, beginning in college. As the family came and children came and the career came, I always laid it aside, then I discovered it would save my life.
"The newspaper life can drive you crazy. I found coming home and playing music was lifesaving in a real sense. I started doing it more and more.
"Then I started writing songs," Oliver says. "After a while, I thought I'd written one or two that was good, one in particular written for a female voice, and I thought it would be good if real musicians and singers did it."
Songwriting remains Oliver's favorite part of music.
"I don't think there is anything quite as unbelievably mysterious and cool as being part of creating a song," he says. "That's a high I haven't gotten onstage.
"The more I do live performances, the better I like it, but a performance could be good, it could be bad," he says. "It's mysterious. There's a craft to it and you are employing your craft, but at the same time, there's a magic to it, a part of it that's not really you."
Each composition is thoroughly tested.
"Usually when I finish a song, I'll play it probably 50 times in a 24-hour period," Oliver says.
"It's like a baby and you keep looking at it. You just play it over and over. There's a little bit of worry. Would I ever be able to do this again?"
At one time, Oliver didn't even know what a demo tape was.
"I found someone who could do that and I was hooked," he says. "It was like giving me a drug.
"I did a whole CD of demos, with other people doing stuff for me. I would be doing the scratch vocals and they said I ought to do my own.
"One thing led to another, and I started doing open mics," Oliver says. "I'd get a few friends together and we'd call ourselves a band. We were into it, then."
After Oliver submitted several songs to the Georgia Music Industry Association, some were selected to be included in a showcase called "Best of Country."
"You do the showcase and you get a certificate," he says. "That was fun and I was blown away the first time it happened. I didn't have any idea that would happen and it was really cool."
Recently, Oliver started his own website at the urging of his wife, Melissa Turner. Thomas-oliver.com features both his music and writing.
On the website, Oliver has a blog, "Letters from the Edge of America." He swears to keep it light and often humorous, but never political.
"I have a dear friend who is into social media," Oliver says. "She agreed to help me do this, so we launched the website.
"It's got my music on it, and I'll be telling people where I'm playing," he says. "There's a jukebox where people can listen to all three CDs, and I'm also using it to write about other songwriters that I like."
A member of the Savannah Songwriters Series, which presents two in-the-round songwriter concerts every month, Oliver hopes the group can become a community for songwriters.
"Everybody who comes in and does it for the first time is blown away," he says "Our support comes from the musicians."
His first CDs are "Finally Over Losing My Mind" and "The Life You Save Might be Your Own." Oliver's latest CD is called "The Edge of America."
"It came from when we went to Folly Beach," he says. "When you drive into Folly Beach, it says, 'Welcome to Folly Beach, the Edge of America.' If you are on either coast, you are on the edge of America."
The CD contains 11 songs, all original.
"The style is what I call really old country, when country included the blues, folk and other things, not the stuff you listen to on the radio now," Oliver says.
"Some call it Americana. It's sort of old sounding. It's something I've always done. I've always been an old country fan."
Merle Haggard has always been a favorite of Oliver's.
"In 1970, I was a freshman at the University of Georgia when it was becoming Hippieville," he says. "I was in Reid Hall, which was becoming known as 'Weed Hall.'
"I'm hiding away listening to Merle Haggard. He came out with 'Okie from Muskogee' that year."
On that album is a song called "Today I Started Loving You Again."
"That was the first song I learned to play," Oliver says. "It didn't require me to be a great musician and I liked the storytelling aspect.
"That's what I've gravitated toward, the George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis. My first two CDS are honky-tonk songs and lovesick ballads.
"This one certainly has a country feel to it, but the title track could not be described as a country song, although there are a couple of hardcore country songs," Oliver says. "I have a funny one, 'The Ballad of Tybee Island,' that everyone seems to enjoy."