In Memoriam: Joe Osborn
Very sad news to report today: bass legend Joe Osborn has passed away. He was 81 years old. His son, Darren, made a statement on behalf of his family on social media.
“Thanks from all the Osborn family for all the warmth and support from our friends during this difficult time,” Darren wrote. “Joe is in a beautiful place now. He passed 12-14-18 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was surrounded by family at his home in Greenwood, Louisiana.”
Born and raised in Louisiana, Osborn’s first success came as a guitarist working with singer Dale Hawkins. He moved to Las Vegas at just 20 years old where he switched to bass. It was here that he joined Ricky Nelson’s band and scored the enormous hit, “Travelin’ Man.”
Nelson’s band broke up in 1964, by which time Osborn had become a known entity in the music industry. He began branching out into the recording scene and started doing session work full-time in Los Angeles. The magic of the studio musicians, including his frequent bandmates Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel, during this led to hit after hit.
Osborn played on smash hits for Johnny Rivers (“Memphis”) The 5th Dimension (“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”), The Mamas and the Papas (“California Dreamin'”), The Association (“Windy”), Simon and Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), and many, many more. He also helped to discover The Carpenters and played on all their albums throughout their career.
Osborn left the L.A. scene in 1974 for Nashville, where he continued to work with primarily artists like Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr., and more. In a 1998 interview with Vintage Guitar magazine, the bassist says his son counted “about 200 pop Top 40, 18 number ones on the pop charts, and at least 53 number ones on the country charts.”
The music he made put a stamp on an entire generation and inspired scores of bassists. We were lucky enough to speak with Mr. Osborn for an article in our “Stories Behind The Songs” column back in 2012 where he discusses 10 out of his many famous tracks. He was very gracious with his time and knowledge, even sharing a tip for up and coming musicians.
“Young players ask me, ‘How do you think of all those things to play?’ And this is one of my lessons that I repeat over and over again: The song will tell you what to play if you listen. You get your ideas from either the melody or the vocal phrasing gives you rhythmic ideas.”
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Joe Osborn.