Jeffrey Osborne continues to ride the wings of success

Published on April 1st, 2021

By Jim Dail

In the old days, the ability to make money with music was a vastly different ball game. Record labels popped up everywhere, some major and some just fly-by-night operations that were started by businessmen who saw an ability to make money off of a single song. Clubs and music spots were all over, and aspiring young artists could scrape together enough money to live on and earn their chops, as they say.

“When I was young, there were places everywhere you could perform,” said Jeffrey Osborne, who will perform Saturday at Thornton Winery as part of the 2010 Champagne Jazz Concert Series. “I got to perform five or six nights a week. There were all these clubs I could go to and perform. That was where I could groom myself to get better and become an entertainer.  Kids don’t have that same chance now.”

Osborne, mostly known for a string of hits in the ‘80s and as an in-demand live performer, was born into a very musical family in Providence, RI., led by his father, Clarence “Legs” Osborne.

“My influence really was my family,” he said. “It was a musical family and I was the youngest of twelve. My dad was a musician, so I got to hear a lot of the old classic singers like Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine.”

Much of that stemmed from the fact that his father was a very successful musician who had access to the big performers of the day.

“I got to hear real singers,” he said. “My father had opportunities with Wes Montgomery, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, many of the great ones. But working as one of forty sidemen didn’t enough money to raise 12 kids so he stayed in Providence and worked.”

That helped get Osborne into the clubs though.

“It’s what I mentioned earlier, that there were so many places back then,” he said. “I got started on the corner singing Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, all the doo wop stuff. I remember doing shows at Brown University on spring break, and I got to open for groups like The Coasters and The Drifters.”

It was when he was performing with other local musicians that he came across Love Men Ltd., or LTD.

“Actually they had just left Sam and Dave [‘Soul Man,’ ‘Hold On’] and saw me playing in a club drumming and singing and said I should come see them play,” he said. “As it turned out, their drummer got taken to jail for smoking weed. The club owner was glad to see me and asked me to sit in because they didn’t have a drummer.”

At the time, he was working at a record store and he just happened to know what was on the charts for the last few years.

“I asked what songs LTD was going to sing and he said the Top 40,” he said. “I performed with them and they asked me to join the band.”

After a successful run with LTD, Osborne went solo and hit it big right away.

The second single from his debut album, “On the Wings of Love,” became a career song.

“It was a great thing and it seemed to get bigger as it got older,” he said. “On the Wings …” really crossed me over as an artist. I became a pop artist in that era so I was able to do different types of shows.”

He quickly noticed a difference in audiences.

“I’d play pop shows and there would be 60 percent white people in the audience and at other shows it would be a predominantly black audience,” he said. “I’d have to switch my shows up. Right now, I am doing the Men of Soul tour with Freddie Jackson, Howard Hewitt and Peabo Byson. Those shows have a 95 percent black audience, and I go deep into my LTD things. But ‘On the Wings of Love,’ I can do for both audiences.”

He continued to have hits, even as the musical genres kept changing.

“I love improvisation and it was so much heavier in the old days and it was more welcome,” he said. “For example, everytime I try to do anything like hip hop people would say I’m selling out. But I go back to all the R&B sounds, way back before that music. The Vaughan Improvisation was the big thing for me – bass, drums and piano and then just free singing to create a beautiful melody. Now I think melody is more structure at it has sapped a lot of creativity.”

While he can see clearly what is going on with his music and his audiences, he is still trying to figure out what is going on today in the music world.

“It’s kind of strange but there are still some really good female vocalists, but there are hardly any male vocalists in the R&B field right now,” he said. “I also think that melody is disappearing.”

As for his own shows, he is in a little bit of transition.

“I’ve added a few songs to the set list, but I’ve had to flip a couple musicians around because I have to rehearse a couple of new guys,” he said. “That can make it harder to do everything, so I have to figure out what I want to do. My guitarist is also the musical director for Diana Ross and she never goes on tour, but now she decided to go out for a few weeks. I’ve got good subs. I’ve got Bill Sharp on bass as a replacement. He’s always with someone because he’s that good.”

One thing that is for certain is some songs will never be off the set list.

“I got to do ‘On the Wings of Love,” he said. “I have to do ‘Love Ballad.” I have sung that song more than any song I’ve ever recorded. And then, I have to do [‘You Should Be Mine’] ‘The Woo Woo Song.’ There’s no way I can not do that one.”

At times he’s perplexed at some of the songs and their impact.

“’The Woo Woo Song’ is just enormous in the islands,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I’m not complaining.”


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