×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Joe Osborn, Wrecking Crew Bassist, Dies at 81

Bassist Joe Osborn died of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 14 at 81.

Osborn was no ordinary studio musician. From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, Osborn was ubiquitous, playing on tunes as silly as The Monkees theme and as sublime as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

You can see Osborn backing Ricky Nelson on the early 1960s TV series “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” He later became a key member of the elite Los Angeles performers that have come to be known as the Wrecking Crew. He appears prominently in documentaries about the period including “The Wrecking Crew!” (2015) and “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (2014).

Originally a guitarist, Osborn played the electric bass with a pick which enabled his parts to cut through on recordings — even when played on tiny transistor radios.

But producers featured him because his floating slides, hooks, and counterpoints added the distinctive energy and bounce that distinguished L.A.’s hits. He influenced that fruitful period as much as his bass-playing contemporaries including James Jamerson at Motown, Duck Dunn at Stax, and John Entwistle with The Who.

“Joe’s sound is as distinct and unique as Erroll Garner’s, Wes Montgomery’s, or even Ella Fitzgerald’s,” drummer Hal Blaine – who frequently teamed with Osborn – told Downbeat magazine in 1972.

Studio musicians’ influence is often benchmarked by the number of hits on which they appeared. The Shreveport, La. native’s run included 16 No. 1 songs, starting with Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man,” a song written for – and rejected by — Sam Cooke that Osborn heard and brought to Nelson’s attention.

After that, Osborn drove chart-toppers from performers including Johnny Rivers (“Poor Side of Town,” “Secret Agent Man”), Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”), Gary Lewis & the Playboys (“This Diamond Ring”), the Mamas & The Papas (“Monday, Monday”), Glen Campbell (“Gentle On My Mind”), the Turtles (“You Baby”), the Association (“Windy”), the Fifth Dimension (“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”), the Cowsills (“The Rain, The Park and Other Things”), Richard Harris (“MacArthur Park”), Tommy Roe (“Dizzy”), Seals & Crofts (“Summer Breeze”), Neil Diamond (“Holly Holy”), Helen Reddy (“I Am Woman”), America (“Tin Man”), Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End”), England Dan and John Ford Coley (“Nights Are Forever”), the Partridge Family (“I Think I Love You”), the Grass Roots (“Temptation Eyes”), and Olivia Newton John (“Don’t Stop Belevin’”).

Osborn’s influence was especially evident in his work with The Carpenters. He discovered the brother-and-sister team in 1966 when they showed up at his short-lived Magic Lamp records label to accompany an auditioning trumpet player. He helped them to shape their distinctive harmonies and played on all of their hits.

By 1974, the demands of playing about 20 sessions a week became too much for Osborn. He moved to Nashville where he continued his studio work backing performers including Chet Atkins, Eddie Rabbitt, Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffett, and Neil Young.

Osborn moved back to Louisiana in 1988. He gave Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame the legendary Fender Jazz bass he used on countless recordings, and had autographed by musicians he accompanied including Karen Carpenter, Olivia Newton-John, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Neil Young and Paul Simon.

More Music

  • Madonna

    Madonna's Madame X Tour Adds New York, Chicago and L.A. Dates

    Madonna has added additional shows to her upcoming Madame X tour. Nine newly booked dates have been announced for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Queen of Pop adds five additional New York concerts at the Howard Gilman Opera House, which will take place between Oct. 2 to 7; two extra shows will take [...]

  • Doug Davis and Jodie ShihadehVariety Power

    Jodie Shihadeh Named Partner at The Davis Firm

    Jodie Shihadeh has been named Partner at The Davis Firm, PLLC. She joined the firm in 2011 and rose from associate to Managing Attorney and now partner. She graduated from Boston College and received her law degree from Fordham University School of Law in 2011. While still in law school she interned in the Business [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

  • Dakota Johnson Tracee Ellis Ross

    Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross Co-Starring in Comedy 'Covers'

    Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross will co-star in “Covers,” a comedy set in the music scene in Hollywood. “Late Night” director Nisha Ganatra is helming from a screenplay by Flora Greeson. Focus Features is partnering with Working Title Films on the movie. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner will produce with Alexandra Loewy [...]

  • Academy of Country Music CEO Pete

    Academy of Country Music CEO Pete Fisher Exits; RAC Clark Named Interim Chief

    The CEO of the Academy of Country Music, Pete Fisher, has exited after two and a half years at the helm of the organization behind the annual ACM Awards. RAC Clark, the executive producer of the CBS broadcast, has been named interim executive director, effective immediately. No reason was given for the change at the [...]

  • Lumineers Explore Spiral of Addiction With

    Lumineers Explore Spiral of Addiction With Shocking New Series of Music Videos

    Last month, the Lumineers debuted their raw, emotive new single “Gloria” with an intimate performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” complete with a living room stage design and vintage home movies looping in the background. The nostalgic, homegrown feel was intentional — an overt nod to their upcoming concept album, “III,” set for [...]

  • John Williams Pens Theme for Disneyland's

    John Williams in Disneyland: The Story Behind His 'Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge' Theme

    For only the second time in more than four decades of “Star Wars” music, legendary composer John Williams has written a new theme for a “Star Wars” project that is distinct from his film scores for those galaxies far, far away. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the much-anticipated attraction that will open at Disneyland on May [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content