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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Joe Osborn--An appreciation

Joe Osborn interview excerpt

One of the key members of the fabled group of 1960s and early ‘70s Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, bass guitarist Joe Osborn died Dec. 14 at 81.

“I’m sorry to tell you that we’ve lost another friend,” said Denny Tedesco, son of late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and director of the 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew, in announcing Osborn’s death on the film’s Facebook page.

“He made his impact in rock ’n’ roll and country,” noted Tedesco. ”[He was a] first-called session bass player in two cities--Los Angeles and Nashville.”

Indeed, Louisiana native Osborn’s varied credits include such landmark rock, pop and country hits as fellow Wrecking Crew member Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” Richard Harris’s “MacArthur Park, and the 5th Dimension’s “Up,Up and Away.”

Osborn served in Ricky Nelson’s backup band with Wrecking Crew guitarist James Burton and played on Nelson hits like “Travelin’ Man,” and with drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Larry Knechtel was known as the Wrecking Crew’s Hollywood Golden Trio. Among the countless other artists whose recordings Osborn graced are everyone from Simon & Garfunkel to Johnny Rivers, America, Neil Diamond, the Grass Roots, Bob Dylan, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, The Carpenters, Kenny Rogers, Mel Tillis, and Hank Williams, Jr.

“Joe was salt of the earth,” says renowned bass guitarist Will Lee. “He had more taste and soul than the average human. Just dig his flowing bass lines on all the 5th Dimension hits, not to mention the Carpenters’ hits and Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’”

Osborn played on over 400 Top 40 country hits and more than 200 Top 40 pop hits, according to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

“Simply put, Joe Osborn was a giant of electric bass playing,” says fellow bass luminary Bob Glaub. “That’s just by the sheer number of hit records that he played on alone--hundreds each in the two recording capitals of Los Angeles and Nashville.”

Glaub notes that Osborn “played the perfect notes, at the perfect time, with the perfect sound, that was his sound--and his sound alone: It was completely unique, developed on a 1960 Fender Jazz bass played with a large triangular pick--and picking way up by the top of the neck. His way of picking the bass reminded me of a bluegrass rhythm guitar player--and he was a guitar player before he switched to bass.”

Glaub adds: “I’ve never seen anyone play quite like him, and was very fortunate to meet him and get to know him a bit. He had a great sense of humor and was very open and friendly. What struck me when I watched him play up close was how easy he made it look to play so articulately: It just seemed so effortless, yet impossible to imitate.”

“I was and remain completely in awe of Joe Osborn,” Glaub concludes.



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