Still Soaring After All These Years
October 26, 2011
Veteran R&B crooner and ‘Woo Woo Man’ Jeffrey Osborne, who swoops into the islands for Saturday’s Pacific Rim Jazz Festival, is still capable of making his fans weak in the knees
His is one of the most easily recognizable voices in R&B and pop music. Millions of people have fallen in love, gotten hitched and made babies to his songs. And yet, you too may have had this thought lately while listening to one of his timeless melodies on the radio: “Where the heck has Jeffrey Osborne flown off to these days?”
Truth is, this balladeer extraordinaire has been in-flight all along following his self-titled solo-explosion album in 1982 that featured the classic, On the Wings of Love. Yes, despite the apparent absence of new material these days and contrary to some fans’ opinions, the former lead singer of the ‘70s soul group L.T.D. has not been neglecting his greatest gift to humanity his golden pipes.
“All veteran artists like myself put product out, but you just won’t hear it,” he tells Musical Notes. “People always say, ‘You haven’t done anything in a while.’ Well, that’s not true. I’m out there working; I’ve been putting stuff out. But other than the old hits, my songs are just not being played (on the radio).”
Thankfully, Osborne’s rich vocal stylings can still be heard live on the current Men of Soul tour, which features other notable big voice talents from the ‘80s as Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson and Howard Hewett. Even better, Osborne’s soulful artistry can be appreciated live right here in the Islands at this Saturday’s second annual Pacific Rim Jazz Festival at the Hawaii Convention Center.
The festival, which runs from 4 to 10 p.m. in the Kalakaua Ballroom, features a talented lineup of international jazz stars, including cosmopolitan saxophonist and event host Michael Paulo all doing their part to help raise money for The Kapolei Foundation, which grants scholarships to deserving students from Leeward Oahu.
“I’ve worked with Michael quite a few times over the years, including the Dolphin Days Summer festival over at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Kona, and we’ve become really good friends,” says Osborne, who at age 63 still makes the ladies swoon with classics Stay With Me Tonight, We’re Going All the Way and You Should Be Mine (Woo Woo Song). “Michael does a lot of great charity work, so I try to help out whenever I get a chance. This seemed like a fun event and I was open to do it, so I jumped on board.”
Musical Notes caught up with Osborne and got the Rhode Islandborn singer to talk more about the path his wings has taken him since his early days as a drummer and trumpet player.
MN: Most people know you for your work in R&B. But where did your interest in jazz come from?
JO: My dad, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a great jazz trumpet player. I grew up in under that influence and, as the youngest of 12 in my family, I had to listen to everything everyone else wanted to listen to first before I could play the music I liked. My influences came from my late older brother, Clarence J. Osborne, who was an incredible jazz singer, and such greats as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Gloria Lynne and Billy Eckstine.
MN: Was your voice your main instrument at the time?
JO: No. I actually started playing the trumpet because no one else in my family did other than my dad. One day, he told me, ‘You’re the last kid so you’re it!’ I started playing in elementary, but I didn’t stick it out and I wish I had because I was starting to get pretty decent. When I was 13, my dad passed and I just kind of pushed the trumpet aside. At that point, all I wanted was to be out on the sidewalk with my friends singing doo-wop.
MN: Is it true that you got the gig with L.T.D. after the group’s drummer got busted for drugs?
JO: Oh, yeah (laughing). I was playing drums at the time as the vehicle to get me out of Rhode Island. When L.T.D. came through town, I went to check them out. That night, their drummer got busted outside of a nightclub smoking marijuana a major, major offense at the time. They took him to jail, and the club owner asked if I would sit in. They were playing Top 40 hits, and I knew every song that was out. That’s how it all started.
MN: Of course, you eventually made your exit from L.T.D. Was it an easy transition for you to move from group member to solo artist?
JO: It was definitely what I wanted. When I joined the group, I was 20 and didn’t know anything. They had this songwriter agreement that prevented me from writing for other artists or doing any solo work. Eventually, I got to the point where I was feeling confined, where I couldn’t stretch out. So in 1978, I said either you’re going to let me stretch out or I’m going to have to leave. They told me I wouldn’t go anywhere if I did leave, that I wouldn’t make it on my own because nobody knew who I was. So it kind of left me no choice. I figured I’d be happier struggling on my own than being ripped off while still part of the group.
MN: In 1982, you had your big breakout album. Why do you think you found solo success so quickly?
JO: I think part of it was that although people didn’t know my name at the moment, many of them knew my voice from my days with L.T.D. But the album also had On the Wings of Love on it, which the record company was actually apprehensive of because they thought it was too pop. Fortunately, they ended up keeping it on the album. And that turned out to be a career song for me.
Aside from Jeffrey Osborne, Saturday’s Pacific Rim Jazz Festival also will feature a slew of today’s top artists, including Boney James, David Benoit, Mindi Abair and, of course, Michael Paulo. For tickets, call 951696-0184 ... Let Manoa Valley Theatre get you in the mood for Halloween with the longest-running off-Broadway musicals, Little Shop of Horrors, which hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The sci-fi show continues through Nov. 13. Call 988-6131 for tickets or visit manoavalleytheatre.com for more information ... Finally, check out Ohana Arts Fall Festival of Music and its celebration of French composers’ music, Sunday through Nov. 6 at college campuses around Oahu. Visit ohanaarts.org for more information.
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