Cover Story

Jeffrey Osborne
The vision, the voice, the vibe
By Chris Campbell

If eyes are a window to the soul, then a soulful voice is a window into the heart––at least according to smooth jazz and R&B singer/songwriter Jeffrey Osborne. With a rich and soulful baritone, the legendary crooner has struck a chord in the collective hearts of music lovers for nearly four decades. Although his last studio album was released in 2005, he still keeps a full calendar of concert dates. This month, Osborne is headlining the second weekend at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival in Avalon, California, on Oct. 12.

The youngest of 12 children, Osborne's musical journey began as a youth in Providence, Rhode Island, where his formative years were spent soaking up the influences of his musically talented family. 

“My father was a great jazz trumpet player who performed with Wes Montgomery, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie,” he said. “My whole family was into jazz, especially my older brothers who were serious jazz musicians, so I heard a lot from Carmen McRae, Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. But I also enjoyed R&B music from Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and Dionne Warwick, so I had a very well-rounded music perspective.”

Having acquired a set of hand-me-down drums from his brothers who would go on the road and tour, Osborne, who had started singing in clubs at age 13, took a musical quantum leap by adding percussion to his performance repertoire and soon found himself gigging on the weekends with students from Boston's Berklee College of Music who would come to Providence and play the local club circuit. 

His notoriety in Providence soon caught the attention of Love Men Ltd., a group out of Greensboro, North Carolina, who were the backing band for Stax Records’ standout soul men Sam & Dave (“Hold On,” “Soul Man”) and who had brought his older brother, Billy, into the band sometime earlier. A chance encounter with the group would drastically change his life.

“Love Men Limited saw me perform when they visited my hometown and asked me to come to one of their shows,” he said. “When I went to check them out, their drummer had gotten into trouble outside of the club and landed in jail. The owner asked me to finish the night because there was no drummer. I didn't miss a beat as they performed a lot of Top-40 music that I was familiar with. I became their regular drummer on the spot. To this day, I still don't know whatever happened to their drummer.”

With Osborne on board, the group rechristened itself as L.T.D. (love, togetherness, devotion) and built its sound around his songwriting and vocal ability. They moved to California, lived out of a one-bedroom apartment and aggressively pursued a recording contract. A record deal (with A&M Records) and hits followed as the ensemble became one of the supergroups of the 1970s with songs such as “Holding On When the Love is Gone,” “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again” and the timeless classic “Love Ballad.”

It was during this time that Osborne blossomed as a songwriter––something that would serve him well later on. 

“I was with such a great group of musicians,” he said. “That was my soul foundation. I had great horn players at my fingertips, so I learned about writing and orchestration. It was an incredible time for me and I owe everything to that period in my life. I matured as a songwriter. By the time I left the group, I had been writing 80 percent of the material and I was able to transition to being a solo artist because I could write and co-write with anyone. I was able to write songs and when you look at singers that left groups from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the only ones (Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson) that made it were singers who could write and dictate their own destiny. If you can write songs, you have a great advantage in the industry.”

**The complete story can be found in the October edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Subscribe today.   Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (February through December), for $35.

For more information on Osborne, who is scheduled to perform at the 22nd Annual Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival on Oct., visit www.jeffreyosborne.com.