Wrecking Crew Bassist Joe Osborn Dead at 81
Joe Osborn, a sessions bassist best known for his work with Los Angeles' celebrated Wrecking Crew, is dead at age 81. He died on Dec. 14, multiple sources confirmed, after battling pancreatic cancer for some time.
With a readily identifiable playing style, Osborn can be heard on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” and Neil Young’s “Sail Away,” among many other iconic tracks. Variety described his influence as comparable to “James Jamerson at Motown, Duck Dunn at Stax, and John Entwistle with the Who.”
Osborn’s first of nearly 600 recording credits came with Ricky Nelson’s 1962 album Best Sellers, which followed the release of the single “Travellin’ Man” the previous year. Recalling his big break, Osborn told Vintage Guitar that he’d been given a simple task with a TV show band: “They asked me to mail back all of the demos people had sent for consideration. There were hundreds of them," Osborn said. "I was supposed to just mail them back. I started listening to a few, and that’s when I heard ‘Travelin’ Man.’ I told Ricky we should keep this one and he agreed. We recorded it, and it turned out to be a number one hit for us.”
Among Osborn's many Top 10 hits are the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind,” Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park,” and America’s “Tin Man.” He discovered the Carpenters and appeared on all their recordings, before moving to Nashville in 1974 and working with artists including Young, Chet Atkins and Merle Haggard. He can be seen in 2014 documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me and 2015’s The Wrecking Crew!
Watch Ricky Nelson Perform ‘Travellin’ Man’
“Half the time we didn’t know who the final artist was going to be,” Osborn said of his Wrecking Crew years. “[Producer] Lou Adler liked our sound and used us on everything he produced. The engineer on all of that stuff was Bones Howe. Years before, when I was with Ricky Nelson, Bones had inquired about me because ‘Travelin’ Man’ was the first song he had ever heard that had a noticeable bass line throughout the entire song. We were what was known as ‘first call’ musicians. It wasn’t hard for the producers to figure out we played well together, so we did quite a bit, but we did a load of sessions individually, as well.”
Osborn said he’d never been upset that other people took the glory for his work – including the Monkees, who mimed to tracks he’d recorded for them. “We knew that it was going to happen,” Osborn said. Wrecking Crew drummer “Hal [Blaine] had a good answer to a very similar question. He said people always tried to copy what we were doing, but by the time they learned it, we were already into something else. There were bands that demanded our names never be mentioned in the liner notes. That didn’t bother us, either.”
Listen to Simon & Garfunkel's ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’