Joe Osborn, Wrecking Crew Bassist, Dies at 81

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Joe Osborn

Bassist Joe Osborn, a member of Los Angeles’ famed Wrecking Crew group of studio musicians, died Dec. 14 at age 81. The cause and place of death were not disclosed.

Osborn’s work can be heard on hundreds of recordings beginning in the early 1960s, including hits by Rick Nelson (“Travelin’ Man,” “Hello Mary Lou”), Johnny Rivers (“Seventh Son,” “Memphis”), the Fifth Dimension (“Up, Up and Away,” “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”), Simon and Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), and the Mamas and the Papas (“California Dreamin’,” “I Saw Her Again”).

There were plenty more… songs by the Association (“Windy”), Richard Harris (“MacArthur Park”), the Carpenters (“Close to You,” “For All We Know”), the Grass Roots (“Midnight Confessions”), Neil Diamond (“Holly Holy”), Scott McKenzie (“San Francisco”), Gary Lewis and the Playboys (“This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In”), the Monkees (“Valleri”), Nancy Sinatra, Kenny Rogers, Helen Reddy, Barbra Streisand, Tommy Roe, America, Bobby Sherman, the Partridge Family, Spanky and Our Gang, the Turtles and others.

Joe Osborn (right) with George Harrison (Publicity photo still from the film ‘The Wrecking Crew’)

Denny Tedesco, the producer of the documentary The Wrecking Crew, posted on his Facebook page: “When I started this documentary, it was very difficult to get to all the players around the country. But there was no way I was not going to make the trip out to meet Joe. I flew to Shreveport where he was playing with Johnny Rivers and James Burton. He made sure he found time for me to do that interview which was so important to the history of the Wrecking Crew. Over the years, he was always there when we needed him for a concert or screening. Even though he was a quiet man, I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he saw the love of his fans. I called him a gentle bear. He made his impact in Rock and Roll and Country. First called session bass player in two cities; Los Angeles and Nashville. My favorite line from Joe. He was asked why he kept the same strings on his bass for 17 years. His answer, ‘No one told me I was supposed to change them.’ He will truly be missed but not forgotten.”

Related: Our interview with the producer-director of The Wrecking Crew documentary

Joe Osborn was born Aug. 28, 1937, in Mound, La. He began his career playing in clubs and then found work in recording studios. An invitation to join the band of Ricky Nelson, with whom he stayed for your years, led him to settle in Los Angeles, where he was often called upon by producers such as Lou Adler and Bones Howe.

In 1974, Osborn left L.A. for Nashville, where he continued to work as a first-call studio bassist, reportedly playing on 53 #1 country hits. In the late ’80s, he moved back to his home state of Louisiana. He reportedly battled cancer beginning in the mid-2000s.

Watch an interview with Joe Osborn

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