Joe Osborn, the legendary bass player for the studio supergroup known as the “Wrecking Crew,” has died at age 81. The director of a 2008 documentary about the group confirmed the news on Saturday (Dec. 15) in a Facebook post about the Los Angeles-based group of session musicians who played on a string of indelible hits in the 1960s and 70s.
“I’m sorry to tell you that we’ve lost another friend yesterday. Joe Osborn has passed. 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,” wrote director Denny Tedesco. “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… He will truly be missed but not forgotten.”
According to Rolling Stone, Tedesco confirmed that Osborn died on Friday (Dec. 14) following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Osborn and the Crew are credited with hundreds of sessions, including appearances on such rock classics as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” America’s “Ventura Highway,” the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” as well as dozens of albums by country stars Kenny Rogers, Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire, among many others. Osborn is also credited with being the first person to record a teenage Karen and Richard Carpenter, when he tracked the soon-to-be pop superstars on his home four-track deck in his studio.
Born in Mound, La., on Aug. 23, 1937, Osborn switched from electric guitar to bass early in his career, joining up with Ricky Nelson’s band in 1960 for a four-year stint that led to steady session work in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. During his most fruitful mid-1960s to mid-1970s run, Osborn’s playing could be heard on albums and singles by The Grass Roots, The 5th Dimension, Johnny Rivers and Neil Diamond. In 1974, Osborn moved back to his southern roots, setting up in Nashville, where he played on albums by Hank Williams Jr., Chet Atkins and Mel Tillis.
According to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, Osborn played on more than 400 top 40 country hits and more than 200 top 40 pop hits, 20 of which were No. 1 songs. The bassist’s final release was the just-released Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which paired Osborn’s classic playing and the Carpenters’ original vocals with new orchestral arrangements by Richard Carpenter.
Listen to some of Osborn’s most beloved work below and read the full tribute on The Wrecking Crew movie’s site.