Joe Osborn, legendary session bassist and part of the Los Angeles studio-musician group that came to be known as the Wrecking Crew, has died. Variety reports that Osborn died on Friday of pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
Osborn, who was born in Louisiana, started out playing in clubs and backed early local rocker Dale Hawkins on one of his records. At 20, Osborn moved to Las Vegas, where he backed up country singer Bob Luman. Eventually, Osborn joined teen idol Ricky Nelson’s band and played on many of his hit records. And in 1964, when Nelson broke his band up, Osborn became a full-time Los Angeles studio musician, joining the upper ranks of that circle and playing on an insane number of hit records.
Osborn wasn’t the most famous Wrecking Crew bassist — that would be Carol Kaye — but he did have a rich, melodic style of his own, finding ways to make his instrument weave through the other sounds on the records, adding something while never quite standing out. Osborn played on #1 singles like Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction,” the Mamas & The Papas’ “Monday Monday,” the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He also helped discover and mentor the Carpenters, playing on many of their hits.
In 1974, Osborn moved to Nashville and played on records from country artists like Kenny Rogers and Reba McIntire. He also played on Neil Young’s Comes A Time and Old Ways, on Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, and on Paul Simon’s self-titled album. And even though he’d been largely retired in recent years, he would still show up on friends’ records every so often.