Feb. 23, 2004 – Yes, definitely, Jeffrey Osborne will sing some of the ballads he's famous for — "On the Wings of Love," "Stay With Me Tonight," "Only Human" — when he performs Saturday night, opening the 25th anniversary season at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas.
But there'll be some up-tempo numbers, too, and some "today" tunes and maybe even some standards, the pop/soul/r&b artist says. And quite possibly his composition "Congratulations," which one fan Web site lists among his "lost songs worth finding." (The others: "Let Me Know" and "Rest of Our Lives.")
"I'll try to do a little bit of everything, try to cover the span of my career — the L.T.D. stuff and my solo stuff," Osborne said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he lives. "People like the Old School stuff. I mix it up quite a bit. It would be pretty boring if I did a whole show full of ballads."
He'll be arriving on St. Thomas mid-week and will do his homework before he finalizes the program.
"I have eight albums with L.T.D. and eight solo albums," he notes, and that covers a lot of musical territory. But he has found in performing elsewhere in the Caribbean that his stateside hits are not necessarily the local favorites. In Jamaica, for example, "songs were big hits there that were never hits here. They love 'Getting Better All the Time,' on the 'Only Human' album." And in the Bahamas, "'Shine On,' an old L.T.D. song, is a huge hit."
So, he plans to "talk to people," see what he things would please his St. Thomas audience the most, and go with the flow.
This will be Osborne's third visit to St. Thomas, and his second working one. But it's still his first concert.
In the mid-90s, "some people from Coors that were sponsoring me were trying to get a fitness show off the ground," he recalls. "I was there for almost a week. Nothing ever came of it."
And then he "came through on Tom Joyner's cruise" in 2000 — after having performed with Sinbad's second 1998 funk fest in Aruba — the year before Sinbad brought the event and some 7,000 visitors to St. Thomas.
The St. Thomas of his memories, Osborne says, "is very kinda laid back. At least I laid back while I was there! I loved the climate, loved the flavored rums. I didn't really get a chance to get into the night life. I enjoyed the food. The people were very warm and friendly."
Osborne was the youngest of 12 children in a Rhode Island family where music was literally a way of life. His father, Clarence "Legs" Osborne, played jazz trumpet with Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Young Jeffrey honed his skills playing both trumpet and drums and at the age of 15 got the chance to sit in with the O'Jays on drums and ended up spending two weeks touring with the band.
It was at a Providence, R.I., nightclub in 1969, again sitting in on drums, that he connected with the soul/funk group Love Men Ltd. that would eventually take the name Love, Togetherness and Devotion — or L.T.D.
Moving to L.A., he joined the group as drummer, but his rich baritone soon moved him to lead vocals, where he stayed for more than a decade while L.T.D. topped the pop and soul charts with regularity, including the dance classic "Back In Love Again" and a string of memorable ballads such as "Stranger," "Where Did We Go Wrong?" and "Love Ballad."
"Everyone was sharing lead vocals when we started, so we had no vocal identity," he says in a Web biography. "It wasn't until 1975 when 'Love Ballad' came out that our vocal sound became established. I'm very proud that they wanted me to be the lead singer."
After a decade with L.T.D., Osborne left to pursue a solo career that has brought him five gold and platinum albums. His first solo released, in 1982, featured "On the Wings of Love." He scored on the charts into the early '90s with urban adult contemporary hits such as "Let Me Know," "She's On The Left," "You Should Be Mine" and "Only Human" — along with his hit duets with Dionne Warwick, "Love Power" and "Take Good Care of You and Me."
For the rest of the '90s, however, his only release was a 1997 Christmas album. In 2000 he did one CD for Wyndham Hill's Private Music subsidiary, "That's For Sure." Then came the collections "Love Songs" in 2001 and "Best of Jeffrey Osborne – Millennium Collection" in 2002. He released his latest album, "Music Is Life," last summer on his own JayOz label.
Osborne, termed a "soul survivor" in a Web biography, says he doesn't tour any more but keeps busy performing. "I work just about every weekend, but I'm home during the week, so I don't consider it touring," he says. "I've done that grind so many times — being out months at a time. It's not really appealing to me any more."
He's heading to St. Thomas from L.A. and the next night he's got a gig in Chicago.
His wife, who is his business manager and also is "into the public school system" in Los Angeles, is accompanying him for the first leg only: "She won't go to Chicago, but she ain't gonna miss St. Thomas," he says with a laugh.
They have a son, 14, a high school freshman and a daughter, 20, a junior at Howard University. He has two older children and five grandchildren from a previous marriage.
Osborne says one of his great frustrations as a "veteran" artist is that Classic Gold GEM and other "oldie" format radio networks are all too happy to give air time to his vintage recordings, but on the Top 40 stations, "it's hard to get exposure with a new recording. My new music doesn't seem to want to get spins. It's rap or nothing." And, he adds, that makes it "hard to sell product, 'cause if they're not hearing it, they're not buying it."
He says his music has evolved to some extent: "There are definitely underlying grooves, hip hop grooves … You want to fit in. But I want to keep integrity in my lyrics, my style."
For Saturday's concert, he'll be performing with his band — two keyboardists, a guitarist, a bass player, a drummer and two backup singers. His sound engineer is in charge of "bridging" his vocal style and the Reichhold Center sound system. "We don't want to blow anybody away out there," he says. "We want people to be able to listen to the music, as opposed being blared at so you can't hear the instrumentation."
The amphitheater seating of about 1,200 suits him just fine. "I enjoy any size audience," he says, "but I prefer intimacy, being able to reach out and touch someone. That definitely brings out more of the entertainer in me."
Saturday's show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65 in the covered section and $45 and $30 in the open air.
They're available at the Reichhold box office, the UVI bookstore in the Sports and Fitness Center, both Modern Music shops, Parrot Fish Music, and Krystal & Gifts Galore on St. Thomas; and Connections on St. John. And they may be purchased with a charge card by calling the box office at 693-1559.
Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays — or until 9 p.m. on performance nights.
Season tickets are also available — covering the Osborne concert, the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) on March 27, STARfest 10 on May 8 and 9, a Latin Fiesta on June 19, and Oliver Samuels & Company on Aug. 14. Package prices are $204 for covered seats and $139 for open-air seating, representing a 5 percent savings over
individual prices. Season subscribers get first choice of seating and an invitation to private receptions with the artists. Season tickets may be purchased at the box office or by phone using a charge card.
Once the redesign of the Reichhold Center Web site is complete, patrons will be able to order tickets online for all of the presentations for this 25th anniversary season. Keep checking the site for availability.
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