MALIBU, CA-Jeffrey Osborne is unapologetic about his love for old school music. In some ways, Osborne is the definition of old school. His professional musical journey started off with a short stint with the O’ Jays. He then blossomed into a singing force as the lead singer for a decade with L.T.D., one of soul music’s layered and talented R&B bands during the 1970s when instrumental funk and love songs were standards instead of an abbreviation like it is today.
That’s not to mention Osborne going on a meteoric journey as a solo artist, a career that has seen him earn four Grammy nominations and multiple gold and platinum albums. The On the Wings of Love and We’re Going All the Way hitmaker came along at a time when the soul and funk genre have come to identify his musical career.
Back during their heyday, Osborne and L.T.D. were in competition with the likes of the Commodores, ConFunkShun, Ohio Players, Isley Brothers, Kool & the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and at a time when George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic were making strong inroads for the R&B crowd.
That’s not even counting individuals such as Lenny Williams and groups like the Four Tops, Temptations, and the Jackson 5 and The Supremes solidifying their already strong musical base during this period. That’s some real heavyweight muscle to go up against.
But somehow, Osborne and L.T.D. not only managed to establish their own fan base with mercurial hits like Concentrate on You, Love Ballad, and We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love, they cemented lifelong fans passionately devoted to their music. In Osborne’s term: old school is the sh-t!
The intimate audience that braved the weather conditions to see Osborne in concert at the Smothers Theatre inside of Pepperdine University’s Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts, rightly agreed with the soulful balladeer as he laid claim to the stark differences and appreciation in musical genres: the bare-naked, heart-singing tug of yesteryear to the technology-driven music of today.
It’s easy to make that claim if you’re Osborne, one of the more gifted soul singers of his generation. Watching Osborne perform onstage, it is hard to believe that the longtime crooner is now, as he calls it, “representing the 70 and older crowd.”
Gee, how time flies. I remember being just an adolescent watching Osborne perform for the first time on Soul Train as the lead singer of L.T.D. as they served up a rendition of their funky hit song (Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again.
It was that song that got me to hop aboard the Osborne and the L.T.D bandwagon. From their smoking love ballads, Osborne and L.T.D. (along with Al Green) became my go-to when it came to snuggling with cradle-in-your arms love songs. One of those masterpieces, the melodic and thoughtful Stranger hitched onto me as an Osborne and L.T.D. all-time favorite of mine.
Interesting enough, I leaned over to my wife as I drove down the U.S. 101 Highway (Pacific Coast Highway) on the way to Osborne’s solo gig in Malibu and told her there was one song in particular that I really, really wanted to hear the Love Power vocalist sing and that would be the melodic and fantasy-driven Stranger.
Sure enough, as if on cue, the very first number that Osborne would tantalize the audience with would be Stranger. As soon as Osborne’s band and backup singers broke out in that La, La, La, La rift….my hope came into immediate fruition as Osborne took the time to make the song and his appearance a personal one when he walked into the theatre and mingled with the crowd, high-fiving and shaking hands with folks as he graciously eased his way onstage while singing the 1979 released song he co-wrote.
Osborne’s walk-in appearance proved to be the gateway for the rest of the evening for the next two hours. It is easy to see why Osborne has had a very successful musical career. As he did at Pepperdine, Osborne knows the art of how to work a crowd.
Osborne, who turns 71 in March, proved that he still has it. It being pouring on the charisma, interjecting enough energy into his performance to run a marathon, and letting loose that incredible raspy, rich booming voice that has romantically seduced grownups for the past five decades. What seemed to make Osborne’s performance a more enjoyable one was the fact he took the time to really interact with the audience that consisted mostly of people 40 and over.
He laughed. He shared stories. On a couple of occasions, Osborne made his way up and down theatre steps to bond with the crowd, whether it was trying to get members of the audience to try to sing his You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song) hit or stirring things up when his band ramped up several of George Duke’s party songs. Speaking of Duke, Osborne paid a special tribute to the late jazz master who worked, collaborated and mentored the singer throughout his solo career.
Duke, who passed in 2013, would have turned 73 on Jan. 12, the date that Osborne made his first-ever appearance at the quaint Smothers Theatre. This was not a sad time, though. It was a celebration the entire night even as Osborne’s crew played Duke’s hit song No Rhyme, No Reason as part of an R&B rendition playlist to help usher in the mood for the concert. And what a show!
Osborne has enough energy on stage that would put some millennials to shame as he pranced around in a muscle shirt on stage going into past and present works, including Worth It All, Let a Brotha Know and Work It (a collaboration with son Jeffrey Osborne Jr.), songs from the album Worth It All. All three numbers are definitely classics for Osborne fans as they all seem to only add to the singer’s masterpiece collection of hits. But this was a night that clearly belonged to the old school magic that Osborne produced with L.T.D.
From the opening song and throughout his entire set, Osborne performed to the tune of his audience, dipping into his L.T.D. bag of hits that included Where Did We Go Wrong and Holding On (When Love is Gone). If there was one thing that Osborne proved, he made it emphatically clear that old school is still the sh-t!