My Life in Music

I have been a musician all my life. I came from good stock, as my dad, Earl Osburn, played guitar, mandolin and violin (that’s him at right with me getting an early lesson, c. 1953).

I can remember jam sessions at the house with Dad, family and friends.

When I got to junior high, I learned to play the trumpet and later made the switch to the baritone horn. My first paying gig was with a group we formed in Boy Scouts to play for chili suppers and the like. Our repertoire consisted of show tunes and stuff like “Baby Elephant Walk”, “Alley Cat” and “Java”. We called ourselves The BTUs, cuz we were really hot! That’s Bill Brandom on piano, Mark Gullen on drums, John Bowers on alto sax and yours truly on trumpet.

About this same time, our next door neighbor, Mr. Bob Merrill, began to exert an influence on me. While my dad was pretty much old school country music, Mr. Merrill was all about jazz. He was a bassist, and we kids always admired his old upright, but were not allowed to touch it. However, he had an old set of Slingerland drums set up in the garage and he alowed us to bang around on them, my first taste of percussion. I must confess one of my saddest, most stupid memories is of using his collection of old 78’s as Frisbees. In the ignorant mind of an eight year old boy, nothing was finer than to sling a shellac 78 into the air and see it break into a million pieces upon hitting the earth. I always wonder how many classic records I destroyed.

A serendipitous event occured one Christmas about 1966. My older sister had married a guy that was a drummer in a rock and roll band in the early sixties called Terry and the Turnovers. His bass drum head featured the band logo, which was this guy with a giant ear in a hot old roadster turning a corner on two wheels, scraping his over-sized ear on the ground. Musical notes were emenating from the ear hole. Or were they going in? I dunno. Fun.

Anyway, being married and “responsible”, he sold the drum set to my parents, who ostensibly bought it for my youngest brother, Ted.  It was a very cool, gold sparkle Gretsch kit,

As it turned out, Ted showed little interest in the drums, but I sure did. So we arranged a trade of some kind (hell, I can’t remember the details) and I became the owner of the drums.

I was invited to join a very popular band in my school, Northgate Junior High. Named The Aftermath, we played for jr. high dances and private parties. It was the first band where I wore a “uniform”, which consisted of a pullover polyester knit shirt and nice slacks.

With high school came the end of that organization and I began to play with other guys and formed my own group, the American Music Band. The year was 1968 and the musical influences ranged from Jefferson Airplane to Steve Miller to Frank Zappa and Canned Heat. Ah, Canned Heat! The picture on the right is me with a couple of friends and Bob “The Bear” Hite, the lead singer, backstage after a concert at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, KS. What a concert! They had huge stacks of amplifiers behind them and I remember the climax of the concert was some crazed maniac (drugs, no doubt) running onstage and pushing one of the stacks over. Crash, bang! Excitement plus!

Canned Heat was my introduction to the blues. Their drummer, Fito de la Parra, could play this boogie beat, in drummer parlance a “shuffle”, that just turned me on. I learned how to do it and honed the shuffle, in all it’s permutations, to perfection. Indeed, in later years, I was dubbed the “Shuffle King” by Mr. Lindsay Shannon, proprietor of KC’s best blues venue, BB’s Lawnside BBQ.

After high school, I was casting about as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Music was an obvious choice, but I wasn’t (or didn’t think I was) good enough to make it as a professional musician. I enrolled in the UMKC Conservatory of Music anyway (they must have been desperate to allow me in) in the spring of 1971 and began pursuing a music education degree, which I received in December, 1974. It was a hard row to hoe, as, despite my trumpet experience, I had no knowledge of percussion music or even the basic snare drum rudiments. It was like a crash course in all things musical, harmony and theory, history, piano, voice, pedagogy and learning to read percussion scores! But I made it!

About this time, I felt like I needed a different, more “modern” drumset. A fellow drummer at the Conservatory had a real nice set of Rogers drums and I liked them a lot. So I went down to a music store, Quigley’s (gone now), and, since I had practically no money, I discussed trading my gold Gretsch set with the owner, a crusty old cigar-smoking dude named Art Jolliff. After much haggling, we came to terms and, with a hand shake from the old man, he ordered the new, 5-piece set of Rogers, in shiny black.

A few weeks later, the drums came in and I took my Gretsch set down to Quig’s. I was happy (at the time) to part with it, but forty years after, I wish I’d never gotten rid of that set. Kits like that are called “vintage” now and can sell for thousands of dollars, as well as having a definitely different sound, one which I grew to miss with my Rogers.

As the years rolled on, I played with a variety of groups encompassing all genres of music. My friend Bill Brandom and I played dinner music for years as a duo for receptions and the like. When I did a stint as a student teacher (of music) at Winnetonka High School in the fall of 1974, I stole their best jazz players (Steve Lenhert was the real teacher and led Winnetonka's award-winning jazz band. My mentor and the coolest cat you could ever meet)  and we formed a band called Moxie, playing Chicago, Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang and music by other horn-oriented groups. Myself and my longtime friend Mike Smith did the horn arrangements, which were mostly just transcribed from the albums we heard them on. When the high school boys graduated, they all split off to various colleges and that was the end of that. I’m proud that a couple of the guys went on to make careers in music locally, David Hinton on guitar, who plays with the popular local band Hothouse and Joe Miquelon, sax player/keyboardist extraordinaire, who played with the Irish band, The Elders and is now a first-call KC musician on sax and piano. Mike Smith is an extremely talented songwriter/performer who has many self-produced CD’s under his belt, of which I am honored to play on. We still play together to this day in his popular horn band, The Sax Pistols.

As usual, many bands came and went, most unheard and under-appreciated. A friend of mine from my Conservatory days offered me his postion, in 1976, in a disco show band called James Bradley and Phoenix. We travelled around the upper Midwest for a year until I was unceremoniously booted out of the band, along with the bassist, Ken Nash. I came home to Liberty, MO, and began playing in the Kountrytime Opry, backing up people like Ernest Tubbs and other lesser known C&W artists.

Then a guy came up one night and asked me if I wanted to try out for his band, which was a top-40 format cover band, complete with girl singer. They liked me and I joined up. It wasn’t long before the leader decided to hang it up and so Randy Craig, the bassist, and myself carried on under a new name, Ricochet. We got a local agent who booked us in all kinds of places in southern Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa and even Colorado. So I was on the road again.

After a couple of years of that, it fell apart and I played in a series of bands, the Clay Southern Band, the Sore Losers, the Slammers, Blue Reign and others. But the aggregation I’m most proud of was Mike Smith’s band, Mootown Sound. We played blues, R&B, rock and a lot of original music, written by Smith, Cardy Quintero and David Creighton. We enjoyed a certain popularity around town but, as always, the band ended up breaking up.

In 1993 I was tapped to be the drummer in The Blues Notions. Their history is well chronicled elsewhere, but I spent 14 years with the boys, many as leader and business man. We produced a CD in 1998 that was to achieve national and international accolades, although not a lot of money! It got us into a lot of major festivals and high-profile gigs.

I left them on my own terms in the summer of 2007, when I was asked to join Lonesome Hank and The Heartaches, a local swing/rockabilly/blues band. I enjoy playing with these fellows immensely.

I’ve played with most of the blues cats in town over the years, either filling in for a missing drummer or them filling in whatever band I was in. Some notables, who I count as my friends, are Dan Doran, Bill Dye, John Paul Drum, Mark Dufresne, “Big” John Amaro, Dan Bliss, Pat Recob, Mark Montgomery, Provine “Little” Hatch, and the list goes on.

In a more formal setting, I played percussion in the Liberty Symphony for several years in the eighties. I was afforded the opportunity of playing with the Kansas City Wind Symphony for a concert with jazz man Bobby Watson on the stage at KC’s Kauffman Center. That was a thrill! I am currently playing with the Parkville Symphonic Band and the Northwinds band, trying to keep my reading chops up!

An interesting side note (I think it’s B flat or maybe A sharp!) about my faithful Rogers set. Over forty years of playing that set, I became increasingly disenchanted with it’s sound. It just wasn’t “punchy” enough to suit my taste. I had tried everything, all kinds of heads, all kinds of dampening, all kinds of tuning. I dreamed of a new set, alas, to be out of reach.

Then, in fall of 2009, I was in Explorers Percussion here in KC, with my Lady Jane. I forget what I was there for, but they had a sale catalog sitting on the counter. There it was! A set of gold sparkle Gretsch, almost identical to my old one. I jokingly mentioned to Jane that there was my next drum set and told her the story of the original.

Crazy, beautiful Jane. She bought me that set for Christmas. It is a fantastic set, deep resonant tones and the bass drum really kicks!

Well, there you have it, my musical heritage and history. It will no doubt continue on, well into old age, as long as I can lug my kit around.

And remember, Ralph Spoilsport sez, “Don’t forget to boogie!”

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Me and the Old Man

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The BTUs

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The American Music Band

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Bob “The Bear” Hite

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That Great
Gretsch Sound!

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Phoenix
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Ricochet
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The Slammers
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The Mootown Sound
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The Blues Notions
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Lonesome Hank
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North Winds
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Parkville Symphonic Band
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