While speaking a few months ago with Jeffrey Osborne, the former lead singer of LTD, about his favorite memories from a successful career that has spanned some 40 years, the drummer turned superstar soloist was more eager to discuss the May release of new and original material featured on his CD “Worth It All” (Artistry Music), ending a lengthy absence away from the recording studio and the excitement he felt as he prepared to go back on tour — even inviting me to attend his upcoming Labor Day weekend show in the DMV as his guest.
Like any tried and true fan of “J.O.” (Jeffrey Osborne for the less informed), I can easily sing by memory the words and riffs that stand at the top of Osborne’s songbook whenever they’re featured on a karaoke machine, the radio or any of my electronic gadgets. In fact, I’ve been known to take a swing a capella when enjoying the privacy of a nice, hot shower.
Still, I could not have anticipated the spectacular, almost two-hour performance that Osborne, now 70, would deliver when we met up again on Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Birchmere in Arlington — the first of his two-night, sold-out show.
From the start, you knew Osborne had come ready for action, leaving the stage to join his awaiting fans as they stood clapping and singing shortly after the first downbeat sounded for his initial selection, the LTD classic “Stranger.” From there, the singer continued with songs like “Eenie Meenie,” “Only Human,” and “We Party Hearty,” accompanied by a well-tuned five-piece band and two backup singers.
But it was clearly Osborne whose energy, enthusiasm, consistent connection to his audience and well-honed and formidable vocal skills fueled the bonfire. Almost 20 years have passed since I’ve seen Osborne in concert, yet “Mr. Woo Woo Woo” sounded remarkably close to the way I remember him back in the day.
“I’m not one who does a lot of the new stuff,” he said during a brief interlude. “I prefer reaching back for the old songs — the songs you all know. The thing is, I have to reach back because just about all the stuff I do is old.”
Osborne took time to honor the lives and legacies of Aretha Franklin and Sen. John McCain — two “classy Americans,” in a poignant segment before treating fans to the single from his new CD, “Worth it All,” a love song whose message seemed to be keenly felt by the performer.
During his journey down memory lane, he belted out with perfection a litany of tunes in a voice that often seemed dwarfed by the rousing audience who had little trouble matching him word for word from “Holding On (When Love is Gone)” and “Don’t You Get So Mad” to the George Duke-produced “On the Wings of Love” and the song he says remains his most requested, “Love Ballad.”
“You won’t believe how many people have come up to me and said they have a son or daughter who was conceived while ‘Love Ballad’ played in the background,” he said with a laugh. “I suppose that’s a good thing.”
Osborne then launched into songs from the 70s, the decade during which he first joined LTD and an era that he said has always been his favorite in the history of contemporary music.
“Those were the days of quality music, stellar harmonies and self-contained bands with folks like the Commodores, ConFunkShun, Earth, Wind and Fire, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and the O’Jays who gave you the real deal from way down in their souls.”
He gave us an all-too-brief tease of Duke’s 1978 hit, “Dukey Stick,” taking the audience to yet another high-leveled pitch — something that he does during every performance, he noted, as a means of honoring the late songwriter who produced all of Osborne’s top tunes from his solo career.
Osborne continued his show amidst the increasing screams of a thoroughly-satisfied audience by returning to the LTD favorites “Concentrate on You,” “We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love” and “Where Did We Go Wrong,” before entering the homestretch with “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)” and a song essential for every shin-dig or hullabaloo held during the ’70s, “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again.”
The next time someone tells you “age is nothing but a number,” you’d be wise to accept their statement as the “gospel,” particularly if used in context with Providence-native and the youngest in a family of 11 other siblings, Jeffrey Linton Osborne — an accomplished professional who continues to epitomize what it means to be a “entertainer.”
I hope you were there.