Gary Osborne is currently the Chairman of the Ivor Novello Awards. An award winner himself, he’s best known to EJW readers for his contributions to the albums A Single Man, Leather Jackets, Jump Up, 21 at 33, and The Fox. Gary recently spoke with this Web site’s Chief Editor about Elton and many other topics. . . .
EJW: A lot of college graduates don’t know what they’ll do for the rest of their lives. But you were just 15 when you became a songwriter. Did your father, himself a musician, arranger and conductor, encourage you?
GO: My dad didn’t have to encourage me: I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter at the age of 8. All the people around my house were in show business, but my heroes were always the songwriters.
By the way, I am not a college graduate . . . I went to theatrical school between the ages of 8 and 11 and to boarding school in Switzerland until the age of 15, when I went into the music business.
EJW: Your first UK hit was written for Kiki Dee and produced by Elton. Was this the first time you met the singer?
GO: I did not really know Kiki or Elton before Amoureuse . . . Although in the late 60’s I used to see EJ at a club called The Cromwellian, where Bluesology used to play.
The three of us bonded around Amoureuse, which was Kiki’s first hit as a singer, my first as a writer, Elton’s first as a producer, and Rocket Records’ first hit as a label.
EJW: You and Elton have composed quite a few songs together, including the hits Little Jeannie, Blue Eyes, and Part-Time Love, as well as the lesser known but really beautiful Shooting Star. Were these – or others – inspired by anyone in particular?
GO: Most of my lyrics are not about anyone in particular. But I did have someone in mind when I wrote ‘Jeannie’ (not her real name); however, her identity is kind of private.
Blue Eyes was inspired by someone close to Elton, Vance Buck, who is no longer with us. You can see him jumping up on the sleeve of Jump Up! . . . The 5-year-old boy also jumping up is my son Luke, who is now a teacher with a son of his own (Levi).
EJW: You have done backing vocals on Shine On Through and Return to Paradise, but by this time, you have also released a couple of albums of your own. How did these fare, and have you considered doing more?
GO: I also performed (and organised) the BV’s on songs like Little Jeannie, Part-Time Love, Georgia, Chloe and Big Dipper for Elton . . . and even a couple of Bernie Taupin‘s songs, All Quiet on The Western Front and Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny), which I did with Dee Murray.
I was a busy session singer in the UK during the 70s’ but did two albums as half of Vigrass and Osborne. We also toured the UK, supporting the Faces (featuring Rod Stewart). V&O had a small chart entry in the U.S. with Men of Learning and a big chart entry in Japan with Forever Autumn, which went on to be a worldwide hit (apart from in the U.S.) for Justin Hayward when he sang it on the War of the Worlds album. . . . Over 15 million albums sold (almost all outside the States).
EJW: Besides having Elton, Alice Cooper and Olivia Newton-John–among others–record your songs, you’ve been featured a lot on TV, writing or singing jingles early on, and later writing and producing the theme song for the children’s animated show Little Monsters. Which have you found particularly rewarding?
GO: I love doing backing vocals. . .. . Sadly, my voice is now what it was.
EJW: Your wife, Lorna Bannon, who did the theme song for Little Monsters, has also worked on sessions for artists, including Elton. Which of his projects did she sing on?
GO: Only demos . . . so you wouldn’t know them. For the last dozen years, Lorna has fronted a band called Middle Of The Road, who were huge in the UK and Europe during the mid 70’s. Still very big on the ”oldiest” circuit in Germany, where they do about 20 gigs a year.
EJW: Have any of your children followed in your footsteps?
GO: My daughter Lily, a singer and actress, has been featured in small role in many UK TV shows. She starred in Pantomime (a peculiarly British phenomenon) and has been featured in four nationwide arena tours of The War of The Worlds. And she regularly sings in London Jazz clubs.