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An Interview With Joan Osborne

originally published: 10/24/2017

An Interview With Joan Osborne

Singer/songwriter Joan Osborne has been on tour throughout the country singing the songs of Bob Dylan. A seven-time Grammy Award nominee known for her work in the area of pop, soul, R&B, blues, and country, Osborne started her career as a part of the New York City music scene. In the Big Apple, she attended open-mic nights before ultimately being launched into the spotlight with the breakout single from her 1995 album, Relish, “One of Us.”

Osborne’s considerable vocal talents have made her a sought-after performer both in the United States and around the world. She not only sang with Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers in the acclaimed 2002 film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but she has shared the stage with such varied performers as Stevie Wonder, Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Luciano Pavarotti, and Bob Dylan.

Last year, Osborne decided to perform an entire show’s worth of Bob Dylan material during a residency at New York’s Cafe Carlyle. It was then she realized that her lifelong fascination with the Nobel Prize-winning musician’s work could inspire an entire record.

On September 1, Songs of Bob Dylan — Osborne’s first album in three years — was released. The album offers new arrangements of such well-known compositions as “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” and “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo),” in addition to such lesser-known pieces as “High Water (For Charley Patton),” “Ring Them Bells,” and “Trying to Get To Heaven.”

Spotlight Central recently had an opportunity to chat with Ms. Osborne who will return to New Jersey for a show on November 11 at Roy’s Hall in Blairstown.



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As a child, how did you get involved in music?

I had a really good music teacher when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I grew up in Kentucky, and we had this excellent music teacher named Carolyn Browning. She was our music teacher all through elementary school, but when we got to be a little bit older, she would challenge us. She had a group that would sing Elizabethan madrigal material, and we would perform at churches, and we even traveled to Colonial Williamsburg once when I was 12 and performed at a lot of different places there around Christmastime. We had these sort of Elizabethan costumes that we wore, and the music was pretty complicated — it was five- and six- and seven-part harmonies; she really pressed us to do challenging stuff — so I think I probably learned a lot about harmony singing from that.

And when I was even younger, my parents had this big console stereo — the one that looks like a big piece of giant furniture. They had a bunch of records — in particular, they liked to get records of Broadway musicals and movie musicals. We had the soundtrack to The Sound of Music and I used to sit there when I was little right next to the speaker and play the record over and over again. And I would sing a different character’s part each time I played it — so I would sing each one of the different harmony parts every time I listened. And I would sit there, hour after hour, singing along with that record and, thankfully, nobody bothered me. So I think that was another way to train my ear when I was little — plus I just loved it!

 

And in addition to Broadway and movie music, what other kinds of music did you listen to as a youngster? Motown? Dylan? Other artists?

We had a couple of radio stations in town. I lived in a little town called Anchorage, but it was close enough to Louisville, Kentucky, that we got the Louisville, Kentucky radio stations. I liked to listen to the rock station, and once I started getting into high school, I got into The Who and Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones and these, sort of, blues-based rock bands. And I also liked listening to the urban station with groups like The Spinners and the Chi-Lites — and there was a lot of disco going on at that time when I was that age, like Donna Summer — so that kind of stuff, I listened to, as well. I liked all of it.

An Interview With Joan Osborne

What gave you the idea of becoming a professional singer?

It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties. I moved to New York City to study filmmaking at New York University. I thought I was going to become a documentary filmmaker. But I accidentally stumbled upon this amazing music scene that was happening in the downtown area. I went out to a blues bar with a guy from my building, and he encouraged me to go up and sing at this bar, and I did. And this guy who was working there said, “We have an open mic night here once a week. Why don’t you come back?” So I started going to this open mic night. And since this was a blues bar, I would get up and sing an Etta James song or a Muddy Waters song, but I very soon exhausted my limited knowledge of those songs and I had to go out and buy more records and learn more about the music.

And I also started going out and hearing other bands and going to other places that had open mic nights. I was sort of doing it for fun, but also becoming immersed in this amazing scene and meeting all these other musicians. I was checking out what they were doing and being inspired by it and just being up late in these bars and dancing and having a great time. I found it was a real community to belong to, and I think that aspect of it — the community aspect of it — and, also, I think, the immediacy of singing — captivated me. Because making films — from the first idea to the finished product — is a very long process, and it involves a lot of technological equipment, and a lot of other people, and a lot of money, and I found that doing music was much more immediate.

And it kind of just won me over, and I started to get to a point where I put together my own band and I was now playing at these little clubs where I had gone to see other people play. So I was doing that for a little while and, after some time, I could make enough money to pay my rent. It was all very gradual, but I got to a point where I was like, “You know, if I don’t pursue this and see how far I can take it, I’m always gonna regret it.” So that was the point when I dropped out of school and really put 100% of my focus on music.

We know that a lot of people have a tremendous emotional connection with your 1995 album, Relish, which includes some of your own numbers like “St. Teresa,” other songs like “One of Us,” and even a Dylan song in “Man With the Long Black Coat.” Did you have a feeling when you were recording that album back in the 90s that it was going to be as successful as it has gone on to become or that it would have such longevity?

I don’t think I had a lot of expectations about how well the record would do when we were in the middle of making it. I just wanted to do something that I thought was good and that I thought was interesting. We were just trying to satisfy ourselves — the guys I was working on the record with — Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman and Rick Chertoff and a few other guys — we were just trying to make ourselves proud of it.

So that was my point of view, but I think the producer, Rick Chertoff, had more of a global point of view, and he was the one who lobbied hard to put “One of Us” on the record. I just felt it was so much different from many of the other songs on the record that I wondered if it belonged there. But he made the case that it did. And he, I think, heard it as a popular song and as a hit song and, for whatever reason, I didn’t have that impression of it.

And I don’t know if that’s the artist’s job — to make something that’s popular. I guess, certainly, you can do that, but I don’t know that, for me, I could necessarily set a task for myself where I’m going to write a hit song and then actually be able to do it. Rather, I think I just try to do something that I think is good.

How did you get involved with The Funk Brothers and the film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown?

I got a call from Alan Slutsky, who is a bass player and a huge fan of the Motown bass players — James Jamerson, in particular. He was putting together a film that was based upon his book about James Jamerson, and he was looking for contemporary singers and artists to come to Detroit and work with The Funk Brothers — the original Motown studio guys. And he just sent a letter to my management saying, “Would Joan be interested?” and I was like, “Are you kidding? Of course!” So it was just about him, I guess, hearing about me or seeing me live and thinking that I might be good for the project and inviting me to do it.

 

And what was the experience doing that project like for you?

It was amazing! In the first place, it was funny because the guys — The Funk Brothers — they didn’t know who I was — they thought I was the make up girl! And, literally, as I sat in the trailer with them and we made some small talk, they were saying things like, “Are we next in your chair?,” and “Where’s your stuff?,” and “What are you doing on the set?” They had no idea I was going to sing with them.

But once we sat down and they started telling me stories — and, in fact, I think there’s a moment in the film where they’re actually breaking down how they created the arrangement of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and I sort of burst into the song, because I couldn’t help myself . At that moment, they turn to each other and say, “This girl’s gonna be ok — this is gonna be fun.”

And it was just a blast because they sounded just like they did on those records! I didn’t know what to expect. They were older, and I didn’t know if they would sound different because of that, but they still had everything they had had during those years at Motown and then some. It was so thrilling to stand on the stage with them and have that great massive sound of theirs just lift me up. It was an amazing experience.

 Your latest recording is Songs of Bob Dylan. What can audience members expect to experience on this tour?

A lot of the material is stuff that we put out on this new record. They’re songs that we worked up for a residency at The Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan. And the two musicians who are going to be playing with me at some shows in Jersey are the guys who helped me develop the songs for the Carlyle show and who actually co-produced the record. One guy is the keyboard player, Keith Cotton, and the other guy is the guitar player, Jack Petruzzelli, who I think a lot of Jersey people know — he’s a bit of a local hero down there.

So it’s going to be the three of us, and most of it is going to be the material that we put on the record, but there’s also going to be some live only Dylan “bonus tracks,” if you will, that we didn’t have room for on the album, but that we still sort of have in our back pocket. We’re still kind of determining what those songs are going to be — we don’t even know yet — but it will be some stuff that people will only be able to hear if they come and see the show. So these will be songs that won’t even be available for streaming or downloading — they are songs that people only can hear if they’re there with us that day.

How is it that you arrive at your interpretations of the Dylan songs  —  is it by studying the lyrics, or imagining the scenarios depicted, or perhaps something else?

It’s sort of like casting yourself in a role like an actor would do. And I do start with the words. I try not to listen too much to anybody else’s version of the song. Of course, I will listen to the Dylan version of the song just get what the melody is, etc. But then I try to just look at the words on the page and think about them as if I’m an actor saying lines, in a way, and try to inhabit that song and inhabit that character. Sometimes, the character is sort of a creature of my imagination, and sometimes it’s me just wanting to say those words and wanting to be the one to give a voice to that poetry.

And as far as the arrangements are concerned, a lot of it is trial and error. We will sit down in our rehearsal process — myself and Jack and Keith — and somebody will throw out an idea and we’ll give it a try. We’ll move around tempos, and we’ll move around keys, and we’ll look at the time signatures, and a lot of other different things, and we’ll try to come up with something where the song blossoms — that’s what we’re looking for.

 

Sounds great! Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think this is a particularly poignant moment to be singing a lot of these Dylan songs, just because of the situation that we find ourselves in as a country. We’re in a really intense time in our country’s history, and this is the kind of time where we need the voices of our great artists and our great poets to help us put words to the things that we’re feeling and, also, to bring us to a place where we can come together as a community. Even if we don’t necessarily agree with each other about, for instance, our political views, we can use music as a tool to help us recognize our common humanity, and to help us gain a better understanding of each other.

I don’t think we’re going to paint our way out of this moment where we’re so divided as a country. We’ve got to find a way to bridge the gap, and music is one of the tools that we have to do that — and I think that it’s really important, right now, for people to do that.






State Theatre Presents Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet Tour
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Diana Krall live in concert as part of her Turn Up The Quiet World Tour on Friday, October 12 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $43-$153.50.  This concert will feature songs from Diana Krall’s stunning new album, Turn Up The Quiet, out now on Verve Records as well as a mix of some fan favorites. 
Kean Stage Presents The Manhattan Transfer
(UNION, NJ) -- Going strong after more than 45 years, Grammy Award winner The Manhattan Transfer, with tenor vocals from Kean University alumnus Alan Paul '71, will captivate Kean Stage audiences with their distinctive four-part harmonies at Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 3:00pm.
3rd Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival returns to Jersey City on October 6. Presented by Mint 400 Records and Sniffling Indie Kids, the festival includes acts from those labels and Little Dickman Records, Rhyme and Reason Records, and State Champion Records.  The festival takes place at White Eagle Hall. Doors are at 4:00pm and the music starts at 4:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
The Dryden Ensemble Presents Bach Cantata Fest
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Dryden Ensemble will present a Bach Cantata Fest on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania, and on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00pm at Miller Chapel, located on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free to students with an ID. They may be purchased at the door or online at www.drydenensemble.org.
Steve Barton & Robert Darlington From Translator To Perform at Randy Now's Man Cave
(BORDENTOWN, NJ) -- Whether it's pure pop or moody acoustic ballads, singer/songwriter/guitarist, Steve Barton, has developed a reputation for crafting some of the most literate and poignant music in underground rock.  In addition to being a founding member of the revered punk/psychedelic band Translator, perhaps best known for the Barton-penned song "Everywhere That I'm Not", he has released several solo albums.  The seventh and latest, "Tall Tales and Alibis", is a sprawling triple album tour de force filled with Steve's brand new songs, which was released in March by Sleepless Music.   To celebrate the release of the record, Barton will be making a rare live appearance with his Translator partner Robert Darlington, this Sunday, September 23 at Randy Now's Man Cave in Bordentown (134 Farnsworth Ave) at 7:00pm.  


From the Ballpark to the Concert Stage: Bernie Williams LIVE! at The Grunin Center
Fans of sports and music are lining up outside Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Saturday, September 8, 2018 for a concert by four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist/composer Bernie Williams and his All-Star Band!
“Here’s Lucie!” Lucie Arnaz LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center
Even though the weather outside Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center is cloudy with some light intermittent drizzle this Wednesday, September 12, 2018 afternoon, the venue’s stage is still shining brightly with talent thanks to a live performance by television, film, and stage actress/singer Lucie Arnaz!
Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC
(BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22.  The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups.  
Virtuoso Jazz Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty LIVE! at the Newton Theatre
It’s a warm but lovely Aug. 23, 2018 evening here in Newton, NJ. After enjoying some hand-dipped Cliff’s ice cream from the window at Hayek Market, we march up Spring Street looking forward to hearing some world-class jazz at one of the Garden State’s favorite concert venues, The Newton Theatre.
An Interview with Bernie Williams
Four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist and composer Bernie Williams will perform with his All-Star Band at the Jersey Shore this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ!










Event calendar
Saturday, Sep 22, 2018


MUSIC

Asbury Park Porchfest @ Booskerdoo, Asbury Park - 12:00pm

Carl Chesna & Co. @ Hotel Tides, Asbury Park - 1:00pm

Echoes @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Cole Swindell @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

GRUPO NICHE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

The History of Motown @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Drake Bell @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

Classic Stones Live feat. The Glimmer Twins @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Opera Theatre of Montclair Presents Hansel and Gretel @ Central Presbyterian Church, Montclair - 4:00pm


Oscar D’León with Tony Vega and Los Hermanos Moreno @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm

SunDog Band at Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ @ Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ, Paterson - 9:00pm

Celtic Thunder X @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Young Person's Concert @ River Dell Middle School Auditorium, River Edge - 1:00pm


Tigerman record release show for “Descend Into Savagery” @ Debonair Music Hall, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Hubby Jenkins @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Incorruptible @ Ritz Theatre Company, Haddon Township - 8:00pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Theatre Brut Session 2 @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 2:00pm

Evita @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Claire, Anton et Eux" @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College, Princeton - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

HUMAN ERROR by Eric Pfeffinger @ West Windsor Arts Center, Princeton Junction - 8:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Assisted Living: The Musical @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 3:00pm


DANCE

SWAN LAKE - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

SOLE Defined @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm


LITERATURE

Monthly Saturday Writing Retreats @ Tiferet Journal, Bernardsville - 9:00am

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