Billy Osborne

R&B, Jazz, Producer, Composer


Coming soon…

Members of the Historical Archive Committee of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame are researching and documenting the career of this great Ocean State musician. When work is completed, we will be posting an in-depth biography and complete discography on this page. In the meantime, please enjoy this introduction to Billy’s career and a mini-documentary about his induction into the Hall of Fame produced and directed by our friends Norm Grant and Dr. Tom Shaker at Pete & Buster Films.

Photo Credit: Bobby Holland, MPTV Images

by Rick Bellaire

Drummer, pianist, singer and songwriter William “Billy” Osborne grew up in a musical family where his talents were nurtured by his father, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, a jazz trumpeter who played with the big bands including Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and his older brother, Clarence “Clay” Osborne, Jr., a jazz singer and pianist who’s group The Jay Clay Trio was well-known on the New England scene.

Billy began his career while still in high school performing with various Rhythm & Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Jazz combos. This photo from 1957 shows Billy, at left, on piano performing at the legendary integrated night spot The Celebrity Club in Providence with, left to right, Burt Eckoff on guitar, Harry Bailey on sax, Jimmy Starks on bass, and Artie Cabral on drums. (Photo credit: Fox Point Oral History Project)

When he was 16, at the urging of his friend, bassist Buell Neidlinger from Westport, Connecticut and with the blessing of his father, Billy Osborne arrived in Manhattan in 1959 to become the drummer for the Jimmy Giuffre Quartet. His impact on the heart of the Modern Jazz scene was immediate. He was named Metronome magazine’s Best New Drummer before his first recording session and spent a decade performing with the legends of the era including Wes Montgomery, Archie Shepp and was one of John Coltrane’s favorite drummers.

Billy’s first album, now considered a modern jazz classic, was recorded with Billy and his friend from Connecticut, bassist Buell Neidlinger, backing jazz giants Jimmy Giuffre on tenor and clarinet and Jim Hall on guitar. (©1960, Verve Records MGV-8387)

In 1969, he moved to L.A. establishing himself in the R&B field as musical director for The Friends of Distinction, as a keyboard player, and as the composer of “Check It Out,” the first hit for his Rhode Island pals Tavares

Pooch Tavares and Billy Osborne, Los Angeles, 1973. Billy had written “Check It Out,” the first hit for Tavares, his childhood friends from Providence, but due to a misspelling at the publisher, the brothers did not realize it was him until Billy arrived at the Capitol Records party celebrating the single entering the Top 10 of the Billboard Soul Chart.

In 1974, his brother Jeffrey’s band, Love Men Ltd., joined Billy in L.A. where they combined forces to become L.T.D. with Billy on keyboards, Jeffrey on drums and the two sharing lead vocals. By 1976, they were at the top of the Billboard charts with “Love Ballad” (#1 R&B, #20 Hot 100). After moving Jeffrey out front, L.T.D. mined Gold and Platinum for the next four years with a string of hits including two more #1 singles, “Back In Love Again” and “Holding On.” In 1980, Billy moved into production and helped launch Jeffrey’s solo career.

Love, Togetherness & Devotion – L.T.D. poised for stardom: Billy Osborne fourth from right facing away from camera and his brother Jeffrey at far left. (©1973, A&M Records)

In 1990, he signed with Ray Charles and became his right-hand man, writing, arranging and producing for “The Genius” until Ray’s passing in 2004.

Ray Charles and Billy Osborne in the studio in the early 2000s