INTERVIEW: Jay Osmond | Welcome to UK Music Reviews (2023)

Jay Osmond, (seen here on the left), drummer, musician and recording star with The Osmonds chats with Kevin Cooper about Elvis Presley’s suggestion that they wear jump suits and learn karate, playing football with The Jackson 5, their latest album The Osmond Brothers Vintage and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Jay Osmond was born in Ogden, Utah, and is the youngest of the original group known as The Osmonds. Performing since the age of two, his musical career started when his family went to audition for Lawrence Welk in California, but when that meeting did not transpire the family decided to have a vacation at Disneyland instead. This is where Wayne, Alan, Merrill and Jay were discovered by Walt Disney.

Following on from that the brothers performed on The Andy Williams Show for nine years when their brother Donny joined the group when he was aged six. Taking on the role of drummer, Jay sang lead vocals on the group’s hit Crazy Horses, as the hard rock song fitted his more guttural voice. Jay continued with Merrill, Wayne and Alan as a member of The Osmond Brothers when Donny left to pursue a solo career in the 1980s. Since then, there were times that their youngest brother, Jimmy joined in.

When Wayne and Alan decided to retire from the group, Jay, Merrill and Jimmy continued to tour. More recently Jimmy has also left to pursue his own interests as Merrill and Jay continue their work as The Legendary Osmonds.

Besides being a world class drummer, musician and recording star he has also produced some of The Osmond Family Specials, The Donny & Marie Show and the movie, Side By Side. He has written his autobiography, Stages. He is a member of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints and his religious values continue to influence his career and life. Jay is now living in England with his wife, Karen.

Whilst busy preparing for his forthcoming tour with Merrill, Jay took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hello Jay how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m very well thank you, how are you today?

All is good with me today thank you and before we go on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You betcha; it’s my pleasure and thank you for giving up your time for the interview.

And just how is life treating Jay Osmond now that you have finally settled here in the UK?

(Laughter) just who has told you that (laughter). I have to be honest with you and say that life at the moment really is quite wonderful. As you have pointed out, life is so good that we have recently moved over here and now we live in England. We just love it. The UK is so beautiful and moving here is something that I have wanted to do for a very long time and we have finally done it (laughter).

When I last saw you performing it was here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on the 25th September 2014. It was on the Up Close And Personal Tour, which featured yourself, Merrill and Jimmy. How much fun was that?

Oh my heavens, that was the year that I got married and my brand new wife was on that tour with us. That was a fun one.

In February Merrill and yourself will be touring the UK next year as The Legendary Osmonds whilst Jimmy will be here performing his Moon River And Me Tour which is his tribute to the late Andy Williams. Will the three of you be getting back together to tour at any point in the future?

No, Jimmy is doing his own thing now. Last year was his fiftieth anniversary in the business and he wants to go out there and do his thing with the pantomimes, together with a lot of other projects. So Jimmy is out there on his own, just like Donny and Marie. Jimmy was once a brother now he is doing his own thing the same way that Donny has been for a few years now. The Osmond Brothers are now simply Merrill and me. Don’t get me wrong, we will continue to support Jimmy just as we have supported Donny and Marie over the years. We grew up having that whole concept of supporting each other individually as well as our group and that has stayed with us to this very day.

As you rightly say, Jimmy will be out there doing his own tribute to our dear departed friend Andy Williams and then he will be touring with a 70s Tribute Show not only to his brothers but also to other artists of that era. I totally support what he is doing and think that it will be a wonderful experience.

When you tour here in the UK during February what can we expect?

Well for a start let me tell you that Merrill and I are starting our very own rock and roll group and we are absolutely loving every moment. There will be a really tight five piece band playing with us. Those guys have worked together for a long, long time. Most of all we want the shows to be fun. Merrill and I have recently put together a CD which we have recorded and we have gone back and re-recorded our old hits plus some album tracks which really did need to be re-recorded because the fans loved them so much. So basically we will be performing our CD and alongside the two of us there will be some video which means that we can take the fans back to a happy time in their lives.

We have delved back into the archives and with research we have found a lot of footage that the fans have never seen. So we will be putting video to these songs and hopefully the show will be fun and reminiscing but still a rock and roll kind of a show complete with lights, video and all that kind of fun stuff. I have to tell you that Merrill and I really can’t wait to get out on the road once more. The show that we will be putting on is a celebration of all of us over the years. There will be a lot of rock and roll hits and maybe some of the songs that the people haven’t heard that were on our albums. We want the show to be fun with a lot of interaction with the audience which we love.

Back in the 70s we never had the chance to interact with the audiences; everything was going so fast that it was like being in the middle of a whirlwind. However, we are now in a position where we are able to get up close and personal with the fans. We are now able to meet the fans, talk to them, shake their hands, and give them a big hug, where we never really had a chance to do that before.

Would I be right in saying that Merrill and you are starting a new chapter in the Osmonds dynasty?

Yes you would, that is perfectly correct. It is a whole new chapter completely. Merrill and I are basically starting a new chapter if you will and are currently doing our rock and roll thing and let me tell you, we are really enjoying it. It really is a wonderful experience. We have had lots of positive feedback from so many fans who are all telling us that they love it when The Osmonds go back to their rock and roll roots. It is so encouraging whenever we hear that.

And just where have you recruited the musicians from?

We have some of our own band coming over from the States to tour with us together with Si Mulvey, the bass player from The Bay City Rollers. We will have different people from all over the world coming in to play with us. Our keyboard player for these gigs lives here in the UK and played keyboards for Herman’s Hermits.

So tell me about the recent phenomena…

….recent phenomena, what’s that?

The male reaction to The Osmonds (laughter).

(Laughter) now I know that someone has been speaking out of school (laughter). Okay, I will tell you. What has been interesting is that there have been a lot of guys coming to our shows, and the other day one came up to me and said “I have been a quiet Osmond fan for a very long time and you guys really do know how to rock and roll” (laughter). That really did make my day because a lot of guys come along to the shows with their wives and they just love it.

How have the audiences changed from back in the 70s?

The people who used to come along to our shows back in the 70s will not recognise our crowds now because most of them are now adults who are bringing their children and some are even bringing their grandchildren along to see The Osmonds. It’s funny how image plays a big part in people’s minds and we have been doing this now for a long time and as you know, people change.

You mention that image plays a big part in people’s minds. I have to tell you that whenever I think of The Osmonds I instantly think of a class show.

Thank you, it is so nice to hear that. We like to think so too. We always think ‘what is the best thing that we can do’ and ‘what do the people really want’. We not only want to play our songs but we also think about what the audience are going to go home remembering. We want them to listen to the whole show; we want them to go home with a good feeling and most of all we want them to feel lifted. Most of the audiences have grown up with us and they appreciate that not only is the show about us and our music, it is also about them and our music that they grew up on together with the many friendships that they have developed over the years.

We have received so many letters from people saying ‘your music has helped us through so many situations over the years’ they really are the kind of things that are motivating to us. That’s the kind of stuff that we love and that makes it all worthwhile for us. A lot of our fans have now been friends for many years and let me tell you that feels wonderful.

You have recently released an album, The Osmond Brothers Vintage. Just how are the fans reacting to that?

That’s right we have and I have to say that the fans are reacting to the album really well; they really like it.

Would I be correct in saying that the album is yours and Merrill’s re-interpretations of The Osmond’s classic songs?

I like to call it The Vintage album and they are, as you say, re-recording’s of our greatest hits. However, Merrill and I have tried to remain as true to the original recordings as we can whilst making them sound fresh. At the moment we are concentrating on exactly what the fans want. We are always thinking ‘just what do the fans want right now from the brothers’ and what we found was that they wanted us to go back and remember those songs that changed their lives.

Back in the 70s when Donny was launching his own solo career would I be correct in thinking that the rest of the brothers actually put their own careers on hold?

That’s right, you know that is totally correct. Way back in the 70s when Donny was singing songs like Puppy Love the rest of the brothers actually became his backing singers. We all agreed to put our rock and roll careers on hold at that time. However, Merrill and I now feel that it is time for us to move forward and let that out so that is what we are going to be experiencing.

What about new material, are there any thoughts regarding putting together a new studio album?

Yes there are and in fact funny enough, we are already talking about that for some time in the near future. We haven’t started writing as yet but we are already talking about the new music that we want to write, record and get out there.

Now that you are living here in the UK does that cause you any problems logistically?

No, not at all, in fact Merrill has been over here to the UK quite a lot. Basically I fly back and forth to the USA all of the time. He flies here, I fly there, it is just so easy now to get on a plane and so the transportation side of things is not a problem at all (laughter).

On the subject of transportation, do you still enjoy touring?

Yes I do, I really do love touring. From an early age I have always enjoyed travelling with my brothers; to get out and see all of the different places, meet all of the different people and savour all of the different cultures. I don’t know what it is but I still love it and the best part of it all is just to get out there and be able to meet the fans simply because we could never do that before. That’s why I feel that now really is our time to be ourselves. Both Donny and Jimmy are out there doing their thing and that is why I honestly feel that it is the brother’s time.

On the subject of Jimmy, have you never been tempted to follow in his footsteps and try a panto or two over here in the UK (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) no is the simple answer to that question (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, I love the panto, I think that it is funny, but it’s not me (laughter). Jimmy really is different; he has always been a novelty, he really has. It has been fun for all of the brothers to have had the pleasure and opportunity to work with such a very talented guy; he really is such an amazing guy. I have such great respect for Jimmy. He really can do anything that he puts his mind to; he is such a comedian and can do all of those things including the panto but Merrill and I simply don’t feel comfortable doing things like that. We are comfortable with our music and all of the rock and roll stuff. Jimmy can walk on stage and sing Long Haired Lover From Liverpool and the people love it (laughter).

That is what is so neat about The Osmonds. However long you look and listen to us, you can’t pigeonhole us. We have done everything from rock and roll to country, barbershop to pop, we have covered so many kinds of genres.

You recently performed at Butlins here in the UK, how was that experience?

(Laughter) I don’t think that I know of a place that is quite like that. I loved it but it is very different, and I just don’t know of anywhere like it within the United States. We play Las Vegas a lot but Butlins is like a twenty-four hour party (laughter). I have to say that, to me the UK is a unique place when you really look at it from a world standpoint. The UK is the place where you can really be yourself, do what you want and it is just an amazing place. That is one of the reasons why I moved over here (laughter).

You have now been in the music business for sixty years. Have you enjoyed the ride?

Yes I have, I really have enjoyed the ride and that is such a good way to put it. The whole time has been such a rollercoaster ride. It has been an amazing journey, of course we have had our ups and downs, we have had our successes and we have also had our failures. We have overcome obstacles, that are so hard for me to even try to explain, yet we have done it as a family, and we have also managed to do it individually. I think that it has been a wonderful experience. I have to give a lot of the credit for that to not only our parents and our Mormon faith, but also to our attitude that you can never take yourself too seriously within the music business because if you do you will find yourself in trouble.

Above all we credit it to the love of the fans that have always been out there supporting us. We grew up loving them and in return they have truly loved us. That has been the key to our whole success. They can feel our love for them and they have supported us over the last sixty years throughout all of the changes that have taken place. All of those elements have been the key as to why The Osmonds have stayed in the music business for this long.

Being awful and putting you well and truly on the spot, if you had to pick just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Wow, that is putting me on the spot (laughter). Let me think about that. Right here goes, the highlight of my career would have to be when we were out there signing autographs and this person came up to us and said “you guys are the most amazing group that I have ever seen in my life”. I smiled and said thank you and then they said to me “you are the best Osmonds tribute band that I have ever seen” (laughter). That truly happened but, one of the highlights of my career has to be when I got up on stage with Led Zeppelin and the late John Bonham allowed me to play percussion. I have also been fortunate enough to be allowed to do the same with The Beach Boys; they really were two exceptional highlights.

Also there was the time that I met Paul McCartney and he told me just how much he loved our album The Plan. Most of the highlights have been when I have associated with colleagues in the business including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. You can see just how difficult it would be for me to pick just one thing because they are all highlights. I couldn’t say which one means more to me because they have all changed me. Being able to maintain our standards within this crazy business is a personal highlight for me. The highlight of my life was when I got re-married and I feel that throughout all of my life that would be my best highlight (laughter).

Who has musically inspired you?

I would have to say that The Beatles were my favourite group of all times. I think that they inspired me most on the musical side of things. But having said that, I would have to say that Elvis (Presley) had the biggest impact on us as far as our performances go. He really did change us.

Just how did Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll change The Osmonds?

Elvis was like a brother to us and he took the brothers backstage one night and said “now guys, I want to be open and honest with you and I feel that you really do need to work on your image a little bit”. After that he showed us his costumes and if you look back at The Osmonds you will clearly see a transition from our normal costumes to these jump suits. Elvis said to us that we really needed to use these jump suits as they really did work (laughter). He also said that we should put a little karate into our act so what did we do, we got hold of Chuck Norris to teach us karate (laughter). So I really do feel that the one person who affected us far more than anyone else was Elvis Presley. He said that we should be cool and what you see is how we interpreted just what cool was (laughter). They were cool times. Glenn Campbell too had a huge impact on our lives; we were great friends with Glenn.

So without giving too much away, where are they now? Are the jump suits safely hidden away at the back of the wardrobe?

Now you are not going to believe this but we took everything that we owned up to Branson, Missouri which is, as you know, the place where the Osmond Family Theatre was located and stored everything in a storage unit up there. One day there was an airplane which missed the runway and went straight into our big storage unit and crashed. It burst into flames on impact and totally burnt up not only the jump suits but also all of the gold records, together with everything which we had saved from our childhood. The little red suits that we wore on The Andy Williams Show all went up in flames. It was our intention to open up a museum to enable us to display all of the memorabilia that we had collected over the years. However, once the airplane ran into the storage unit the dream was instantly over for us.

However, the saddest part of my life was that when I was six years old the late Walt Disney sat me on his lap and said to me “I want to draw you something” then he put his art pad in front of me, drew a picture of Mickey Mouse and signed it ‘to my Jay I love you, love Walt Disney’. I carried that around with me for a month or so before I lost it. Walt was really a great mentor for us, he really got us started even before Andy Williams. That really is the hardest part of my life. However, I got over it finally, It all adds to your life, and that is why I wrote my book Stages back in 2013. I wanted to put the memories that are of my life into my book.

Everyone needs a hero in life, who has been your hero?

That’s easy, my heroes have to be my two older brothers Virl and Tom who were both born deaf. They are the real reason that we first got into show business. In our church we have this activity called Family Home Evening where we started out singing. We wanted to become a group so that we could make some money to buy hearing aids for them. So they are the ones who really got The Osmonds started in show business. The way they handled being hearing impaired in a musical family, without resenting all of us, that amazes me, that’s why they are my heroes.

The Osmonds and The Jackson 5 were rivals when it came to selling records and selling out concert arenas. What was it like outside of that?

(Laughter) I have to tell you that the one regret that we both had, The Osmonds and The Jackson 5, was that we were trying to put a show together featuring both acts. Unfortunately that never materialised but we did do an interview together in Toronto and it was so funny (laughter). We were all friends and we used to play football in the hallways of the hotels that we were staying in. We have so many fun memories of the times that we got to hang out with those guys. Michael (Jackson) called me a turkey for what seemed like ages which started from when we were playing football in the hallways (laughter).

What you have to remember is that The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds were the very first boy bands. It was the rivalry between the two bands which first started the term “boy band” and was the first time that the fans saw a rivalry between two bands. Michael once told me that he got really tired watching us every Friday night on television on The Andy Williams Show. His father would make him sit down in front of the television and make him watch us, time after time after time (laughter).

You fondly mention The Andy Williams Show, but I have to ask; just what was the pressure like for you to perform on the show?

We were under tremendous pressure whenever we performed on The Andy Williams Show. We only ever had one take to do it right. Eventually they called us the ‘One Take Osmonds’ because boy, we had to be right on it, there simply wasn’t the time for us to make a mistake. Every week we had to do something different whether it was pianos, tap dancing, ice skating, karate or saxophones, we had to learn to do something new every week. One time they wanted me to play a drum solo and I hadn’t even learnt how to play the drums; man I was six years old (laughter).

As you know, back in November we sadly lost David Cassidy. Do you have a memory that you can share with us?

I really liked David, we did shows together and we had many fun times together but I have to say that he was a little lost. He seemed to always be searching for something but despite that, I really liked him. Andy Gibb was pretty much like David. We were very good friends of the Gibbs and both Andy and David were great people, unfortunately they were just a little lost. Other than that I just loved him. He was one of the good guys.

Taking you back to 1974 if I may, The Osmonds covered the late Johnny Bristol song Love Me For A Reason. Once you had recorded it did you feel that you had something special?

Yes we did; we heard the song, recorded it and instantly knew that we had a hit record on our hands. When we listened to our version we all just went ‘wow, this is going to be really cool’ (laughter). And the rest, as they say, is history as the record became a really big hit for us. Merrill sang the lead vocals on that particular record and I have to say that his voice today is even better than it was back then.

Twenty years after you had covered the song Boyzone also covered it. What did you think to their version?

I like it (laughter), however, I may be a little biased as I like our version better … (laughter).

That’s allowed I think, don’t you (laughter).

You should watch all of the videos of the people who have covered Crazy Horses and then come back and ask me the same question (laughter). I really do love to just sit and look at all of the different covers of Love Me For A Reason and I really do like the Boyzone version. I was just kidding about our version being better. I think that it was cool that they would even attempt to cover such a great song. It makes me happy to know that people like the song that much that they want to cover it, that is really cool. I really do like Boyzone and what they are currently doing right now.

Do you have a personal favourite Osmonds song?

That’s easy, my favourite Osmonds song is Let Me In. I love it. That song is from our Plan album which is most probably my favourite album of all times. It is about our beliefs, and Let Me In is a song of love and forgiveness, and contains a message which I feel everyone should have in their lives. If you go round with love in your heart and people let you into their hearts then the message will go even deeper than that. It is more powerful than anything, it is the love of the Saviour. I think that is why I love it the most. It really touches your soul.

Now testing your memory, what was the first record that you bought?

That was I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles. I was eight years old and I bought it on an old 45 (laughter). I loved that song and as I have already said, I really was a big Beatles fan. I didn’t buy that many records but I would always be listening to the radio. I loved all kinds of music so it was always the radio for me (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Andy Williams was the first person that I saw performing live. The Osmonds performed on the Jerry Lewis Show for many years so we would see all of the artists that performed on the show.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I think that would have to be when I went up to see Justin (Hayward) of The Moody Blues. I was speaking to Justin about a song that he wrote called I Know You’re Out There Somewhere which, when I was divorced I would play that song over and over. The funny thing is that when I re-married my new wife told me that it was her favourite song too. My wife and I told Justin how the song had become our favourite song and how we both had a tear in our eyes whenever we heard the song. When we told him that he began to get emotional. He said “that is the reason why I wrote the song for that very reason”.

On that note Jay, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been wonderful.

No, thank you Kevin. It’s been great speaking with you and I hope that we catch up sometime soon. Bye for now.

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