Anders Osborne finds redemption

Aug 18, 2012

Anders Osborne grew up in Sweden, so it’s uncertain whether schoolchildren there were familiar with the  “three R’s (reading [w]riting and [a]rithmetic).”  

He has, however, created his own version since leaving Scandinavia and landing in  America almost 30 years ago: rebirth, renewal, redemption.

Osborne, who will play the 20th Century Wednesday night after visiting the WNKU studio in the afternoon, became always humorous “overnight sensation” with his 2010 album “American Patchwork,” which was released 21 years after his debut “Doin’ Fine.” On this year’s “Black Eye Galaxy,” his distinctive guitar work and the bubbling gumbo of blues, rock and roots tunes proves his 10th album wasn’t a one-hit wonder. 

In spite of the long wait, Osborne is not bitter, only thankful for the recognition.

“I think there are times that it’s frustrating where you try to get established or can make enough money,” says Osborne about the years spent scuffling in New Orleans, where he has lived since 1985. “I’m not saying it’s not, but I’m very blessed and it’s a lot of fun.” 

Osborne credits his career renewal and personal rebirth to finally getting sober about five years ago. That was redemption after years of  living loaded, which is harrowingly described in “Mind of a Junkie” on “Galaxy.”

“It’s been an amazing time, I got to say. An amazing, beautiful time to get a second chance,” he says. “I mean in my case, it’s about a 15th chance. But this is a real great new beginning for the whole family and I feel extremely blessed. It’s a miracle.”

Osborne doesn’t dwell on the details of the miracle, but there’s a line in “Junkie” about “finally letting God into my heart,” and his liberal use of “blessed” in conversation allude to a spiritual relationship. As unlikely as it might seem, he points to Hurricane Katrina being a critical piece in building a new life.

“I’m extremely thankful and grateful for the storm,” Osborne says. “I think to have experienced something like that, it’s given me so many blessings on the back end ... And it’s important that no family were hurt or anything.”

Osborne, who has two young children with his wife, Sarah, spent time shuttling between New Orleans and Nashville in the middle of the last decade, writing songs for a publishing company. He was on tour in 2005 when the storm hit. The family evacuated to Tennessee and he flew in from San Francisco to discuss the options.

“For a brief moment (we talked about leaving New Orleans) ... and decided it wasn’t for us,” he says. “What we did was split up for a second; (Sarah and the kids) went to stay with some people up north for a couple of months, and I went back to New Orleans, started to rip through our home and try to get things situated a bit. I was part of rebuilding the city, starting the music scene and all that stuff.”

Osborne doesn’t judge the people who did leave, but couldn’t bring himself to flee his adopted hometown.

“(The choice to leave) is very, very personal. Those are the two options,” he says of staying or leaving. “A lot of people just could not deal with this. ... I think a lot of us, we found ourselves incapable of living anywhere else. And it became almost a selfish decision. Sounds very honorable, but it’s just when you have your whole city gone like that, it’s a really strange feeling. You have your little coffeeshops, your restaurants, not just the houses, your whole network, the lady at the bank, everything is gone. There’s nothing there. You have nothing, no phone numbers work anymore, you can’t reach each other through the satellites, so it’s a very strange feeling.

“Especially if you’re a grownup, it take you a minute to adjust to something of that magnitude. For us, or for me, the thing that worked best was going back and just ... It was hard work. And there was hardly any money to be made unless you were a carpenter. But it was the only thing that made sense.”

Even though Osborne’s life started half a world away, it was obvious that New Orleans was ground zero at that point. After all, the French Quarter is where he learned to be a musician and the city is where he became an adult, for better or worse.

“I think it’s invaluable, or it has been for me anyway. I’ve learned so much since being here almost 30 years now,” he says. “What you learn is to make each performance as powerful as you can. I like that. You learn to play pretty hard. It’s not just shows, it’s actually real playing for many, many hours, especially down on Bourbon Street. I used to do 11 sets a day down there. I’d start at 11 a.m. And I’d do four or five sets somewhere, and you’d push your amp (down the street), and you’d do four or five sets somewhere else, then push the amp, and the last one would be a stripper joint where I played until 4 or 5 in the morning.

“I used to cramp up so bad that I had to help my left hand move with my right hand while I was playing ‘Wild Thing’ (wild laughter). It was hard work and meeting great people. Hard work is actually a lot of fun. People underestimate hard work.”

Osborne is an expert on hard work. Whether it was 15 attempts to get sober, or  help rebuild New Orleans, or stick with music during the lean years, he’s enjoying  the payoff now. 

“That’s what’s exciting right now, to go from just playing the same old places I used to play ... and now all of a sudden, we’re going into areas where I’ve never played,” he says. “It’s really exciting to watch, to be honest with you.

“Except for one time in the ’90s, I had a little bit of this experience, but again (in) a different head space. I worked really hard and things are rewarding.”

Rewarding. That’s only right.

Anders Osborne with Monkeytonk, 8 p.m. Wednesday, 20th Century, 3021 Madison Road, Oakley. $18, $15 advance. 513-731-8000,,

Email Bill Thompson