Goodbye Matt Osborne
A Community Mourns One Of Its Brightest Artists
By Brent Hagerman - originally published in Echo Weekly April 29, 2004
There was a cruel hole burrowed in the K–W music community this past week when one of its strongest voices and warmest personalities, Matthew John Osborne, passed away at 31. The loss has left many in the community stunned as Matt was an ever present fixture almost anywhere live music was played in K–W for the last decade. Besides being an immensely talented singer, songwriter, guitarist and writer (Matt contributed Echo’s first ever wrestling story), Matt worked tirelessly at helping younger musicians gain exposure and confidence.
The first time I met Matt Osborne he was sitting in the Concourse at WLU strumming his beat up 12 string Seagull acoustic guitar trying, as was his passion in life at the time, to encourage timid musicians and songwriters to sign up for the Musicians’ Network — a campus club responsible for the formation of numerous bands and an annual compilation album. As a result of that meeting I joined the club, and later a few of Matt’s bands, and never ceased to marvel at his talent as a songwriter and musician.
At the time he was known as the guy who could play virtually any song on the acoustic guitar; drunken freshman would frequently call out requests at Wilf’s while the teetotalling Osborne would wow them with everything from Black Sabbath to Stompin’ Tom. Once, in the middle of a solo in Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” Matt whacked his guitar so hard that he cracked the soundboard. When he immediately jumped into the final verse the guitar had tuned itself one whole step down. Matt carried on, taking the key change in stride, never missing a beat. After a few dazzling covers, he would then literally floor his audience with his own songs, like the much requested instrumental “Lowkomowshun,” the tongue and cheek “Environ–mental” or the epic last dance “Who Can Do You Right?”
As a musician Matt knew no boundaries. The folk community considered him one of their own, as did the blues community. He could rock out with Serge Solski and Arun Pal (of the Matthew Osborne Band) and then settle into a cool reggae song, a country tear jerker, or a soul ballad.
He sang in church growing up and in an a cappella group in high school that made it to the CNE. Never one to pass up an opportunity to entertain, he would break into dialogue from his favourite movies during sets and would often keep his band members on their toes, sporadically breaking into songs that hadn’t made it onto the set list, or even into one of his rushed last minute rehearsals.
With his many circles of friends, supporters, fans and fellow musicians, Matt was probably more ingrained in K–W’s music scene than anyone else. Simply trying to compile a list of all the people who shared a stage with him is futile. Chances are if you are a musician in K–W, you’ve played with Matt. And if you are a music lover, you are his fan.
As president of the Musicians’ Network in the early 1990s Matt encouraged and helped countless musicians find their voice on a stage for the first time, a mission he carried with him the rest of his life.
This, in part, was what made Matt a magical human being: his heart was every bit as grand as his stature. It wasn’t enough that he worked hard and carved a celebrity niche for himself in the local music scene, released three CDs (Doggie Blues, Underwater, Man Versus Concrete), contributed to a movie soundtrack (The Nature of Reality) and toured Canada and parts of the States. Being a professional musician for Matt also meant giving back to the community.
Matt was extremely generous with his time and talent. He did this most noticeably as a teacher, giving vocal and guitar lessons, and by playing at every benefit concert under the sun. But he also worked behind the scenes to help other songwriters get their first gig and find like–minded people to jam with. He co–wrote songs with them, contributed guitar, bass or vocals to their albums, and just generally offered encouragement. I know first hand that Matt made everyone he played with sound a hell of a lot better.
His open jams were legendary — the almost five year long Tuesday night Circus Room jam was the longest running in the Tri–City area. He also hosted jams at the Raintree, the Moondance, Boomers, Weavers’ Arms, the Bombshelter, Wilf’s, Korova Café, and the Walper among others. Matt also ran an acoustic concert series called WoodSounds at the K–W Little Theatre, where he offered a venue for budding songwriters and veterans alike to have their songs heard in a place where people come to sit down and listen to music, not just drink beer and watch the television behind the bar. It was important to him that there be venues like this, places where music was appreciated. After a trip to Nashville Matt came home raving about the Bluebird Café where they ask you to leave if you talked during a singer’s performance.
I once asked Matt why he spent so much energy fostering younger musicians. For him music was a continuum. The passion for it was handed down to him by his own mentors and I believe there was nothing more important to Matt than to be a mentor to someone else. To Matt it was only natural that he pass on his music and we are richer for it.
Matt once said of late musician Tom Murray that when you played with him, he made you sound a lot better than you had any right to sound. Truer words couldn’t be spoken of Matt Osborne.
Thanks Matt for all the great music.