by Jerry Fink
The Jazz Internet
Las Vegas Jazz n' Blues
Boulder Blues Site
Trombonist Brian O'Shea, who is also a vocalist who sounds a lot like Joe Cocker, is looking for one more hit record.
In 1967 the Scottish-born musician cut his first single, "Everything I Am," with the Plastic Penny band in England. It went to No. 1 in Great Britain.
"I thought to myself, 'Well, this is easy,' " O'Shea said. "Then three years later I had another No. 1 hit, ' Softly Whispering I Love You,' and I thought, 'Oh, this is really easy. Anyone can do this.' "
Thirty years later O'Shea is looking for the third hit.
"I started at the top and I'm working my way down," he quipped.
While waiting for lightning to strike a third time, the 55-year-old musician from Port Glasgow, Scotland -- about 20 miles northwest of Glasgow -- has had a decent career singing back-up on more than 100 albums and performing in clubs around the world.
Most professional musicians learn early in their lives they have musical talent, such as when they're in elementary school. O'Shea didn't even pick up an instrument until he was almost 18 years old.
He was working in a shipyard in Port Glasgow at the time.
"It was a small town where there were a lot of dance bands that had trumpets and saxophones, but no trombones," O'Shea said. "I'd never really heard a trombone until one weekend when some of us went to a dance hall in Glasgow.
"I heard this thing playing 'Laura.' I will remember that till the day I die. I looked around and saw this trombone -- I didn't know trombones could do that."
Until he heard "Laura" performed on a trombone, O'Shea didn't have a lot of interest in music.
"I went home and for my 18th birthday I asked for a trombone," O'Shea said.
He took a couple of lessons and then started performing in a Dixieland band. He continued working in shipyards and performing jazz on the side until he was 21 and then moved to Toronto and joined the Canadian Army.
"I had friends in Toronto," he said. "While there, I decided to join the army to get the theory and practice (of music)."
He was in the military band for almost three years. After his discharge he returned to Scotland briefly and then joined a band in England. Soon after, he had his two hits.
He was a featured vocalist on the original "Jesus Christ Superstar" album, which was recorded in England before the musical production of the same name went to Broadway. He didn't go with the show; instead he remained in London performing backup vocals in recording studios.
He sang on albums with Sheena Easton when she first became a recording artist. Easton opens today at the Las Vegas Hilton.
O'Shea also sang with Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and dozens of other artists. He became a close acquaintance of Elton John when John was still using his real name, Reginald Dwight.
"I got to know him very well," O'Shea said. "I remember one time I was doing a radio broadcast for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) in one of the studios on the Thames River. I remember him standing on his tiptoes to sing the high notes."
Elton/Reginald wasn't so outrageous in the early days.
"He was so ordinary looking, so nothing, that he had to do something to get attention," O'Shea recalled. "He was just a little chubby guy. The big glasses and the wild clothes came later."
O'Shea also had a different name during his English career -- actually he had 27 of them. His most prominent alias, the one he used most often, was Brian Keith.
"I got tired of people asking how I can be Scottish with a name like O'Shea," he said. "So I was driving around Picadilly Circus one day and I saw a marquee advertising the movie 'With Six You Get Egg Roll,' starring Doris Day and Brian Keith. I knew who she was, but I didn't know who he was.
"When my hit record came out, Billboard magazine said 'Not only is he a fine actor, but he is a great singer, too.' "
O'Shea went by "Keith" until he came to Las Vegas in 1981.
"When I introduced myself here as Brian Keith, people would say, 'How are Jody and Buffy?' That's when I went back to O'Shea," he said.
For the past 20 years O'Shea has performed in clubs throughout Las Vegas. He and his partner, Michael Edging, have a recording studio and music publishing business, Dreamcat Music.
"We're looking for new and upcoming talent, somebody like (country singer) Shania Twain," O'Shea said.
Meanwhile they're promoting O'Shea's latest CD album, "Blues on the Rocks."
"I would like to have one more hit record, then I'll be happy and I can concentrate on producing and writing," O'Shea said.
But, as he has learned, it's not that easy.
O'Shea appears with the Dennis Mellen band at the Tailspin on Saturday nights and at the Kitchen Cafe Tuesday-through-Thursday evenings. He also appears at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Monday through Wednesday mornings.
Photo of Brian O'Shea by Ethan Miller of the Las Vegas Sun copyright 2002
Jerry Fink's Lounge column appears in the Las Vegas Sun on Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702.259.4058.
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