Tommy Osuna works magic in his state-of-the-art recording studio in southern California, far from the fray of L.A.’s churning music business scene. He created a private production retreat, at 6500 feet elevation in the mountains of Los Padres National Forest, where the guitar ace, composer and producer can stretch out and truly call his own shots as an artist. He has chosen to build his varied career in similar fashion, working successfully outside the envelope of the mainstream record business for nearly two decades by following his “inner compass.”
The gifted, Berklee-trained musician has performed with the likes of Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Jamaican reggae legend Earl “Chinna” Smith. He has produced over a dozen independent releases for other artists, both at his present-day mountain studio and back in Boston, where his 7 Mystic Studios recording facility offered the finest vintage analog gear — a place where musicians could achieve the warmth and dimension that is frequently lost in the digital age.
For his new album, Trippin, he wanted to re-visit classic and blues-based rock idioms, with blistering riffs and rock-solid bottom end – and, for the exact sound he wanted, he enlisted rock/funk/blues legend Buddy Miles (Buddy Miles Express, Electric Flag, Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies). Sadly, their collaboration would be the last recording of the veteran drummer’s storied career. The project brought Osuna, Miles and San Francisco bassist John Piscitello together at L.A.’s Studio City Sound, where Osuna and Miles discovered an instantaneous personal and artistic rapport.
“Buddy Miles was like a great piece of earth,” says Osuna, “and I am so honored and grateful for his contribution to this record. Right off the bat, Buddy and I hit it off. We talked about life, and we talked about what we wanted to accomplish with this record. He was excited that the album would be all about the music and nothing else, just playing our asses off.”
The 2007 recording sessions went extremely well. Miles laid down his trademark steady backbone of rhythm, and Tommy’s guitar leads soared with imagination, sensitivity and a kind of free abandon not heard in rock music for many moons. On their final day of recording, Buddy said “I haven’t felt like this since I was playing with Jimi.” Then they wrapped up the track called “Mama” — and the final recording of the great Buddy Miles’ career was complete. The musicians talked excitedly about touring together in the coming year, but Miles died unexpectedly in February 2008 of congestive heart failure at the age of sixty.
Osuna says “He was the coolest of the cool, and really charming in a magical way. He had his own tone, no matter what he played on. He made Jimi sound the best, and he played the best fat back drums known to man.”
Tommy “the Swami” Osuna was born in southern California to a family of Italian, Spanish and Apache heritage, and began playing music when he was 8 years old. He started out with the trumpet, but soon picked up his older brother’s guitar, inspired by an early love of Jimmy Page and Ted Nugent. In a single afternoon, at age eleven, he taught himself Nugent’s “Double Live Gonzo” album, note for note in its entirety – and when his brother came home and heard what he had done, he gave Tommy his guitar on the spot.
Tommy went on to study at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, maturing and exhibiting such virtuosity that he was offered a teaching position. However, he’d been accepted at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music and the prospect of leaving California for training on the east coast offered a world of new opportunity.
While at Berklee, he spent over two years working on his debut recording, Third Stream, freely exploring various stylistic directions and also ethnic world flavors, and determined to learn the art of production and recording. For months of recording on weekends at Prophet Sound studios, he wasn’t getting the sounds he heard clearly in his head, but he stubbornly persevered and finally, over time, the music started pouring out. He had no pre-conceived concept for the album, instead pursuing a path of pure discovery that would allow him to remain open to possibilities.
On his second independent release, Message from the Tiki Man, Osuna again pushed the boundaries of sound and imagination, exploring open-endedly “until the magic happened.” He incorporated elements of world music (while in Boston,he co-founded Rhythm Music magazine, which later became Global Rhythm, based on his interest in multiculturalism and global sounds) as well as classic funk, and he played with great delicacy as well. Boston Metronome called him “a man with a vision,” and The Boston Globe said “Tommy’s way of portraying music is all his own.” The editor of Jazziz said simply that Osuna “plays like water, a very unique stream.”
With business partner Kyle Russell, Osuna went on to found OSBC Entertainment, a full-service booking agency for artists in the Boston area, as well as his analog 7 Mystic Studios. He met his future wife, singer/guitarist Brenda Layne, at Berklee where she was also studying — and in 2001 the two native Californians made their way back to the west coast, eventually setting up household – and recording studio – in the mountains where they now live and work. Tommy has taught composition and improvisation regionally for many years, working with youth and using music as a medium for lessons on life. By helping kids focus their minds and hone their skills, he pushes them to work hard and achieve their very best, fostering not only positive relationships with parents, teachers and peers, but helping them grow into a generation of creative and highly motivated individuals.
Osuna’s own stylings range from understated elegance and his distinctive vibrato, to the anthemic, tear-your-head-off rock solos of which he is consummately capable. For Trippin’, he envisioned a work of “neo-classic rock,” keeping the style focused and utilizing more technological tools than in the past. Having the rock-solid backing of Buddy Miles really freed him to exercise his solo chops, and the result is an album of songs that rock like familiar classics yet sound contemporary and fresh, exploring new ground while still preserving a retro flavor. Some of his songs evoke great guitar moments in rock history, from talents as diverse as Jeff Beck, Jerry Garcia, and Jimmy Page — but Osuna’s playing is referential and not derivative, and blazes new and original ground in an utterly masterful way. He is a highly evolved guitarist, a player to be contended with, who’s finally coming down from the mountain to share his considerable gifts.