In memory of Bryan Osper

Bryan Osper (5)

Bryan Osper (1)

Bryan Osper

And Then He Turned Into Music

“Break the silence

Steal a kiss

Raise a rukus

Slip away”

-Bryan Osper’s journal, 2011


Humboldt music legend Bryan Osper died in a tragic auto accident on November 28, 2011 at the age of 26. He left behind a legacy of rippin’ tunes, sweet croons, and a wellspring of love. He also left us utterly heart broken, but completely inspired, as only great artists can do.   Bryan’s mother Sharon Osper said,”Bryan did what all musicians strive to do–pass the love of music on to the next generation.”

Any attempt at a “full length tribute” to Bryan Osper would beimpossible. If John Lennon, J.S. Bach, Jimi Hendrix, W.A. Mozart, Frank Zappa, Ravi Shankar, John Bohnam, Robert Johnson and the London Symphony Orchestra got together to jam until the end of the Universe in God’s own amphitheater, that might be appropriate. What follows is more of a collection of words about Bryan, or B, or Osprey or Hot Licks, as he was affectionately known in the music community.

After Bryan’s death, a wealth of beautiful words was written; stories were well-told about his life; and his monumental memorial service was covered in detail. Excerpts of and links to some of these beautiful pieces of writing are included at the bottom of this post. If you are aware of other writings and tributes to B, please feel free to add to the comments at the end. This, along with Bryan’s Facebook page is a good place to collect these words.

Actually, Bryan was a writer himself, an impeccable writer. He almost studied journalism but, thank goodness, the muses handed him music instead.  So perhaps, almost a year after his death, it is time to hear from him and to let his own words pay tribute to the deep, sweet, rebel soul that he carried around under that heavenly mop of curls and behind that timeless smile.


From the pages of Bryan Osper’s journal, 2011:

“And when he heard the music, he remembered, and when it stopped everything was gone.”

“Manifesto: You owe a lot to your instrument. You are in debt to it for where it has taken you, what it has given you. Yu must repay this debt to your instrument by showing it the respect it deserves. You cannot just ignore it until the moment you need it and hope it will perform for you. In order to make sure your instrument is always ready to perform for you must give it respect daily in the form of practice and playing it for the true love of its form and function.

We all have free time, and the choice of how we choose to use it is ours alone. That is why we must be careful not to spend our free time unwisely. This is especially true if we have many things going on in our lives that we must deal with. In these times our free time becomes ever more precious. We must eliminate or lessen self-indulgent moments. We must learn to tool our mind to the possibility that free time = a chance to show our instrument, and indeed ourselves and our band, some respect. Ask yourself, ‘Have I picked up my instrument today?’ ”

“A Fall of uncertainty. A season of unease. May it pass not uneventfully, full of vigor and spirit and with a lesson by which to abide. One must learn to deal with whatever new circumstances may come about. A new state of mind gained takes some adjusting to. A higher consciousness takes getting used to, brother, not something to dig (comprehend) so quickly as in one instant.”

Here Bryan is speaking about a gathering of musicians at “the Bucky House” in Arcata which included the likes of The Shook Twins, Jenny O., Brown Chicken Brown Cow String Band, and The Bucky Walters:

“This little faction here is the result of a beautiful + flourishing microcosm within the scope of the larger world of amazing musicians out there. I for one feel blessed to be able to be a part of this group and to have a chance to know these people. We are all living, breathing projections of the beauty and the transience of pure infinite wisdom and experience. The essence of all life. ….I sure love my friends.”


From Bryan Facebook page: Jan 31, 2011

“Kayaked two miles out, snorkeled with whales, swam in the reef and chased rainbow-colored fish, heard the whales singing underwater at sunset, drank mai tais at sushi happy-hour…not bad for a Monday”


Bryan traveled the world. He played music all over the U.S., rocked samba in Brazil, pinked at steel drums in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and visited France, Italy, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Traveling was a huge part of who Bryan was and what shaped him as a human being. Surely he has touched the lives of thousands of people around the world through music.  These are some excerpts from Bryan’s bio, an organization that connects travelers with host couches:

“Music is my life. It has given me everything I have. It fills my days and nights with purpose. I follow the music as it takes me around the world. I have always thought of myself as an artist, and never found any interest in pursuing a career in any kind of industry that didn’t involve creative personal expression.”

“I have spent a fair chunk on time on the road as a vagabonding musician while traveling with the Buckys and occasional other assemblages of zany musicians. Probably the most enriching moments of my life have been spent far from home and it has been through many of these experiences that I have come to appreciate the vitality of person-person to contact across the landscape and the necessity of having friends to call on in many cities across the world.”

“I lived in Bahia, Brazil for six weeks and became a part of a neighborhood in the city of Salvador known as Liberdade which is the home of the greatest Afro-Bloco on the planet, Ile Aiye, and made innumerable friends and deep connections with people whose culture is far removed from my own and whose language and ancestry is separate from mine and I knew them on their own terms and in their own language and forged some amazing cross-cultural bonds, all the while hanging in a ‘hood that most white tourists are afraid to go to…”

“I am open to welcoming strangers into my home to do nothing more then spend some quality time with fellow human beings and give them something interesting to do in a foreign town and to share in the act of getting together under the assumption that everyone, everywhere beats through life to the same basic rhythm and sweats under the same sun everyday on this planet and that the best way we can counter-act the effects of this “all-global fully-infused modern capitalistic society” is to take advantage of the accessibility to one another which this provides and strive toward creating a planetary community of harmony through the acceptance and preservation of cultural differences.”


Humboldt sirens Akabella credit Bryan Osper with suggesting their name.  This is an excerpt from Bryan’s review of the Akabella Beltane Sessions in the North Coast Journal:

“The human voice is a most spiritual and mysterious force. The first instrument of expression in the history of our species has always been the means of our deepest forms of communication; be it with each other, between a human and the Earth, or through a song which is sung as a message to the gods.”

“On a musical level, the power of a beautifully realized harmony and the strength that lies in the manipulation of our most natural and unique instrument is undeniable. Always moving, it is at times overwhelming.”

Below are excerpts of the articles written in the wake of Bryan’s death.

Josephine Johnson’s article Sweet Soul is perhaps the most comprehensive, describing Bryan’s journey through the Humboldt music scene, his last days at home, and reactions from his friends and family.

“Osper had heard there might be openings in the band and showed up at a calypso rehearsal that first week. He asked if he could play, try it out. Novotney [esteemed HSU music professor] let him have a go at the steel drums — and he was smooth. ‘I knew that first time I saw him he would make major contributions to the program,’ Novotney said.”

“Indeed, to hear friends tell it, Bryan Osper could play any instrument he touched. And his voice was clear, comforting, as if he had a direct connection to a realm beyond.”

“Osper’s girlfriend of four years, 22-year-old Sophia Mackell, recalled that Osper was very sentimental. She said he liked to tell people about the time he first met her, and he’d written poems and notes about it — in them, Mackell is shimmering in the sunlight. ‘I was in the art quad wearing a big, plate mother of pearl necklace, and he turned and saw how the sun shone on the necklace,’ she said. ‘And he always liked to say how that was like Heaven bringing me to him.’ Mackell paused, took a breath, then sobbed, ‘He was the kindest, gentlest, most passionate person I ever met.’ ”


Bob Doran covered Bryan’s memorial service in the North Coast Journal Article, Songs for Bryan and concludes his article with these words:

“For me, Bryan was the young musician who lived down the street for a time. When he moved into my neighborhood a few years back, it solved a mystery. Until then I thought there were two almost identical curly-headed kids making music in Humboldt, one the smiling guitarist who stood out in the crowded local string music scene, the other a drummer/world music explorer/pan player. Once I started hearing him practicing on his congas and picking on the front porch with The Bucky Walters, I realized my mistake. There was no doppelganger, just one Bryan, a player open to music of all sorts and a shining star no matter what style he was playing.”

Hank Simms wrote in an article in the LostCoast Outpost quoting Bryan’s music mentor and teacher Eugene Novotney.

“HSU Music Professor Eugene Novotney was looking at a picture of his friend and former student when I reached him in his office a few minutes ago. The picture, he said, was taken in Trinidad — the Caribbean Trinidad — last year. The two of them are playing music on a float whose driver, at the moment the photo was snapped, had just driven up onto a curb. The rest of the players are jostled about, but somehow, in this photo, he and Bryan are in focus, playing to the carnival crowd.

Novotney’s voice was trembling when we talked.

‘What you have in Bryan is not only one of the best musicians you ever played with, but one of the best human beings you ever knew. That guy right there,’ Novotney said, indicating the picture that only he could see, ‘he didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He had nothing but love in his body for music and for people.’

Osper, Novotney said, was one of the completest natural-born musicians he ever knew — ‘he could play any instrument, with anybody.’

And here is an excerpt from Alan Sanborn’s touching letter to the North Coast Journal

“Bryan’s talent was undeniable, but more important, his dedication was total. His relentless work came from his obvious joy. He was humble enough to play with anyone and to learn from everyone. Bryan had an openness — beyond style or genre, beyond competition and false ambition. He had the sensitivity to honor every musician he played with. And, no matter what kind of instrument or music he was playing, he gave each tune its own room to breathe.”

“For me, for some reason, Bryan was a reaffirmation of hope and beauty in a world that doesn’t always nurture those virtues. An affirmation that, yes, the idea of integrity hasn’t been lost on a younger generation. I have to be content now that I was one of the lucky ones to have heard that sweet voice and stood enraptured watching music flow through his fingers. His slightly self-effacing smile will linger in Arcata for a long time.”

“He was a consummate artist. He wasn’t just a musician, he was music.”

“The road will treat you well and I’ll see you on the other side.”- Bryan Osper’s journal 2011


And on a lighter note…



Bryan Osper (3) Bryan Osper (2)


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