There's no one in the pop music world quite like Lee Oskar. His unique role as a founding member and former lead harmonica player for the pioneer funk/jazz group, WAR, won him international renown for... Read More
There's no one in the pop music world quite like Lee Oskar. His unique role as a founding member and former lead harmonica player for the pioneer funk/jazz group, WAR, won him international renown for over two and a half decades (1969-1993). Oskar's signature harp solos helped to define the WAR sound from the band's beginning in 1969, adding dashes of color to their R&B, jazz, rock and Latin influences. Oskar's position with WAR was a prominent one from their early days with singer Eric Burdon onwards. Audiences have marvelled at his improvisational wizardry, not to mention his animated stage presence.
"My playing has become more aggressive over the years," he says. "In the beginning, my role was playing horn lines. Today, it's evolved to the point where I'm playing a lead instrument. If I'm not doing a solo, I'm playing counterlines - I try to paint within certain spaces in the music to help create the overall picture."
The eclectic, multicultural nature of WAR's music is also evident in Oskar's solo projects. Three stellar albums released between 1976 and 1981 (and recently rereleased on CD) brought critical and popular acclaim including being voted No. 1 Instrumental Artist of the Year for 1976 in not one, but three major industry mags: Billboard, Cashbox and Record World. The albums, like Oskar's electrifying live performances, show the diverse influences that make up this hard-to-categorize musical giant. A renowned composer, his compositions have been featured on movie sound tracks and television commercials. He has been the recipient of many Gold and Platinum recordings and honored with special ASCAP Writing Awards.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1948, Oskar was six years old when a family friend gave him his first harmonica. "Everyone in my neighborhood was playing one that year," he remembers. "The next year, the fad was the yo-yo, but I had fallen in love with the harmonica, and stuck with it." He grew up listening to Danish radio, enjoying all types of music and cites Ray Charles as the biggest influence from that period.
Oskar moved to the United States at the age of 18 with little more than a harmonica in his pocket. Arriving in Los Angeles, via a few other cities, Oskar soon met and joined forces with Eric Burdon who had recently disbanded the Animals and was searching for new collaborators. Together, the harp-playing Dane and the British blues-rock singer made the rounds of the L.A. clubs, eventually hooking up with the soon-to-be members of WAR. Burdon agreed to the novel idea of pairing up Oskar's harmonica with Charles Miller's saxophone to form a horn section. This team-up set WAR apart from the start, giving Oskar room to display the full spectrum of his improvisational prowess.
Oskar's harmonica magic was always a vital element in WAR's music and performances. Oskar continued with WAR for 24 years non-stop. At the end of 1993 he made the decision to end his association with that group in order to have the time to pursue his solo career.
Between recording, performing and running his immensely successful harmonica company, Lee Oskar is a very busy man. The Lee Oskar Harmonica was introduced in 1983 and this venture has consumed much of Oskar's time for the last decade. Today, his firm offers harmonicas in a variety of tunings, along with replacement reed plates, tool kits, instruction books, and other related products. He plans to release an instructional video in the near future. Lee Oskar Harmonicas have become a household name with sales that are well-established and growing at a phenomenal rate worldwide. Oskar reports that business is booming and he derives great satisfaction from the positive feedback that his company receives daily about his products.
Composing and playing music remain Oskar's top career priority and he looks forward to many new projects that are in the works. Lee Oskar has just released a compilation of his favorite original compositions that is now in distribution. "Lee Oskar - Collection".
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