The Osmonds: Talking Karate, Chuck Norris, Glam Metal, and Elvis With Merrill Osmond

You heard right! The Osmond Brothers, currently consisting of Jay, Jimmy, and Merrill, who sang the lead on all the Osmond hits, from "Yo-You" to "One Bad Apple" to "Down by the Lazy River" and, yes -- wait for it -- "Crazy Horses," will be performing a benefit concert Saturday, November 17, at Higley Performing Arts Center.

If you're steeped in Osmond lore, you know that the two oldest Osmond brothers, Virl and Tom, were born deaf. It's a cause close the to the Osmonds hearts, as the benefit concert seeks to raise proceeds for two local foundations, Desert Voices and Commission for the Deaf.

I was pleased to speak with Merrill Osmond himself, all the way from Manti, Utah. I haven't interviewed many 54-year showbiz veterans, but my guess is few are as kind and considerate as Merrill, who apologized for making me wait -- calling in whole a minute past our appointed time. I only have to reach back to the liner notes of that first MGM album, from 1971, to remind myself that "Merrill is the group's optimist. If there is a half-empty glass of milk, Merrill sees it as half-full."

Also, according to Wikipedia, "he is the only Osmond to have never had major dental reconstructive surgery and is "proud of the teeth that nature gave me." (citation needed)

I forgot to ask him if this was so, but I know if I did, he would not lie.

Up on the Sun: This benefit at Higley this Saturday, it's just one of a series of concerts The Osmond Brothers are performing to raise money for the deaf.

Merrill Osmond: We're going back to the original dream our mother had. With me, with having two older deaf brothers and I having a deaf son, it was important to carry out the mandate of my mom before she passed away, [to] fulfill that dream for raising money and providing aids for those who cannot hear. And so far, we've been very successful so far and this benefit concert at Higley will raise a significant amount of money for The Olive Osmond Hearing Fund.

What percentage of hearing loss does the hearing aid help correct?

My son has a 92 percent loss in both ears and he had it at birth, nerve deafness, with the proper hearing device he's able. through proper frequency and tuning. as well as you and I can hear. That's how incredible it is.

This is a rare Valley appearance for The Osmond Brothers. Do you tour much these days?

My brothers and I, the original brothers, this is our 54th year in the industry. We're now down to three because my brother Wayne had a stroke, so he's no longer able to perform with us, but Jay, Jimmy, and myself continue to travel. We just came back from England. We had over 100,000 people come to our events; we did 50 shows in 60 days. Our real popularity base is in European countries. We're going back there again from January to April to do a huge tour. Just the brothers, not Donny and Marie.

You and your brothers first appeared in white jumpsuits on the Phase III album. Was Elvis a direct influence?

Elvis was almost a brother to us. He obviously affected our lives in so many ways. One of them was the jumpsuits. And karate. He introduced us to Bill Belew, his designer, so we ended up wearing those white jumpsuits. And from there we were introduced us to Chuck Norris who got us all to become instructors in Tang Soo Do Korean karate. So we did have the influence of Elvis and Chuck Norris for years, so that's where the whole karate thing came from.

That was a great marketing strategy, having five Elvises instead of one.

[Laughs] Back in the '70s, we were kicking the dickens out of each other and breaking boards onstage, all of that.

How difficult were those suits to keep clean?

We just gave them to our mom. I don't know how she kept them clean. A lot of people just remember the Osmonds as a boy band, but you guys played instruments, produced, and wrote your own records after a time and you danced as well as the Jacksons. Compare that to the prototype boy band of today -- they only sing adequately, can't dance a lick, and I was at a concert where only one of them plunked a guitar for a few songs. You guys were multi-purpose.

Thank you, I don't know if I ever remember not having been in the industry, but I was honored to have written with my brothers some of the songs we recorded, like "Crazy Horses." That's still one of the biggest selling records in Holland, Belgium, even in the Middle East. Those records went out all over the world. It's a real honor to say "Let's sing 'Down by the Lazy River" and the entire audience of 3,000 people sing it with you. In fact Elvis, told us "the day your fans bring their kids, you know you've passed the generation gap." If you go to an Osmond concert, that's what you see: people who were fans from the Andy William days, to the '70s, and now their kids.

I always maintain you guys invented glam metal with "Crazy Horses." That sound you make -- Aerosmith copied it for "Back in the Saddle" and Poison for "Back to the Rocking Horse."

That song caused a lot of controversy. They banned it in a few parts of Europe. One, because they thought it was a drug song. I don't know why. The other reason they banned it was because it sounded like a police siren and people were pulling over to the side of the road when the radio played that thing . . . and that song was about pollution.

The Osmonds are scheduled to perform Saturday, November 17, at Higley Performing Arts Center

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic