LEE OSKAR, the Maestro of the Harmonica, was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark. Listening to the Danish radio as a kid, he became knowledgeable in a number of music genres. At the ripe age of 18 he went from Copenhagen to New York and eventually he made his way to LA via Toronto and San Francisco. Over time he collaborated with Eric Burdon from the Animals and eventually formed the group WAR. Lee continued with War for 24 years non-stop and then began working on his solo career and the manufacturing of Lee Oskar Harmonicas. He now resides in the Seattle area with his lovely wife.
"I try to paint within certain spaces in the music to help create the overall picture"
1. How would you best describe yourself as an artist and your music?
As an artist, I am always living in the moment, and that is where I pull in my best creative ideas. For me, music is creating space, not filling in space, and this process excites me artistically. My music is a complete reflection of who I am. I don’t belong to any particular neighborhood; my music is of the world and for the world.
2. What are your current endeavors ?
I am engaged in many exciting projects, including composing, producing, publishing my songs and of course, performing. I am finishing up mixing and producing an album of my compositions with a Japanese saxophone player named Takamura Miyazaki. I am also getting lyrics connected with some of my melodies so that they can be marketed as songs. I am looking forward to publishing my songs and landing deals for soundtracks and commercial use for my compositions.
3. When and where did you first discover the love of your instrument?
I discovered the harmonica as a six year-old when an American family friend came to visit us in Denmark. At the time, the harmonica was the hottest thing in Denmark, everyone was playing one! And after that, when the hula hoop and later, the yo-yo, became the next big things, I kept on playing the harmonica. I was hooked, and the rest is…history!
4. What were your greatest passions as a musician in terms of your musical experiences over the years?
My greatest passion as a musician is the thrill of the music itself . Over the years, I can say that every time we played as WAR and now, as my colleagues and I have continued as the Lowrider Band, it is always like an incredible jam, an amazing musical journey. We never play the same way twice. With huge crowds, the whole energy with the music is magical. Nothing like it!
5. How has your music evolved and expanded over time?
My soul has always been in the same place, but as an artist, I have gotten better and better with my craft, more coordinated with my tools. I feel like my music has continuously grown, as I never want to be stuck inside of a “sandbox” of sorts. I love experimenting and growing in the moment. I love meeting other musicians, and being on the stage with them in the moment. creating the music. As an artist, I welcome collaborations, which bring about further growth and expansion!
6. What’s the cultural difference between playing locally and overseas? Or between cities and countries?
There is NO difference at all! When it comes to the music itself, it does not matter where you are, as long as there are people to play for. However, regarding logistics and the professional side of the music, it certainly does matter whom you are dealing with, and whether the promoters and organizers have integrity and professionalism. I have a story from many years ago that illustrates this point: We had huge popularity in many parts of the world that were not so well-developed at the time and the logistics involved were shaky at best. We had a sold-out concert in Mexico City, with around 40,000 people who paid hard-earned money to hear us play. But when we got there, we discovered that there was no sound system and realized that the promoter had run away with the money. As devastating as this was, somebody brought in a little sound system, like the kind you’d see in a small Holiday Inn lounge that probably sounded like a transistor radio. Even under these circumstances, the crowds went wild. They loved it! But what matters is “who” you are dealing with, not “where”.
7. Do you ever jam off the cuff with local musicians and what’s it like interacting with your jam fans?
I do that more often than not. I love jamming! I have big ears and I am wired for jamming. Even if there is a so-called rehearsal, it’s about watching my cues. l’m the kind of musician who essentially says, (figuratively speaking), “let’s travel from Seattle to NYC, we’re going to take 3 cars, let’s decide what route we are taking, but I am not going to tell you when and where to go to the bathroom!” The point is, you need to understand the form of the music, but you need to leave room for feeling and improvisation.
8. Please tell us about your favorite or most memorable musical career event.
One of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had was when we (Eric Burdon and WAR) played Ronnie Scotts in London, which was known for being a hard-core jazz club. Jazz icons like Coltrane and Miles Davis had played there and in those days, they’d look down on rock n’ roll or fusion, or anything but pure jazz. . We played 3-4 nights, and had the honor of being called the “best live band ever heard” by Melody Maker magazine. While we were there, Jimi Hendrix came in one night to hear us and amazingly, he sat in to play with us. I was in awe, and at the same time, I felt like I was home, that this was my destiny. I am really in the music business, living out my dream. Then, most tragically, Jimi died the next day.
9. What is it like touring? Being on a big stage with all the lights and people? Do you prefer large or small venues?
I love touring as long as I get there without any hiccups and my wife is with me. It can be exhausting, but it gets me there to play and the music always outweighs the stress. As for venue size, it does not matter whether it’s big or small, I prefer good sound. Generally, when we play the sports arenas, they are terrible, as they’re designed to echo, to make it sound like there are a lot of people. A venue for 2,000 is nice, but the size itself does not matter as much as the quality of the sound.
10.Do you have any suggestions or tips to JamTrotters on how to carry their gear when traveling on bus, train or planes? TSA? Regulations?
For anything you depend on as gear needed to play the gig, don’t check it, carry on board if possible. If it’s something too big, have it in your rider to ensure that the promoters have what you need at the gig. It’s best to get there two hours before your flight. Open up your case so that there are not as many dark spots going through the scanners at security.
11.Is there anything you would like to share with JamTrotting travelers…tips about places, restaurants, clubs, sites, etc.?
Wherever you eat, even if you don’t like the food, don’t send it back. Don’t insult the chef! Support artists wherever you go, don’t ask for a free ticket, pay like anyone else. For anyone who makes a career out of playing music, respect the right protocols and always be professional in all of your dealings. Even if you have a bad day, treat your fans with respect.