Lee Oskar plays one of his custom harmonicas in his recording studio at his Everett home. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lee Oskar plays one of his custom harmonicas in his recording studio at his Everett home. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Harmonica virtuoso Lee Oskar debuts somber album ‘Never Forget’

The Danish musician of the funk band War and “Low Rider” fame makes art and music from his Everett home.

EVERETT — This is no “Spill the Wine” party song.

“Never Forget,” the latest album by harmonica virtuoso Lee Oskar, formerly of the funk-rock fusion band War, is the Danish musician’s memoir as a child of a Holocaust survivor.

“Music is not just about a hit record and some cute little riff or hook line,” Oskar, 73, said at his home in the Everett suburbs. “Music is much deeper than that. I was looking to dig deep … to liberate myself from what I was fearing.”

A release party for “Never Forget” is set for Friday at The Triple Door in Seattle, with another show planned April 1 at North City Bistro in Shoreline.

The songs on “Never Forget” are soulful, melancholy and yet soothing.

“I wasn’t doing an album describing the Holocaust … that would be murder sounds,” Oskar said. “This is my memoir, this is me, the next generation and how a Holocaust survivor like my mom affects me, too.”

“Never Forget” has nine largely instrumental tracks, including “Song From Mom” and “World For Peace (Tolerance).” Supporting musicians to Oskar’s harmonica include guitarists, bassists, drummers, string musicians, reed players, background vocalists and an oud player.

“My mother and Aunt Judy managed to escape the killing camps of the Holocaust,” said Oskar, whose grandmother died in a camp. “I’m second-generation from horrific things. It filters through. It didn’t stop when my mom got liberated. It continues and if those things were unexpressed and I went to the grave I would have been ashamed calling myself an artist.”

Oskar gained international fame playing the harp in War, with hits such as “Spill the Wine,” “Cisco Kid,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and perhaps most notably, “Low Rider.” He had big hair, bell bottoms and a harmonica style of his own.

His wild mop of black curly hair is now tighter and tinged in gray. He turns 74 this month. He is divorced and lives on a quiet cul-de-sac with Tex, a mellow lab-mix rescue from PAWS in Lynnwood.

Lee Oskar Levitin grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was 6 when a visitor from America brought him a harmonica that changed his life.

Lee Oskar with his painting that also doubles as the album artwork on his new release, “Never Forget.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lee Oskar with his painting that also doubles as the album artwork on his new release, “Never Forget.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In his late teens, Oskar came to Los Angeles, where he met British singer Eric Burdon, and they performed together in the band War.

In addition to War, Oskar focused on a solo music career. His album “Before the Rain” came out in 1978. He was the 1976 Instrumental Artist of the Year for Billboard, Cashbox and Record World and received American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Music awards over the years.

He founded Lee Oskar Harmonicas in 1983 while on the music circuit. The harps, made in the Japanese factory Tombo, are sold online and at music stores. At Guitar Center in Lynnwood, the Lee Oskar major diatonic harmonic system is $49.99.

In March 2020, he did a Lee Oskar & Friends concert as a benefit for Historic Everett Theatre that raised $12,665 for the venue.

“It was right before the COVID close-down. That money was able to get us through the tough times that were directly ahead of us,” theater manager Curt Shriner said. “He’s a true friend of the theater, that’s for sure.”

Shriner said some people were surprised Oskar lived in Everett.

He said Oskar “took a liking to the theater” and offered the benefit concert. Oskar said he wants to do another show there.

To produce his music, Oskar started his own record label, Dreams We Share, a subsidiary of Lee Oskar Productions.

He created the paintings featured on “Never Forget,” sold on vinyl as a coffee table book, CD format and digital.

He has painted for years but did mainly landscapes before this project, where dots of paint became faces.

“I started seeing faces and I’m saying, ‘Who in the hell are you?’” Oskar said. “Stuff that’s been haunting me for years. And as I was doing this technique and the faces were coming through, and that’s what you see in the album.”

He said he didn’t make “Never Forget” to add another gold record award to his wall.

“It is one of the most important things I’ve done in my music career,” Oskar said.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Lee Oskar shows

• Lee Oskar & Friends with Andrew Joslyn and the Passenger Quartet, 7:30 p.m. March 11 at The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle. Tickets are $25 to $35. More at thetripledoor.net.

• Lee Oskar & Friends will perform at 8 p.m. April 1 at North City Bistro, 1520 NE 177th St., Shoreline. Tickets are $35. More at northcitybistro.com.

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