Ask Sonny Anything… celebrating The Chief’s 100th column!

Good morning Chief, well it’s finally here… Ask Sonny # 100! On behalf of all our readers, your fans and admirers around the world, Mr. Lawless and myself, please accept our heartfelt thanks for this weekly journey through the pages of bluegrass history. The many stories recorded here will be preserved for generations to come, to read and enjoy. And of course, let no one overlook the support and contribution of your loving wife, Judy.

Thank you from all of us, and here’s to the next 100 columns and beyond!



Congratulations Sonny on your 100th Column in Bluegrass Today.

Please tell us about recording Bluegrass Collection. Did you rehearse those songs before you recorded them?

Sunny Side Of The Mountain – The second banjo break did you have that worked out before you recorded it? That break just says, ‘Hey I’m Sonny Osborne and you are??’ The Bluegrass Collection is the way bluegrass music should be played.

Mark K

Mark, welcome to our little get-together. I appreciate your contribution.

We asked Benny Birchfield if he would agree to help us do this album, mainly because we were used to singing with Benny and his voice matched ours well. So far as rehearsing for this album, the answer to that would be no, or really I should say not extensively. We grew up listening to this collection of songs and so they just came natural to us.

The 2nd banjo break on Sunny Side of the Mountain, just happened, when we recorded it. I didn’t work it out beforehand.



Hello Sonny – Thank you for this bluegrass question column, all of your banjo tunes, all of your banjo skills, all of your stage showmanship, all of your recordings, and all of your, … well, … Lifetime Of Bluegrass!!

There was a great bluegrass album recorded in 1964 called Bluegrass Banjos On Fire by a band named Homer And The Barnstormers – many instrumental tunes and some songs with vocals. There are rumors around the internet, and during conversations, regarding just who the unknown musicians on this album were.

Have you listened to this particular album all the way through? There have been no credits provided to the pickers on this album, and I have always wondered if you were one of them.

I think that some tunes have similarities to your particular banjo technique, I’m only a beginner and I listen to and study your style and banjo technique over and over. You always put in sneaky goody notes and secret quickie licks – everything for a bluegrass banjo picker to have to work at to try to figure out. A good friend of mine picks a banjo exactly like you – when he concentrates and picks one of your tunes your way, I watch him tear into his Chief and I can’t get enough.

Some people say these tunes on this mystery album don’t sound quite like your fingers, and others say they do. I think some do but I can’t be sure. There are no credits on the album jacket or anywhere in print, or even on the internet.

Please tell me if you were the banjo picker on this album, or if you were one of the contributing banjo pickers on this album.

Also, please tell me if you know the other mystery bluegrass pickers on this bluegrass album and who they were.

Thank you.

Jaysyn S.
Tucson AZ

The album titled Bluegrass Banjos On Fire, I have not heard any part of this album although I knew that it existed. As far as my recollection goes, I did not play on this album and I don’t have any idea who did, however if I had to guess, I would guess that it is some bluegrass pickers around Cincinnati. That’s all that I can help you with, as far as who the musicians are on the album.

When you mention banjo technique, I honestly do not know what that means. I would like to know the name of this friend of yours who plays exactly like me.



Sonny… I’ve been a big fan of the Osbornes for as long as I can remember. I’m an old codger, soon to be 83, so I go back and remember the good old days at Sunset Park and listening to you guys sing those great three part harmonies with the soaring endings. Almost made my hair stand up. I was lucky enough to catch you there a few times. I was wondering if you had any trouble learning the third part – baritone – of your trio when you started out. I’ve always been a parts singer, loving good three part harmony, and I can remember vividly trying to learn the baritone. I would sit by my old Magnavox vinyl spinner playing Jim and Jesse’s Tribute to The Louvin Brothers, and try to put the third part in. Jim seldom ventured far from the true tenor, so he didn’t get in the way of the baritone. I finally got it, but it wasn’t easy. Did you have any trouble learning it, or did it come easy for you? Tenor never gave me much trouble but baritone took a lot of work on my part. Just wondering how you got along with it, or did it cause you to throw your hands up in disgust sometimes?

Thanks for looking…

Bob A.
Seaford, DE

Bob, so you are an old codger soon to be 83, and that makes me one already because I’ll soon be 84. Baritone and parts singing came natural to me, and by that I mean it was easy for me to fill in that part. But Bobby and I exchanged parts so often, that it would be really hard for someone to sing with us, unless they had that same kind of talent. You mentioned Jim & Jesses tribute to The Louvin Brothers, and I’m here to tell you that is one fine album, and really I don’t see how it could be improved on. Baritone is a part that you just have to hear, and it can be very hard to learn. It was really easy for me.



Hi Sonny, love the column.

Somewhere I read that you and Bobby were the first bluegrass group to perform at a college, I think it was Oberlin or Antioch in Ohio. What was that like, your remembrances of that gig? I read they wanted you all to play more old time traditional folk songs rather than your usual newer tunes.

All the best,
Chuck Van Dyke

Chuck, welcome in. Yes, we were the first bluegrass band to ever play at a college. It was in 1960 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. You asked what I remember from that place, and I’ll tell you right now we were all nervous and scared, because none of us had ever been on a college campus. As the evening progressed, we found out that they, in fact, wanted more old traditional songs like She’’l Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, and Maple on the Hill, etc etc. We didn’t know that, to start with, and we came out and performed our latest records and at halftime in our show, we were all sitting back in the dressing room, and somebody had a jug and passed it around and it calmed us right down and our appearance at Antioch was a big success.



Hello Sonny. I’ve seen the brothers many times in and around Burlington, North Carolina, at the Bass Mountain festival and The Big O Jamboree. Do you remember the Big O and any stories? One time I remember seeing Glen Duncan on fiddle, was that his first show with y’all? Bobby even twinned with Glen that night. Thanks for the article I look forward to it every week.


Randy, I remember Bass Mountain Festival very well, and my answer will be quite long so I’m going to save it for next week.


If you have something you would like to ask Sonny, be sure to post it in the comments below, or send it to us directly.

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About the Author

Sonny Osborne

Surely among the most influential banjo players of all time, Sonny Osborne has dedicated his life to bluegrass music, and the five string banjo. For 50 years he toured with his brother, Bobby, as The Osborne Brothers and were one of the top acts in bluegrass and country music in the 1960s and '70s. He retired in 2005 but remains active in the banjo world with the manufacture and distribution of his Chief banjos.