Ask Sonny Anything is a recurring feature where our readers pose questions to the great Sonny Osborne, one half of the iconic Osborne Brothers who redefined bluegrass music in the 1960s, and noted banjo maven and collector of fine prewar instruments. Everyone is encouraged to pose queries of your own each week in the comments, about his history in the music, his wealth of banjo knowledge, or regarding any life advice you might be needing.
Sonny, I have always thought the break that Rudy Lyle took on Rawhide was unbeatable by any measure. If you could comment on Rudy, how well you knew him, and did you enjoy his work on Monroe’s recordings, and what 5 string he used? I’ve always assumed it was a Mastertone, and a great sounding one too. Oh, and as a side note, it was my golf cart that J. Smith had in Pigeon Forge that time! Wish the ride could have lasted longer!!
Hey James….I wish my ride on your golf cart could have lasted longer too, but unfortunately it didn’t. Maybe next time huh? Now to talk about Rudy Lyle. I didn’t know Rudy well, I only met him once and that one time was long after his good playing days. He seemed, for that short time, like a really good guy and when I was a Blue Grass Boy in 1952-53, the things Jimmy Martin would tell me about him from the early ’50s confirmed that. Rudy’s playing was so different before he went into the service and after he returned, like night and day. Both portraits of Rudy were so different as was his banjo playing, but both were way above most people who play the banjo. All original Rudy before and all Scruggs after. Listen closely to Rawhide and then go to White House Blues. That’s a great comparison for before and after. I always wanted to know how, where, and when the transformation came….but it’s so obvious. Rawhide was Rudy at his best. He played a flathead RB3 wreath pattern original 5 string. When he went in service he left the banjo with Joe Drumwright. When he returned I would imagine he got it back, I never knew. Go forward to 1966. There was an instrument shop on 2nd or 3rd Ave. here in Nashville. I was there one day and the owner asked me if I would be interested in Rudy’s RB3. I took it home and my heart broke when I found that some —– —— had drilled 20 more holes in the tone ring. Destroyed it completely. I probably should have bought it anyway, but I didn’t. I genuinely loved Rudy’s banjo playing before the Army
Hi Sonny, I had an LP in the ’60s featuring an uncredited banjo with a string orchestra. Featured tunes were Cumberland Gap, Down Yonder and Swanee River. A bluegrass record collector/dealer told me he thought it was you – do you have any recollections of making that recording? Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the album. I enjoyed the snot out of it and would like to find it again someday. Thanks!
Jan, I did an album in the ’60s similar to what you describe but I can’t say definitely. The title of the album would be something like The Tennessee Banjo Pickers. I wish I could be more help but we older USA Citizens sometimes have memory loss. Hate to tell you this, but this is one of those moments for me.
Sonny, I hear about and see a lot of folks putting mahogany necks in their old Granada banjos. They’re claiming that it’s going to change the tone into the sound Earl was getting in the late ’50s and early ’60s with his Granada because of the neck he had in the banjo at that time was mahogany. Any thoughts on this?
Well Carl. I don’t know of too many old Granada banjos. Especially original 5 string. I think what most people think is, the banjo made Earl sound like Earl sounded. That’s just NOT true. The RB11 he played sounded pretty good. It was unmistakable Earl. Earl’s recording of Bluegrass Breakdown with Bill Monroe in the ’40s should be a good test. It was unmistakable Earl. When he got the 75, the tone of the banjo was much better, but he still sounded like Earl. Foggy Mtn.Breakdown sounded like Earl. In 1959 Earl recorded Polka on the Banjo with Red Foley… it was Earl and sounded like Earl. In 1959 we recorded a session which included Fair and Tender Ladies. Sounded like me. WAS ME! I was to find out later during a conversation with Earl that we both used the same borrowed banjo for both those recordings. Borrowed from Joe Drumwright. A Wreath pattern RB3. I believe Earl will sound the same and it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference what he used. Anyone who is fortunate enough to own an original flathead Granada, a REAL DEAL 1934 Gibson Granada original 5 string with the neck intact, and would think so little of the masterpiece they own… I think they would know my opinion….my opinion of putting a MAHOGANY neck in it strictly because Earl did… well…. Earl changed back promptly didn’t he? NUFF SAID! To borrow a quote from Fred Bartenstein in Mule Skinner News!
I DON’T CLAIM TO BE ALL THAT SMART AND THIS IS STRICTLY MY OPNION AND MINE ONLY. IF YOU HAVE A GRANADA AND YOU DID THIS……..
Sonny, I love the Osborne Brothers version of Fair and Tender Ladies that I found on Spotify. I’ve done some looking online, and I have learned a few things about the song in general, but I can’t find anything about the Osborne Brothers cut in particular. When and where was it recorded? Who are the musicians on the cut?
Fair and Tender Ladies was recorded for MGM somewhere about 1959. On the session was John Slagle playing rhythm guitar and vocal, Buddy Harman drums, Pete Drake pedal steel, Hank Garland bass guitar, Me vocal and banjo (Which was borrowed from Joe Drumwright. an RB3 Wreath pattern. The same banjo Earl recorded Polka On The Banjo with Red Foley), Bobby mandolin and vocal, Roy Huskey, Lightning Chance, or Ernie Newton playing acoustic bass. My memory is pretty good… sometimes ;-)!! It was recorded at the Quonset Hut studio in Nashville. I think it was first owned by Owen Bradley. (Might have been his idea) Jim Vienneau and Wesley Rose oversaw the sessions. Funny thing about this album… It was completed and released in 1962, but some of the music was recorded in 1959-62. Reason? When Red Allen left in 1958, it didn’t occur to us that his name was on the MGM contract, but sure enough, there it was…. and he would not give us clearance to release recordings on MGM, or anywhere else, so we had to wait until that contract ran it’s course. I’ve asked myself why, and I come up with the same answer… I don’t know. So we waited, recorded, and waited until we were legally clear and we went back to work. That never happened again!
Sonny, Thank you very much for answering our questions. I have another one for you:
In your last round of answers you gave us a tip concerning your way of playing Making Plans. I did not find it when coming back to listening to the record but I notice you are doing something very similar when playing behind your brother’s voice in Muddy Bottoms (1979 McLain Family Band Festival). Am I right ?
Let me add my voice to those who miss the Osborne Brothers band, your banjo virtuosity, and Bobby’s unique talent. What a band it was! You opened the doors to bands like The Country Gentlemen.
I wish you the best, really.
Well Charlie, Some parts of the business of bluegrass I do miss, but some of it… in fact a whole lot of it occurs to me now, that I don’t miss. It was fun while we were younger. It was like children playing and having a good time. Man, we had the best band, everyone got along, no one wanted to argue, we were drawing large crowds and we were playing a lot. The Grand Ole Opry, TV shows from major networks to local shows. I guess one would call it RIDIN’ HIGH! Having a ball. But then it became more of a job, and not nearly as much fun. We were getting older. We did a lot to further bluegrass music, and we knew it, WITHOUT CONCEIT I MIGHT ADD. Then too, our health got in the way. SO…….! The thing I tried to explain about Making Plans was the chord progression before the last lines. I believe that is what you were referring to. And yes, you’re very perceptive, I did that often and at every opportunity when it presented itself. Obviously you have learned the art of listening and actually HEARING what you hear! Very hard to get that point across. How to listen and to actually hear what you’re listening for.
NOW, I SUPPOSE SOME MIGHT THINK THE ABOVE CONTENTS ARE BIG HEADED, EGOTISTICAL, AND WHATEVER ELSE ONE MIGHT CONJURE UP, BUT I ASSURE YOU THAT IS NOT THE CASE. I BELIEVE IN TRUTH.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION. SO APPRECIATED, BEYOND WORDS. THANK YOUSE!