Ask Sonny Anything… could Bill Monroe drive a car?

Hi Sonny,

I just watched you and Bobby and Dale Sledd alongside Marty Robbins. The show was called The Drifter, and was filmed in black and white. It was done before Marty had his facial hair. You boys did three songs plus some powerful acting! What are you memories of that show, and when was it done? I only got to see Marty twice, but one of those times was him closing the second show at the Opry… he could really get the crowd going. I’d always try to see you when you’d play Take It Easy Ranch. Thanks for doing the column. I really enjoy it.

…Bob Simmons…St. Inigoes, MD

Bob Simmons from MD. Welcome and thank you, Bob.

He brought back some memories from long ago. One being Take It Easy Ranch. I don’t know what year it would be that we played there, but it was sure a fun place to play. And most assuredly Tom Reeder and his cohorts would show up and a very good time was had by all.

I remember one day, it had to be at least 110 degrees on stage when we came off stage from the first show, early afternoon. Tom Reeder was standing 15 feet from the stage and I was burning up. Tom had a glass of what I presumed to be ice water and he said, “Yes it was,” when I asked him for a drink. I took a large gulping drink, which was about half of his glass, and I didn’t realize until it hit my stomach that it was not ice water. I’m done with that subject for now.

Bob also mentioned Marty Robbins and the TV show called The Drifter. Marty and I were pretty good friends, and I would imagine that’s how we got to do that show. On Saturday nights in the summer at the racetrack here, it was common knowledge that Marty owned the car and also drove it. By 10:00 on Saturday night he came from the racetrack to the Opry, and the only show he would do was the 11:30 spot, which was the last show of the night.

One night I walked out of the dressing room into the hallway and I saw Marty and he was obviously mad. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “I put a brand new 454 Chevrolet engine in my car, and it ran one lap and blew up.” And he looked and he said, “That’s $6000 right there…..lost. But, I’m having fun.”

Marty Robbins was one of the greatest voices country music has ever produced. In my opinion.


Dan Boner, Professor at ETSU, along with Larry Sparks, are my two favorite singers.

Dan wanted to know if the stories of Bill Monroe’s eyesight and driving capabilities were true. From what happened when I was there and saw first-hand, Mr Father of Bluegrass was not a good driver. If Charlie Cline or I were driving, and didn’t meet Bill’s specifications, he would order us to pull over and he would show us how to drive. Which we did and one of us got to ride in the back of that ’53 limousine, which was a treat because that’s where the best air-conditioning was.

Bill would get in the driver’s seat, run it forward as far as it would go, and get a 9 o’clock – 3 o’clock death grip on the steering wheel, which was almost against his chest. He would put the car in a zigzag pattern. We passengers, and especially Bessie sitting in the back seat, were going side to side, which was some sight to see. She would be screaming at Bill, “You can’t drive, you can’t see, and you’re going to get us all killed,” and his tenure would be about 3 miles. I guess, in his mind, he had shown each of us how to drive. At the end of Bill’s turn, we had a car full of sick people, and one Pomeranian “Chappy” dog.

Truth is, Lieutenant Professor Dan, Bill Monroe could sing Blue Moon of Kentucky, play the mandolin, but he was not a good driver.

This story is true, and not hearsay. I was there.


Hi. A question that Sonny Osborne answered triggered something in my addled brain. I remember an interview either with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant or with Archie Campbell. But they were working on a bunch of songs for Archie to do on a more serious album than he usually was associated with. They decided to take a break from the serious stuff and just write something fun. The result was Rocky Top.

I don’t know if the story is true. Sonny have you heard that story? Is it? I’d love to know! Thanks for a great column.

I’m eager for your book Sonny!

Michael G.

Hey Michael, I appreciate your time and comments. This has to do with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant and the Gatlinburg Inn. They were there, writing an album for Archie Campbell, and as the story goes, they grew weary of the material they had to write for Archie and Felice said to Boudleaux, “Let’s write a fun song. Something like .. ‘once I had a girl on Rocky Top,'” and actually there was no place called Rocky Top.

Boudleaux picked it up from there and 15 minutes to a half hour later, they had written the basics of Rocky Top.

Mikey wants to know if the story is true .. and yes, it is true. True enough to be a game-changer, or career-maker, for The Osborne Brothers. And Mikey says he’s eager to read my book. That is, if it ever makes it to the light of day.


Sonny, this column is absolutely unparalleled for this aging bluegrass fan. Thank you so much for doing this!!! My question has to do with the logistics of recording. Did The Brothers lay down (record) one track at a time, or were you able to set up in such a way as to record more “Live” (everyone playing at once) even in the studio. Approximately how many sessions or hours would you spend on a typical album? Would any individual project be recorded in one venue, or did you ever use multiple facilities in order to get things “just right?” I’ll “hang up” and wait for your answer. 🙂

Terry K.

Hey hey, Terry K. Thank you for jumping in here with both feet.

So the question is…did the Osborne Brothers record one track at a time, or did we use the modern technique of one word at a time. Answer is….we did it all live, and many times we had the complete A-team in the studio with us. The A-team being the group of musicians who did more sessions in Nashville than anybody else. Basically, Hal Rugg, Grady Martin, Ray Eddenton, ‘Pig’ Robbins, and then you can add a player or two to go with them, such as a Buddy Spicher, a Buddy Emmons, a Leon Rhodes, a Tommy Jackson or a Willie Ackerman. They were simply the best. And with that group, you could hardly go wrong.

I suppose by this day and time, that has all changed. I’m not familiar with it anymore.

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.