Ask Sonny Anything… did Earl ever get bored with the banjo?

Hello Sonny. I seen the brothers many times in and around Burlington, NC at Bass Mountain festival and The Big O Jamboree. Do you remember the Big O and any stories? One time I remember seeing Glen Duncan was 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.


Hey Randy, I appreciate your time. Sorry I missed last week.

I do remember the Bass Mountain festival, and especially Mike Wilson. We were talking out where our bus was parked when a guy came running down and said a couple guys were causing a disturbance…you know, like showing they —! Well Mike, at 6’4” and 260 said I’ll be back in a minute. He ran up to the pickup bed and literally reached into the melee, grabbed this guy by the hair, a longish braid like thing, and proceded to half drag him and fast walk him to the waiting police cruiser. Thus coming to an end of those two old boys Bass Mountain Festival for that year. I loved that place…Big O I don’t remember, however Glen did play the fiddle with us then. Most enjoyable time musically to work with the great fiddle player, Glen Duncan.


Years ago when I was young and uneducated, I would listen to Flatt and Scruggs records of Blowin’ in The Wind, Like a Rollling Stone, and Down in the Flood, and thought they were just the neatest things….then many years later I found out that they were Bob Dylan and other “folky” songs, and that Lester hated them, and that was one of the reasons for the big breakup of Flatt and Scruggs. To be honest, after listening to the Bob Dylan and other original versions of those songs, I think Lester and Earl did much better versions. I know I am in the minority in those beliefs, but as an artist how do you feel when you have recorded music that after a while you really don’t care for, and the fans latch on to it and think it’s some of your best recordings. I wish I was around back in the day and was able to sit down and talk to Lester and tell him how versatile he was, and how he could take any song and make it pure bluegrass.

Thanks Sonny.

Cory S.

Cory….I apprecate your valuable time. Thank you.

I hope I can get through this subject without hurting too many feelings. You must remember that I considered me to be one of the most intent followers of The Earl. After 1957, not nearly as much. WHY? I felt like along about then, he took his foot off’n the gas pedal.

Earl and I became pretty good friends through most of the ’60s….once at his house, The Earl told me he hadn’t been interested in the banjo in 10 years. Which ripped me a pretty large one. He also told me he wanted out because he wanted…needed…to be with his boys. There’s only so many ways you can play Cumberland Gap. I didn’t understand this until 30 years later.

So by doing a completely different sound, I was put into the position of liking or disliking what my pal was doing. Being such a fanatic follower in the ’50-’53 version of the greatest 5 string banjo playing..player…in history, I decided I did not like the contemporary sound they were doing. Good though it might be…hell, the younger generation was going wild for it…but, Hello! I was not that generation, didn’t want to be. Chose not to be. Granted the Dylan songs were good…for Peter Paul and Mary…but not good for me. I liked Benny Martin and The Earl…still do…always will. Long way of answering your question, if there was one. If not, sorry, maybe next time.

You know what, Cory? If you were lucky enough to sit down and talk to Lester Flatt and tell him what great songs Blowin’ in the Wind etc were, and how he made them into pure bluegrass songs, he would probably just get up and walk off because he hated these songs so much, and detested the idea of calling their music bluegrass. I don’t know why, but I never heard Lester or The Earl refer to what they were doing as bluegrass.



I am reading this week’s column and Mark K asked you about your break on Sunny Side Of The Mountain on the Bluegrass Collection album.

I went over to YouTube and listened to it, then decided I wanted the entire album so I went to iTunes and bought it.

I guess my question is two parts and if I’m being too personal I sincerely apologize.

1. Do you get any kind of payment from YouTube for us listening to your songs.

2. I just bought the song on iTunes do you receive anything for that.



Lenny, thank you for joining our weakly get together. Your questions were of a personal nature, but I’ll answer them as best I can. When you download or buy any music we do get paid through a company called Soundexchange. That’s as far as I care to take this. Like I said it is rather personal. You understand, I’m sure. Good question though…connect with me again, anytime. As for that last part of the break…it was conceived on the spot…first time through. My mind just told my hands that it was the thing to do, so they did it.


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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.