Ask Sonny Anything… did President Nixon care for your bluegrass?

Hi Sonny! Thanks over and over for this column. I know back in the day that everyone was really on the road a whole lot with not a lot of down time at home. I was wondering if you guys ever went out to Bill Monroe’s and set around the camp fire listening to the fox hounds, or out to Lester Flatt’s place on Old Hickory Lake and hung out or anything like that? I know that you went to some jam sessions at Earl’s place. Thanks again Chief!

Gary G.

Gary, I appreciate you sharing your time with us. And the answer is no, I never sat around a campfire and listened to the fox hounds at Monroe’s house, however I was to Lester Flatt’s place on Old Hickory Lake once, for less than 10 minutes. And I went to many jam sessions at Earl’s house, but that’s just what they were, people sitting around playing banjos and looking at the Earl.

Most people who were involved in those jam sessions spent most of their time looking at the Earl and his right hand as he played the infamous Granada banjo. None of us learned anything, but it was just that we were in the same room with the Earl…the real one. Those sessions were attended by John Hartford, Benny Martin, Bashful Brother Oswald, and various others, but as I said, we did more looking at Earl than we did anything else.


Sonny, in 1973 the Brothers became the first bluegrass act to perform at the White House. It doesn’t seem to me that Richard Nixon was really a fan of bluegrass music though. So how did that come about and how did it go over?

Sam W.

Sam W could be taken for Samuel Wilder and so, if memory serves me correctly, this is several times that I’ve heard from Sam W. I’ll leave it at that for now.

You are correct, we were the first bluegrass group to play inside the White House, and that was 1973, and the occasion was Pat Nixon’s birthday in which Sir Richard, her infamous water-logged husband, decided to give her the Osborne Brothers and Merle Haggard for her birthday. And it was also St Patrick’s Day.

How it came about…our agent in Nashville was contacted and asked if we would do it, and having never flown before, I refused, but then Smiley Wilson, the head of our booking agency, shamed me by telling me that my refusal was also depriving the rest of the guys in our band the opportunity to play inside the White House, which in 99% of the cases, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime deal. So I relented.

As fate would have it, we were on tour with Haggard at the time, and on that particular day we were in Ft Worth, TX. So, filled with fright, we all left Love Field the next morning on our flight to DC. It was quite obvious that Nixon was not overly enthused with bluegrass music, but we shoved it down their throats, much the same as he shoved Watergate down ours. It was a fun thing though, and everybody was scared to death, but we have pictures to prove that we were there.


Sonny, the name of this column is “Ask Sonny Anything,” so here goes. Looking back on your life and career, would you characterize yourself as a “lover” or a “fighter?”

Have fun with that one.

Bob M.

So Bob M. welcome to our little get-together. Looking back over my career, I would characterize myself as a banjo player for the Osborne Brothers band.

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.