Ask Sonny Anything… did you ever see Bill Monroe laugh?

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.

As we reach our 75th edition of Ask Sonny Anything, a word of thanks to all who read, share, and participate in making this column such a fun part of everyone’s week here at our little BT cabin home in cyberspace. This edition nearly missed deadline due to an unexpected appearance by Sonny’s pal Kraco. A big shoutout to Luke, Katie, and the entire Apple Business team at Cool Springs Galleria in Franklin, TN for their herculean efforts in getting us back up and running. At Sonny’s insistence, I’m including my explanation of what happened – which accompanied this week’s list of questions forwarded to him for this column.

Terry Herd


Whew Chief, I’ve been in computer purgatory for 24 hours. Laptop died yesterday and I had to buy a new one. It was defective. No joke. They exchanged it for…yep, you guessed it ANOTHER DEFECTIVE ONE. LOL. Finally (as they say), third time was a charm. Just got everything restored about an hour ago and here we are with your new set of questions…I certainly hope you enjoy working through these more than I did wallowing in techno Hell yesterday! Hahahaha.



Larry Stephenson (Larry Stephenson Band) asked me a question a couple weeks ago that I’m kinda reluctant to get into because it becomes a personal thing which in reality is nobody’s bidness! The question had to do with keeping a good band together during this Chinese Breakdown Virus we are all suffering through as best we can.

Ok…the question was this: “Who, and how many band leaders were able to keep their bands together during this trying time when no one worked much of anything.” I ran this question by several people and got basically the same response from nearly all. “What could we do? There were no places to work, crowds were not suggested, actually no gatherings of over 10.” The folks who could afford it, paid their band members….at a reduced rate, which was expected… most would not, and did not elaborate. Insinuating that it wasn’t anyone’s affair how they ran their business.

So, I found the longest being paid was through May of 2020. How many band leaders did this? ONE. This was designed to create some sort of loyalty amongst the aforementioned band members. Which I’m sure it did…I imagine there were a precious few grateful pickers right there…you reckon? I bet when this is all said and done, returned to normal, the folks who had the jobs, were welcomed back. At the time though, the fact was, like all of us musician or not, what else could we do but get a job, anywhere any kind of job was available. etc, etc.

Bottom line…support yourself and/or your family as best you can. It appears that people are trying to get back to a semblance of a normal existence, it may be returning. Personally, I think it will take a very long time getting back to the worry free existence we enjoyed in the past. We didn’t know how good we had it. We were living the good life, and it was not known…by most.


Dear Sonny,

It’s been a pleasure to read this column of yours every Friday. Your memory, expertise, and feedback are all a treasure to the bluegrass world.

My question to you pertains to another famed prewar RB-Granada banjo, this one owned for a period of time by the great Buddy Rose. Serial #9526-13. The story for years goes that Buddy, in an effort to increase the tone and volume of his Granada, took his DeWalt drill to the holes in the tonering, enlarging them as a result. I’ve heard clips of him playing this banjo with the Sauceman Brothers, and it’s a mighty fine sounding banjo, and Buddy Rose is as underrated a player as they come.

Would you point to this as an example of the average banjo player always looking for ways to improve the perceived tone of their instrument? Here was a bonafide Holy Grail banjo and he thought that it could sound better.

Thank you for doing this column; long live Sonny Osborne!

– Andy in NC

Andy…I loved North Carolina.. except Dean Smith and his four corners offense and his ability to beat Kentucky basketball. GRRRR!

I don’t have the particulars concerning Bud’s Granada. Do you know if he was the one who enlarged the holes in his tone ring? I remember hearing about that banjo with the enlarged tone ring holes. However I never heard who actually did the deed.

Bud was a gifted player, but I can’t say as much for his sound engineering ability. In today’s market, he made a $300,000 banjo into a $100,000 banjo. Rudy Lyle, who recorded many tunes with Bill Monroe in the early ’50s had an original Wreath Pattern RB3. I always thought that banjo sounded terrible when Rudy played it on the Monroe recordings. I found out later, the tone ring had been drilled to add 20 more holes to the great original tone ring. That completely destroyed a beautiful banjo. I don’t quite understand the reasoning here.

My Granada, Earl’s Granada both were loud, I don’t know about JD’s banjo, but I’d bet it was loud enough. I know where there’s another Granada, original 5 string…some clown has drilled 20 more holes. Andy, that’s the part I don’t quite get. To me, the Granada was the Gibson Masterpiece. BEST OF THE BEST. What is it that could possibly be better.

Hey, I have some more information on the Bud Rose banjo. My friend and Brother, Jerry Keys, great banjo player himself…knew Bud, and passes this along. Doesn’t remember the driller, knows that Bud had it nickel plated. After Bud passed from this life, his family sold it to Gordon Reid who lives here in Nashville. Brother Steve Huber, another great banjo player and builder, plated it back to gold a few years ago. So, my friends and brothers of the banjo….That’s the rest of the story.



I’ve watched several Osborne Brothers performances and always noticed you had a good sense of humor, always smiling and joking and having fun on stage. On the other side of the coin Monroe always seemed pretty serious. Did Bill have a good sense of humor, and did you ever see him really laugh hard?

Hoskins S.

Hoskins S….Thank you for sharing a bit of your time. I’m always laughing and seemingly having a good time. Well, look at it this way. I’m a little overweight, and surely ain’t gonna win any beauty contests…so funny is all that’s left. I try to be funny, and sometimes fail miserably. So, the banjo is left, but every time I look at it for help, what do you think pops up…Stupid KRAKO. No win situation. I do try though.

Bill Monroe. Did I ever see him just get ripped right out of the frame? Not really. I’ve seen him laugh, but a fall out on the floor funny, I would have to say no. If one of us did something stupid, like getting stopped for speeding…90 in a 50 zone, 14 and no drivers license, like going to jail. He thought that was funny. I even thought the funny part was that he sat right there and told the officer that he didn’t know I was 14 with no license…Yeah, right…”he didn’t know!” Give me a break!!! Funny, yeah, as the cell door closed…that was funny. Ha Ha Ha.

Hey Carlton P… You asked the same thing basically so I’ll try to answer it. Talking about humor and Bill Monroe. Bill Monroe’s bus was the joke. I never rode on The Bluegrass Special. I don’t think I was ever invited to take the tour. Dana Cupp could relate some stories though. One was Bill played solitaire constantly. And, according to Dana, Bill played so that he always won. That’s hard to do, if you play it straight.

There was one incident concerning John Madden, Dana Cupp, and Bill’s bus. Dana was driving at this particular time. The bus was at the entrance of this rather plush hotel. They were waiting for someone to get on the bus, ready to leave. Get this picture now, Coach John Madden is standing by the curb waiting for his ride. Bill’s bus was ready to leave. So, on the floor beside the driver are two plunger switches. One is the emergency, or parking brake…the other is the release valve for the holding tank. HOLDING TANK? You might ask. It is a 50-100 gallon tank designed to hold waste water, sinks, and bathroom waste. When Dana started to leave, he pulled the plunger switch for what he thought was the emergency-parking breaks…WRONG…he pulled the waste water (etc.) and many gallons of waste water came out and guess who it soaked quite thoroughly. If you said John Madden, head coach of The Oakland Raiders NFL Football team,…you would be right. Dana said he quickly released the brakes and got the hell out of Dodge. Bill was looking out the window and as they moved away from the hotel entrance, not realizing that the chemically treated waste water was coming from his bus, was heard to comment…”Oh, look at that pretty blue water!”

Now, I won’t swear on this all being true, but I’m telling it like it was told to me. I wasn’t there so honestly, is it all true, can’t say for sure…but it was a good story, wouldn’t you agree. Good reading, huh?


Sonny, I really enjoy your column each week. Thank you for your contributions to the bluegrass industry. My question is, have you or are you interested in writing a book of your life experiences in bluegrass. You have such a remarkable memory it would definitely be a shame for all your knowledge to be lost. I for one would love to buy a book. Thanks again.

Lanier L.

Lanier a book was once, about 10 years ago a top priority. It was the idea of a good banjo player, an attorney, very good friend…among a dozen other accomplishments. SCOTT STREET. Just a great human being. Had he lived the book would have been out for a number of years. But unfortunately such was not the plan. I lost a good friend. Several people asked to finish it but unavoidable circumstances made the book an impossible task for several people so, the box of contents sits in my attorney’s office waiting to be brought home to wait a generation or two, or three from now when……?


Sonny, do you have any memories/stories from the album Tennessee Firebird with vibraphonist Gary Burton? Particularly about the title song or just the vibe of the session? I think that was one of the first attempts to mix jazz sensibilities with country/bluegrass sounds. Thanks for your reply and love your playing… best…

Orville J

Orville…thank you for asking. I appreciate your time. Tennessee Firebird was a project from the mind of Gary Burton. Genius musician and surely one of the greatest Vibraphone players ever, or at least the best I was ever to come in contact with. You might ask; “How many Vibe players have you seen in person?” Well, leta me see hyer…none…would be close..oh no…answer is one. Genius named Gary Burton.

Every great player in Nashville was there for that fusion of jazz, country, bluegrass and I won’t attempt to understand why I was called nor what to call the outcome. Mr. Burton asked me after the first cut, “Well, what do you think, sound ok?” My answer was, “I have no idea. You tell me!” Things were going along pretty well, until the drum guy and saxophone guy came full volume and from that point on, it was purely a matter of concentration, and silently praying that you make it to the end of this tune, whatever and whenever that will be. Thankfully they faded the ending. The jazz guys were all high fiving each other, The country guys were saying “Yeah man” and the bluegrass guy was putting his banjo in the case and trying to find the exit….OK. That was good reading.

Truth is, it was a trying experience for we who had not been exposed to live jazz, but I’ll bet not one would have missed it for the world, me among them. I wouldn’t choose to do it again, but if I were asked, I most certainly would shout “YES, WHERE DO I SIGN.” Quite an honor it was, to be included. I’m reasonably sure that all present would agree.

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.