Ask Sonny Anything… Did you have band members who didn’t work out?

Good morning Chief, it’s road trip time again. Now listen, I don’t want to scare you, but we have a few new guests joining on this little trip back in time including our driver, Michael Cleveland. Don’t worry, he’s a Jedi when it comes to navigating the pages of time. So come on out to the bus and let’s take a little trip…


ok My regular crew Lincoln, Aynsley, Dan, Derek are all here, and Larry has got it fired up and ready to take us outta here. Today, we’re going to San Antonio, TX. Yahoooo! That’s the place where we played with the San Antonio Symphony, and the place I had a little run-in with the violin section… and also the place where Raymond Huffmaster, our infamous bus driver, and self-proclaimed yo’friendly, stole my banjo and nearly ruined my life. And so Brock and Blaine brought the house down with that big ole long instrumental they played and ended up with Orange Blossom Special and then we got to go out there, stand right in front of the Alamo, and you could just feel all them Mexicans and shootin’ and hollerin’ … man what a trip!

And then when we get back home, just to sit and watch Larry back this ’45 bus into his driveway is a trip all its own. You know when you mentioned Michael Cleveland driving, it reminded me of a story involving Grady Martin and Pig Robbins. He always wanted to drive Grady’s car right up Printer’s Alley, so one night after the session they went to one end of the Alley and Pig got in the driver’s seat of Grady’s blue and gold El Dorado and rolled the window down…sittin’ there with his elbow out the window looking straight ahead…of course Grady was guiding the car…and they idled up Printer’s Alley. When they saw Ray and Hal as they went by, Grady told Pig to turn his head sideways and say, “Hi Ray! Howya doin’ Hal?”, and then turn his head forward again and then they just idled on to the other end of Printer’s Alley. I guess, of course, we all know that Pig was blind. So, Michael, glad you could make the trip with us. … that guy can play the fiddle.



Hey, Sonny, I enjoy reading your comments and stories. I never thought I’d have questions for you, but now I do. I found an album at a store in Knoxville. I bought The Early Recordings of Sonny Osborne volume 2, 1952-1953. It was distributed by Vetco Records out of Cincinnati. The label says Gateway Records. There is no publication year. The notes on the back say the album was originally available as radio mail orders from stations like WCKY and WWVA. The recordings were done when you were a teenager. The 14 songs include Wildwood Flower, Cripple Creek, Banjo Boy Chimes, Raw Hide, Mule Skinner Blues, and White House Blues. Are you familiar with this album? Would you be interested in a complete list of the songs? If this is volume 2, do you know what songs were on volume 1?

Ted M.

Ted. Thank you for your time. I’m glad that you are enjoying our little get-together.

You asked about the early recordings of Sonny Osborne, and that you bought Volume 2. Well it was originally recorded for Gateway Records out of Cincinnati in 1952 and they were originally released as singles but then later they made them into Volume 1, 2, and 3, and you asked if I knew the songs on the other volumes and the answer to that is yes, but we’re talking about 30 songs here and I’m not going to through all those titles.

So to clarify all of that, Ted, that complete set would consist of The Early Recordings of Sonny Osborne Volumes 1, 2 and 3. 1952 and 1953 is when they were released and, yes, I was a teenager and they were offered for sale on WCKY-Cincinnati and WWVA-Wheeling and many other late-night radio shows. I had the pleasure of hearing me play Sunny Mountain Chimes on WCKY every night, and folks that’s a 50,000 watt station, hello, and the show was hosted by Nelson King…. How ’bout them apples?



Dear Dr. Osborne, I have two questions, if you would so oblige… First, you’ve had such wonderful musicians in your band throughout the years. Have you ever had anyone who later turned out to be a bad addition or just didn’t fit, if so, how do you get rid of those guys?

Second, any stories about playing a gig and then getting stiffed on the pay, or has that never happened in your career?

Many thanks!

Josh M.

Josh, thank you for your time and questions. Glad you could join us.

Have we had wonderful musicians? Absolutely the best. But you also asked if we had had any duds…….by duds, I mean misfits. People who were not as focused on what we were doing as we thought they should be. Yes, we have had several of those. Some that went on to be big time major leaguers (music wise), and a couple that went on to become famous songwriters (very wealthy songwriters). And then you ask if we had had any duds, how did we get rid of them. We farred they ass. (Thank you RaymondE)

Now back to reality. I just simply called them to come back to my room, and explained to them they were just not working out, and we were going to make a change. I’m sorry it happened this way, but that’s just the way of business.

In our band, we had 3 rules only….. Don’t drink, Don’t smoke and Don’t be late. In all our years, we had one late arrival (huh Mr. Cupp). And one drinker (name withheld) of whom I simply asked for his bus key back.

Two more fellows that wanted to use a cruise that we were going on as their vacation, and then leave our band. I learned of their plan and I relieved them of their duties.

Two other fellows who had to leave our band because of their health.

The 2nd part of your question is asking if we ever played a date and then didn’t get paid. The answer to that is yes, about 10,000 times…..No, really several times, but it felt like 10,000. Once, in Georgia, the guy just simply said, “I don’t have the money but you can have everything in the concession stand,” so…. We left there with 20-30 lbs of hot dogs, popcorn, etc, etc.

And then there were other places where we didn’t draw enough people, or the weather was bad, etc, and it was just not right to take money from a promoter where we didn’t pay for ourselves. And in cases like that, we just wished them good luck, got on the bus and left. Fortunately for us, that did not happen very often, but in every case we paid the guys in our band for a full day’s work. We had guys who worked with us for 10-13 years, and David Crowe is coming up on 25 years. The way you keep a band together like that is to treat them like family and pay them well. We tried desperately to do both.

Thank you Josh, for your time. Come back and see us again. (And send your cards and letters to WSM Nashville 3, TN)



Hi Sonny, love you and Bob’s music and the level of talent you’ve had in your band through the years. Couple questions if you don’t mind, sir.

1) How did you find Dana Cupp? Did you know him years prior to his joining your entourage?

2) Did you know many Michigan musicians or singers over the years? I know you mentioned Pete Goble but how about Paul Boyd (banjo), Willard Elkins (banjo), Wendy Smith of Blue Velvet? Mike Adams, tremendous vocalist who had a band with his brother Gary Adams?

Finally, during the ’50s and ’60s was there any particular Nashville establishments that you would frequent for the music??? Thanks Sonny!

John D.

Hey John… c’mon in. You asked if I knew Dana Cupp… well, I wish I didn’t..but just kidding. Dana’s one of my closest friends. I had a banjo for sale, an RB-4, and I mentioned it from the stage in Beanblossom in early June 1984. Dana was in the crowd that day, contacted me, met me the next week at the Howard Johnson in Lexington, KY with his friend, Willard Ball, and he bought the original RB-4 that day and that’s the first I knew of Dana Cupp. I would see him periodically in Michigan, and in 1990 Dana joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. When Bill died in 1995, Dana came to work with us and he worked with us until my retirement. Very, very good rhythm guitar player and excellent banjo player. I knew a few of the musicians in Michigan like Pete Goble, Wendy Smith, Mike and Gary Adams. In fact, once we played at Milan, MI and as we left the park, the whole steering mechanism of our bus went through the floor. Gary Adams loaned us his bus to finish that tour. Thank you Gary!

And you also asked, John, if there were any hangouts in Nashville that I frequented during the ’50s and ’60s and the answer to that is no. I never was one to go out drinking, partying and raising …. cane.



A lot of performers carry their instruments on stage strapped to them. I’ve seen you bring your banjo on stage inside the case a few times at personal appearances. Very few people do this. I always figured it was to protect it. Can you explain?

John G.

Hey John G. I’m wondering if you know John D. Glad you could join us. Thank you.

I usually strapped my banjo on in the bus, tuned it, and carried it onstage like that but there were times that I would take the case. There was not a specific reason why I carried the case to the stage. It just so happened that way on that particular day. I was always very particular and I didn’t want anybody to touch it or so much as breathe on it because that was my work tool and if it were bumped just right it would knock the whole thing out of kilter. I most definitely insulted numerous people, but you just don’t mess with a carpenter’s hammer, or a mechanic’s wrenches, or an electrician’s light bulb, or a plumber’s spigot. Glad you could join us….see you next week.


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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.