Sonny, I’ve been enjoying your column since it began, and I finally decided to toss in my two cents worth.
Last week you said that you played better standing up than you did sitting down. I’ve noticed the same about my own playing, though in my case it’s probably more correct to say that I play worse sitting down than I do standing up.
I have two questions for you.
First: Whose idea was this column? Did BluegrassToday approach you, or did you approach them?
Second: Back in the early 1990s or thereabouts, you played a festival up here in Minnesota. At the time I had a portable (just barely) VCR recorder/camera and had been taping a few performances. A friend of mine warned me not to record when The Osborne Brothers were on stage, because at another event where a spectator was recording your set, you had called out the person and demanded to know, ‘Who gave you permission to do that?’ Do you recall such an incident? And if so, did the person cease and desist, or was there an argument? (I took the warning to heart and left my recorder in the truck during your sets.)
Randy. Thank you for joining us… and a couple of interesting questions.
First of all, standing and playing probably releases something in your brain that makes you hear things that nobody else hears. And standing gives you a more creative spirit. I guess.
This column was a product of Terry Herd. He asked me a question and asked me to answer it, which I did. He said, ‘Would you like to do a column entitled Ask Sonny Anything?’ I said yes and here we are.
I remember playing the festival in Minnesota, but that incident didn’t happen at that festival. Our recording contract with Decca had a clause that did not allow us to knowingly let someone record us, and so we decided to enter that into our contract which was sent to promoters. Which simply gave us the right to refuse, and the promoter had to agree to it.
The worst incident of this nature happened in Lavonia, GA at Shoal Creek Park. We had a large crowd, and had already told PBS that they could not film us. So when we went on I noticed a huge TV camera set up about 20 feet in front of the stage. It was aimed right at us and the red light was blinking. We stopped playing and sat down on some bales of hay on the stage and I said that as long as that camera was out there and working, we wouldn’t play.
The PBS guy went berserk, and I told him, ‘I can’t help you because I can’t give you permission to record us. We can’t go on until you point that camera straight into the ground and turn it off.’ We finished our show then, and had a good time.
Chances are, Randy, if you would have asked…there was a 50/50 chance that we would have said yes. But we had to protect ourselves.
Sonny, when you were recording with Bill Monroe, was Ernie Newton playing the drum on his bass? Did you like that sound?
Cliff in Portsmouth, OH
Cliff in Portsmouth, OH.
When I was recording with Bill Monroe, everyone saw the drumhead mounted on Ernie Newton’s bass, and naturally we asked him to demonstrate, which he did, and Bill promptly said, “That ain’t no part of nuthin’,” and at that time Paul Cohen agreed.
Sonny, that is really interesting that you sat for recording. Probably means they gave you a lowered vocal mic as well as one for the banjo. I’m fairly sure you all were not using headphones, so evidently you were able to hear each other well enough to blend the three voices. Did you maintain this configuration all through your recording career with the Brothers?
I’ve watched you play standing uncountable times, and I know you were very comfortable that way…able to improvise freely and play anything you wanted to. The idea that you “perhaps would have become a great banjo player” is pretty funny coming from one of the greatest banjo players (and harmony singers) of all time.
A quick note on Bill and baseball: In the brief time I toured with him in 1964, gloves and balls and bats were always up in the racks above the seats. I played catch with him numerous times and, despite his vision (or mine, which also wasn’t that great), found him to be accurate in both pitching and catching.
Sandy Rothman, it’s always good to hear from you.
We didn’t use headphones until later in our career. Hal Rugg played steel and we couldn’t hear what he was doing, but we could hear the rest of the guys in the studio. So far as our vocal configuration, we did maintain this setup for the most part of our career.
The subject of Bill Monroe and baseball….we traveled in a car for the most part, and I think you are making reference to a bus, therefore there wasn’t room for bats, balls, gloves, etc. On one trip, I remember Bill’s son James (who was 2 years younger than I) brought a couple of gloves and a ball, and James and I tossed them back and forth. But other that what I’ve already explained, that was the extent of the baseball experience with Bill Monroe.
Sandy, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you. We’ve been friends for a very long time.
Hey Sonny, sure love your column and y’alls music. I was wondering did Judy travel with ya’ll a lot back in the days, or did she stay home and keep the fares a burnin’. Keep doin what cha doin’ we think a whole lot of ya’ll.
Terry…thank you for your time.
Judy and I were married in 1958, and our son was born in 1960, our daughter in 1962. Up until the children came along, she worked and supported us at Delco Products in Dayton, OH which was a division of General Motors. Had she not done this, we would have starved to death, which would not have been a bad thing on my part, but she weighed 90 lbs.
Consequently, I got a job driving a taxi cab for the Yellow Cab Company, to put biscuits and ‘taters on the table. That’s what I was doing when we were made members of The Grand Ole Opry, and from that point things had a slight upturn, and she had two teenagers to raise at the same time.
I thank the Lord for Judy, and her Dad, George, who donated a lot for us to build a little house on, which we did. It was 750 square feet, and it cost $6500 to build. The humongous house payment was $64 a month, which we were barely able to make.
See you next week!!!!
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.