Ask Sonny Anything… Dress for Success!

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.

Hey Sonny! Always loved the music you and brother Bobby put out through the years. I have seen the famous film clip of you and about 20 of your banjo buddies on stage taking turns playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown at a 1971 bluegrass festival with the Grand Master himself, and it looked like you were having a great time! I also remember watching a TV special in 1990 celebrating the 65th anniversary of The Grand Ole Opry where you got to play Blue Moon of Kentucky on stage with Earl on banjo, Bobby and Jessie McReynolds on mandolin, Bill Monroe, Jim McReynolds, Ricky Skaggs and the Whites. Of course, all you guys sounded great. Are there anymore times you remember playing with Earl on stage or are these the only times you got to play with the Grand Master? Thanks for your time.
Todd W.

Todd, thank you for your comments. Always appreciated that you guys would take the time to do this. More fun than you can imagine. Earl and I were on stage together several times. Every time except the 1971 show at Camp Springs North Carolina, Earl would always take the back seat to everyone else. Why, I’ll never know for sure but it always looked as though he was telling all us children to “go ahead. Maybe if there’s time I’ll come in and do a little part.” Sounds like I’m saying that Earl’s lack of participation is a putdown. Not in the least. Earl was De Boss man!! And for sure we all knew it.

In the early days none of us newer guys could play much cause we were all staring at Earl. My first time to be close to him on stage was at Watermelon Park in Berryville, Va. Probably 1959. Eddie Matherly wanted to hear Bobby and Lester sing together and he set it up. Naturally I was part of the deal. Lordy, I was scared to death to be on stage with THE MAN. Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms. Our first time to be on stage with a solid really professional complete band. It was Sweet. Actually Bobby had known them since the early ’50s and I had known Earl since 1952, but never on stage together. It was an awakening for sure. They were so good.


Sonny, I was so glad to read your comments about showing respect to the audience! I have always felt this way! I’ve said many times, that a person in the audience might not know who Jimmy Martin was, as he headed to the stage to perform, but they knew darn well he wasn’t a spectator! Several years ago, a well-known bluegrass band was asked to be a special guest on the televised portion of the Grand Ol’ Opry. I proudly watched their performance but was so disappointed that the banjo picker was dressed like he had just stepped out of the audience and onto the stage! This band was performing on the biggest stage in our industry……..and on the TELEVISED portion no less! I thought his appearance was very disrespectful to the audience, to the Opry and to the bluegrass industry! I commented publicly my thoughts about the incident, and I was actually threatened bodily harm if I didn’t apologize for the comment!! I never apologized and I never will! You are my hero Sonny!

Lynwood, good to hear from you again. I agree with you about Jimmy (Frog) Martin. He and his band always dressed as though they were business men going to work. I always thought the stage to be our office. I’ve never been able to figure what the point was to down dress. It’s as though they want to look downtrodden, I guess. If you believe in your statements, be ready for the consequences.


Hello Sonny, I watched an old black and white Marty Robbins show called the Drifter, and I saw you and your brother on one of the shows. My question is do you think Marty Robbins would have made a good bluegrass singer?


Wes. Thank you for making me think about Marty Robins. We were pretty good friends, shared stories and jokes. You asked if he could have been a good bluegrass singer. Answer is yes. Marty could have been a Gospel singer, pop singer, blues… anything he wanted to sing he could have excelled. One of the great vocalists of our time… AND a great song writer. Truly believed he had lived before and was a cowboy, gunslinger in that life. Loved Alan Shelton’s banjo playing…ONLY Alan though. Called him “That old red headed boy.” Didn’t much care for the banjo… just Alan’s playing.

He came in the Opry one night obviously in a really down mood. I sidled up beside him and whispered, “What’s wrong, did you hear a banjo on the radio on your way in?” He gave me a stern NO! I thought I’d better back off cause he was really upset. He just stood there and looked at me and said; “I just put a brand new 454 engine in that car and it blew up on the first lap!”

So let me go back and explain. Marty was a race car owner and driver. During the season he would only do the 11:30 spot on the opry, which would give him time to go to the track drive his car, and get back to the Opry House in time to do that one spot. Marty Robins was big enough in popularity that he was able to make demands and get it done. Nice huh? He earned it though. The show was over at 12 and he would usually run over 20 to 30 minutes. THEN….he would go to a little alcove and sign autographs for as long as people would come. I saw him still there one night at 3:00 a.m. That’s dedication. Name me one today that would do that. Now, I’m sure they exist but I would ask you to name one. First of all, the people would be lined up that long too. I donknow!


Sonny, I’ve been listening to and playing your music on the radio for many years. I’ve seen you in concert and you NEVER DISAPPOINTED…..GRADE “A” BLUEGRASS. Here is my question….. How many times did the band re-record Rocky Top?….. How close , in your opinion, did you come to the original cut on Decca? Did you ever get tired of playing Rocky Top or any other hit?

I love this column…keep up the great work of promoting bluegrass music.
David M.

David thanx for your time. If you are referring to how many takes we did on the original record. We got that one on the first take. We played it once and that was it. Didn’t happen very often but it did that one time. Recorded November 16, 1967 at about 5:00 p.m. Do I remember it that well. Yep, I sure do. The song we recorded before that one was My Favorite Memory which was the A side. Rocky Top was the B side. That is a code for Disc Jockeys to alert them to the side we were promoting the most. Turns out the night that we took the record up to the Ralph Emery show, he played the A side then just per chance he said “How bout seeing what the other side sounds like.” Well, 10 days later I, the B side had sold 80,000 records and we had “one!” To answer your question, no, I never tired of playing Rocky Top. Other chart records? Yes. I got tired of playing some every night, but the audience wants to hear them, so you damn sure better play them and be glad you have them to play.


I just read Sonny’s “red letter” comment on the band’s responsibility to show respect for the audience. AMEN, AMEN, AND AMEN!!! I have been saying this for years. The audience is the source of the money in your pockets, and appreciation for your music. When a band (or band member) walks out with ragged jeans and a shirt that the thrift store had trashed, it demonstrates a total absence of respect for the audience. A friend of mine says “they look like they were run out of hell for stealing!” While a suit and tie are not required, you should have enough self respect to wear clean, presentable clothes when you go before the audience, no matter how large or small.


Tom. This note contained a message saying…”No response required.” and I realize that I’m bending our rules, but it isn’t the first, and it surely won’t be the last time I do that. Man, I am so sick of seeing bands go out on the stage looking like they are broke and next to starvation, then when the show is over go home to their multi $$$ home in Brentwood, or Franklin, Tennessee. The Wilburn Brothers didn’t do that. They lived in Brentwood. Jimmy Dickens, Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, Carl Smith, Jim Ed Brown, these and more didn’t do that, and they all lived in Brentwood. One night Darrel Mosely and I were sitting on a bench beside the stage and I spotted this tall guy standing ready to go on. I said to Darrel that I had not met him, although he was a member of the Opry. So I, dressed in a suit and tie went over to him and was a bit shocked. This guy, who was rumored to live on a 20 Million dollar ranch in Franklin, was standing there in a shirt that hung down below his rump, holes in the knees of his dirty blue jeans, $3,000 boots and Guessing a $2,000 hat. I introduced myself and he looked down at me like I didn’t belong. I got back to Darrel and told him that old cowboy didn’t know me. Disrespect in it’s purest form. Later I realized that I had outlived my usefulness. I was forced by health to retire at the right time. Alright, I’ll shut up about this subject and won’t mention it again.

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.