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.
I can’t remember where I read it (liner notes on Once More?), anyway there was a story about The Cuckoo Bird. As I recall it said a man approached you in the parking lot after a show and gave you the words on a piece of cardboard, then disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. Is that really what happened?
– Bill J.
True…We …Bobby, Benny Birchfield and I were playing at Charlie’s Night Club on Wayne Ave. in Dayton, Ohio… I think 1963. We were finished for the night and as we were loading up to go home this guy comes up who had been to a folk club (The Lemon Tree) about a mile up the street, and had heard this song. He hummed a few words and I got a piece of cardboard…from a white shirt…and wrote the words down… had him show us the melody and we recorded it two weeks later. It was a chart record here in the states and became our best selling record in Japan…Go FIGGER!
Note…Dry Cleaners used to do dress shirts and you got it back folded around a piece of card board.
Of all the great trios you and Bobby had, who was your favorite third voice?
– John G.
John, I don’t know how to answer that. But her goeth…(That’s Bible talk) We had a good trio with Red Allen, but he wasn’t happy and you could tell it. Why? He wanted his name first and that would have made us unhappy. Next, and perhaps the quickest to recognize and find harmony parts was Benny Birchfield. I thought I was pretty good at that, but he was better. Dale Sledd did not have the strongest voice but it blended with us and his guitar rhythm was a gift from Heaven… He was that good. Ronnie Reno was good on all counts… Paul Brewster was very good on parts and his guitar playing was excellent. My favorite guys to work with was Terry Eldredge and Terry Smith. Both got the parts, knew when to switch and Terry’s guitar playing was good. After that my health began to fade and I lost interest. If you don’t feel good, you don’t do your best. Dale, Terry, and Terry were there the longest time… they were really into what we were doing.
What do you think about modern bluegrass, like they play on Bluegrass Junction?
– Amanda W.
It all sounds the same to me. I reckon 81 is too old to really appreciate what they are trying to accomplish… I wonder if they know. Nothing is unique. Lester and Earl, Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Bobby and I, Bill Keith, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Clarence White, Chubby Wise, Kenny Baker, Benny Martin, and a few more… we all had a little something special… It’s just not there any more. UNDERSTAND, THIS IS MY OPINION. You got guys trying to play the guitar like Clarence, mandolin players playing the style Bobby originated, banjo, fiddle…etc etc. I just don’t think folks are trying hard enough to come up with something just a little off center.
Are you the Flint Hill Flash?
I’m NOT the Flint Hill flash. I knew him though. Smart guy… From Florida, something at The University of Florida… I just can’t remember his name.
I heard a story from the ’80s of Little Roy Lewis heckling you with his banjo from above the stage in the rafters and either you throwing a (beer?) bottle at his banjo or him throwing one at yours. Is this true?… and did you and Little Roy have mutual respect for each other or did he just annoy you?
– Tom From Indiana
No truth to that one at all. However Roy did climb up in the rafters at some place in Texas. I knew he was there. So I’m standing at the mic playing and he dropped right beside me with his banjo and looked up and said..”Hi Sonny!” I thought we had great respect for one another and had become close friends until the last thing he did… I told him to not mess with my banjo, Bobby’s mandolin, Bobby’s hat or boots. He came out and the first thing he did was grab Bobby’s hat. He did more too. We didn’t speak much after that and he never came out again. Which was good with us. It had run it’s course.
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.