Ask Sonny Anything… how ’bout Billy Strings and his Grammy?

Good morning Chief! Well the bus is packed with all the usual suspects and we’re ready to roll. Today it looks like we’re heading back to 1996 and Bobby’s River Bend Festival. Also, one of your fans is asking about life on the road back in the day. Plus, we lost another legend in our industry with the passing of J.T. Gray this week.



Sonny, thank you so much for sharing your stories and insight, I sure do appreciate it. With the recent passing of J.T. Gray, I’m hoping you can share a few special memories with us of the World Famous Station Inn.

Lilly D.

Lilly, let me welcome you in here. We going to take a ride in Larry’s fancy 45 foot long truck. Unfortunately, I had bad experiences at the Station. Partially my fault, some not. I was sitting at a table talking with my banjo camp partner when this drunk wandered up, saw me and wanted to talk. He leaned over to speak, and not realizing it he also allowed the beer bottle to lean too which poured a bottle of beer all over me.

Then there was the time I went to see Kenny Ingram play one of my banjos. I was sitting in a chair in the small dressing room. This guy who’s name I won’t tell sat down beside me and asked if his girlfriend could take our picture. Of course I said yes. He started counting. On three she snapped the shutter. At that precise time, Nameless chose to grab me in the crotch.

Then, I went to hear the Grascals shortly after they organized. El, Smitty, Matty, all ex-employees of the Brothers. I told them to please don’t draw attention to me and they agreed. Dave Talbot, fine banjo player went to the mic and I heard Terry Smith say, “he is not going to like it. We promised him.” Dave said he was going to do it any way. He pointed me out, I got up and left. There is more but I think you get the idea.

We arranged a roast for Lance Leroy. Lotta fun. Right? Ummmhmmm! David Parmley and I were MC for it. All of a sudden, as Lance was sitting on stage, this woman just walks up to Lance and throws her coat off, and she is very scantilly dressed, proceeded to sit on his lap. David and I are flabbergasted. I yelled to David to get her the hell outa here.

This seemed to happen every time I went in the place. J T was a good friend and a wonderful man. My condolences to his family. That man will be missed…by many. Although I rarely saw him, I can’t seem to get the fact that today when I woke up, he was gone. RIP brother JT.



Hey Sonny, I wonder if you remember a festival, I think called Bobby’s River Bend in ol KY? A specific time, 1996, I was there with my dad and uncle who was playing with Melvin Goins at the time. You gave me your video camera to record uncle’s playing. My question is do you remember that instance and if you still had the tape? I think there was an incident after your show which was interesting to say the least. Hope you are well!

Wes V.

Wes Vanderpool, friend, banjo player, bought Krako number 6. That thing is going to blow you right on out of h’yer…Son! I remember that time and place. I still ache because I did a thing I will regret forever. Dale Vanderpool was one of my best fans and very close friends. Fine banjo player but easily rattled. Nerves. I asked him to come on stage with us and play. I asked if he knew Tennessee Hound Dog. He said he did. He played about five seconds into the break and then went mentally somewhere else. It embarrassed him and that was the last thing on this earth I would have intentionally done. 25 years later and I still have an ache in my heart.

Already irritated, this drunk insisted on standing directly in front of us and dancing…alone. I asked him to please sit down, people were complaining. They couldn’t see us. I told him that, and he told me what I could go do to myself, which would have been physically impossible. I asked him to meet me right beside the stage and I would detach him from his ass. He said he’d be there. I don’t ever remember being so mad. We finished and I gave my banjo to Dale. Take it to the bus, put it my room, shut the door.

An old boy walked up and told me to not get my hands dirty, “we’ll find him, we know him. We’ll take care of him for you!” I remember that place well.




You may have noticed a lot of discussion here about Billy Strings since he won the Grammy. Some love him, some not so much, but Vince Gill had an interesting take awhile back on the changes to country music as well. When asked his opinion he said: In fact I do like it, it’s just “not my cup of tea. But I don’t know if I was Merle Haggard’s cup of tea when I first got going. And I don’t know if Merle Haggard was Roy Acuff’s cup of tea. I don’t know if Roy Acuff was Jimmie Rodgers’ cup of tea. To me, to be ‘that’ guy that looks back, you sound like a curmudgeon, you sound like you’re bitter, you sound like all those things…I love seeing young people just out there doing what they love.”

So whadda ya say Sonny, ready to give Billy Strings a break? After all, you kinda started this. LOL.

Walter B.

Walter, sit right down. {that’s make believe} Billy Strings. I’ll give him a break in C# or A flat…Billy, he say “Duh”…I have listened to two songs by Billy boy. Both were bluegrass, both performed live, with a sub par sounding band. Listen now, I did this for over 50 years and can you imagine how many bluegrass bands I’ve heard; some good some bad. So at this time of my life if it’s not on the level of good solid picking and singing, like maybe Jim and Jesse, Doyle Lawson, Flatt and Scruggs, Larry Stephenson Band, Country Gentlemen when Bill Emerson was with them…(to name a few) I really didn’t listen. My blunder.

I might have paid better attention If I had known I would be grilled at some point in my life…{;~0>) make no mistake, I love doing this. So, Billy Strings. He might be the best singer, guitar player…(I would think Josh Williams, Clarence White, or Tony Rice would have something to say about that), best dude on the planet, I don’t know him so maybe I’m not qualified to have an opinion. So far he’s just not “my cup of gold, Texas tea.” Here it is Walter, if Billy is promoting Bluegrass Music, by Golly…I love him. He won a Grammy…Lawd How Moicy!!!!!




I love, love, love your column. Never miss it and it always brightens up my Friday mornings. So here’s my question: I’ve spoken with a good number of musicians over the years and the ones who are honest often tell me after years of touring, they’re just burned out and tired of the road. So much so, they dread getting back on the bus. Did that ever happen to you and if so, are there times now that you miss being out there laying down miles to another festival?

Virginia P.

…Hey girl, thank you for your time. Let me see now. Just guessing I would say we worked over 10,000 shows. I’ve played in boiling heat, rain and snow, sub zero, 120 degree, so tired I could barely stand, seen good and bad…in the ’50s I called my Dad several times at 3:00 in the morning, he always said how much and where can I send it. Never questioned me but always asked if we were safe.

I tell you this so you might know that we saw the good and bad…both sides of the coin. Made it to the Grand Ole Opry, played in the White House for the Nixon bunch, big crowds, no crowds. Probably traveled a total of 6 million miles and right now, if I were healthy I would do it all over again, jump right in that white Eagle… (nicknamed by Russell Moore..”The refrigerator”) and gladly drive it the 600 miles to tomorrow’s date. I loved it that much. I loved hearing Bobby’s voice…Paul’s voice and guitar, Benny and Dale blending in our trio. I’d do it all over again if I could…starting this evening….yep, I would…befo da good lawd say, THAT’s ALL!


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.